Kevin Adams is going places. A young Trinidad & Tobago filmmaker, Kevin left local shores as a teenager for the United States, where he studied filmmaking before working for Sony music in its video production department. He recently returned home and has just completed his first short film, titled No Soca, No Life. A feature-length version of the same film, Queen of Soca, is almost complete. Recently Kevin stopped by the ttff offices to chat about his films, explain how he got into filmmaking, and give us his candid views on the state of the local film industry.
trinidad+tobago film festival: No Soca, No Life is your first film, a 30-minute narrative. Could you tell us what it’s about?
Kevin Adams: It’s a simple story, a sort of rags-to-riches story about a girl, Olivia, living in Morvant, who’s trying to get out of [poverty] and become somebody.
ttff: She decides she’s going to become a soca singer.
KA: She starts off as a choir singer, singing in church. Her moms is definitely not down with the soca stuff, and wants her to continue in the church. There’s a mishap, and her moms ends up in the hospital, and Olivia has to fend for herself. The only thing she really knows how to do is sing, so what she does is use her voice, and ends up getting involved in soca.
ttff: And the feature-length version, Queen of Soca, will expand on this story.
KA: Absolutely. With the short version we had to cut out a lot of the subplots—she has a boyfriend, there’s a producer, her moms is involved with a preacher. All these different things. What we had to do was keep [the short] directly on Olivia. In the feature-length version you get the full aspect of every person in the story.
ttff: What was it like making No Soca, No Life, and what you’ve shot so far of Queen of Soca?
KA: Finding cast and crew in Trinidad was not a simple thing. Being in the US [previously], I didn’t know many people here and what they’re doing. Out there I could find someone with the snap of my finger. It took a good couple of months to put a nice little solid crew together. But my DP (director of photography) is someone who I trust, and I actually brought him from the US, we went to school together. So that was the easy part. I think once you have the DP everything else sort of falls into place. I’m not saying everything will work perfectly, but it will fall into place.
Cast was another thing. I saw some soca artistes who came down to audition [for the lead role]. Terri Lyons, from the moment everyone on the production team saw her, it was like, there’s no way we could do the film without her. She’s phenomenal, and I don’t think she ever took an acting class in her life. Besides that, Penelope Spencer, who plays Olivia’s mother, helped out a lot [with preparing the actors for shooting].
ttff: How long was the production?
KA: We were supposed to shoot for 17 days. We were rained out four days out of those 17 days. It wasn’t smooth, because it was rainy season—that’s something I’m definitely going to take note of in my next production!
ttff: How did you decide you wanted to become a filmmaker?
KA: I moved to New York at the age of 14. I went to school, then didn’t really have the money to go to college. I was a big footballer player at the time and got a partial scholarship to go to college to play football. It actually didn’t pan out, because we didn’t have the money to pick up where the scholarship left off. So I ended up working for three years at a restaurant in New York City before I tried to figure out what I was going to do with myself.
What came to mind was, when I was in high school, my English teachers said to me, “You know, your writing is so expressive, even though your grammar is not that good. We can always visualise what you’re telling us.” Based on that I said, “You know what? Maybe I can be a writer.” And so when I was looking for colleges, Brooklyn College, which was maybe 15 minutes away from where I was living, I looked at their syllabus and there it was: screenwriting. And I saw that there were some [film] production classes that came with it. So it all just fell into place. The first two years were all written classes, but in the third year they put a camera in your hand, and that was it. That bug bit me.
ttff: Last year you were selected to participate in the film festival’s first ever Focus: Filmmakers’ Immersion, an intensive three-day creative workshop for 12 selected Caribbean filmmakers. What was the experience like?
KA: First of all, the year before that, I was one of the winners of the festival’s short promo competition. It was good, I felt I was on the right path. The following year when Focus came around, I said, let me go up and try something. I have two other feature-length films that I’ve written, and I said, “If I could pitch one of these and it works, it works. And if it doesn’t work maybe these people can help me improve on it.”
And that is exactly what took place. A movie I wrote before Queen of Soca, I’m calling it Steel now, a pan movie, I pitched it, and they felt, it’s an interesting idea, but there’s a lot that’s missing. And when I sat with the Focus group, oh my goodness man. From script development, knowing your characters, knowing your dramatic structure—they helped you with everything. And while I didn’t win the overall pitch competition, I did win a trip to the Bahamas International Film Festival. That was another great experience.
ttff: Now that you have your first completed film under your belt, and have almost completed your first feature, what do you think are prospects for the film industry in the Caribbean, and what do you think needs to be done to help take it forward?
I’ve always been big on unity, and honestly speaking, that’s one of the main things that’s missing here in Trinidad & Tobago. And when I say unity, I mean getting a group of filmmakers to sit together to get some progression in each aspect of filmmaking. Certain people have the equipment, certain people are the good writers, some people are good technically. Everyone is in their own group, and no one is saying, “Listen man, if we come together to do for the greater good, we can move ahead quicker.” This is big business. I can’t see how people in Trinidad can’t come together and say, “You know what, we’re looking at not just a million people in Trinidad, but at numbers worldwide, if we can put together some great productions and sell them internationally.” We need to come together and look at the bigger picture.
No Soca, No life premieres later this year. Queen of Soca is slated for a 2012 release. Both films may be found on Facebook.
Photo: Kevin Adams (with glasses) on the set of No Soca, No Life