The Local, June 9, 2010, image from Wah Do Dem LLC
BAMcinemaFEST opens tonight, and the indie-flavored series runs through June 20. Befitting a local arts institution, several of the films are from Brooklyn-based writers, directors, actors and musicians. We’ll be talking to some of these hometown filmmakers throughout the festival.
To get started, we chatted with with Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner, writers and directors of “Wah Do Dem,” an film odyssey that follows Max, a Brooklyn musician played by Sean Bones, through an often-harrowing Jamaican adventure.
In the film, Max wins a cruise, which he takes alone after being dumped by his girlfriend (played by Norah Jones). He ends up stranded in Jamaica when his belongings are stolen and the ship leaves without him. He then has to find his way to the American embassy in Kingston.
Mr. Chace and Mr. Fleischner, longtime friends, came up with the idea for the film after winning free tickets for a Caribbean cruise in a raffle. They purchased two extra tickets, for Mr. Bones and sound technician and cast member Kevin Bewersdorf, and set off to film on the cruise ship and in Jamaica.
They boarded the cruise with ideas for scenes and let the cast improvise their own lines. Even though the two filmmakers had scouted possible scenes during a different cruise they took together, what they could actually shoot depended on access and the willingness of shipmates to participate.
“We had to rewrite the whole thing based on what we encountered on the cruise,” Mr. Chace said.
The non-professionally trained cast also felt more natural on camera when they came up with their own words.
“It made sense for our process to come from a place of improvisation,” Mr. Fleischner said. This also solved the language barrier once they arrived in Jamaica, since Jamaican actors could speak their roles in Jamaican Patois. The language is based on English, but some people they encountered were easier to understand than others, Mr. Chace said.
Another challenge they dealt with was determining whether people were interested in being in the movie or just trying to get money.
“You couldn’t tell sometimes what people’s intentions were,” Mr. Chace said. “Sometimes it’s a gray area.”
Along with these occasional difficulties, the cast and crew also had to work quickly. The entire movie had to be shot in two weeks in Jamaica and one week on the ship.
“Time was the biggest challenge,” Mr. Fleischner said. “We only took one day off.”
The two filmmakers are longtime Brooklynites – Mr. Chace lives in Crown Heights and Mr. Fleischner in Prospect Heights – and noted that showing their movie at BAM is a particular honor.
They also used mostly Brooklyn-based actors and musicians. Sean Bones and Norah Jones live in the borough, and “Wah Do Dem” features Brooklyn bands Yeasayer, MGMT and Suckers as well.
“We wanted to show as much of a Brooklyn music community as possible,” Mr. Fleischner said. “We’re friends with a lot of different musicians.”
The filmmakers share a longtime love of Caribbean culture and reggae music, and this movie allowed them to combine that with their Brooklyn roots. “The movie comes out of the multicultural spirit of Brooklyn,” Mr. Chace said.
That Brooklyn-Caribbean musical connection will be evident this Sunday when several reggae acts perform during FABfest on Fulton Street to support “Wah Do Dem,” which plays at BAM on Tuesday, June 15 and opens at Cinema Village on June 18.
“It’s awesome to be able to celebrate the movie,” Mr. Fleischner said, “now that it’s all done.”