It was around 2 pm one day in March and the food court outside the entrance of the Caribbean Cinemas 8 multiplex was buzzing as usual with moviegoers and Trincity Mall patrons.But the air of excitement didn't extend to three young men who'd stopped to catch a late lunch.Film director Nick Attin, fight scene choreographer Joel Joseph, and actor/stunt man Fidel Guerra had earlier heard the news that the film they'd spent eight months working on, a stylish action thriller called Escape From Babylon, had been turned down by the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival, due to start the following month in New York."The mood was a bit down," Attin recalled. "And worse yet, people in the food court were beaming at the Hollywood movie trailers being shown on the outside monitors of Cinemas 8."
Escape is Attin's second film in as many years. The first was the well-crafted Little Boy Blue, a psychological thriller about a primary school art teacher haunted by the supernatural. Partly funded by the T&T Film Company, it received some attention from filmmaking and art circles, playing at the T&T Film Festival, the Caribbean Tales Film Festival in Barbados, and a couple of others in Latin America.Caribbean Tales organiser Frances Anne Solomon took over the film's distribution, freeing Attin for another project.Escape is an ambitious turnaround from Little Boy Blue; Attin takes on the challenge of blockbuster storytelling and pacing, hiring martial arts expert Joseph to train and guide actors in a tale about a cop turned taxi driver who is forced to take the law into his own hands after a serial killer begins terrorising Port-of-Spain.
While publicising Little Boy, Attin boasted that the flick only cost US $1,000 to make. He's more reticent about revealing the cost of Escape. He and Joseph drained their savings."Dov Simens, who is the greatest film teacher in the world, says to say, 'It's under a million,'" Attin said, with a smile, about the money poured into Escape.He thought the film was worth it.
Escape was even better than he'd imagined it. In quality and content, he said, it was unlike any other film produced in T&T entirely by a local cast and crew.Then the news came from Tribeca.
The blow was made more painful because Escape was influenced by Taxi Driver, the 1976 film starring Tribeca founder Robert De Niro and directed by Martin Scorsese, one of Attin's idols.
Attin spent a year submitting Little Boy Blue to film festivals around the world, experiencing the highs and lows of acceptance and rejection. He didn't want to take that ride again.
As he sat at a dining table outside Cinemas 8 looking at the trailers, Attin felt a burst of inspiration."I sat there and the faces of everyone involved in the movie swooped past my face and the thought of all their efforts potentially going to waste crashed on me like a tidal wave," he said."I couldn't let that happen, and I wouldn't let that happen. I looked at the entrance of the cinema and I turned to Joel and Fidel and said, 'Let's go talk to the manager.'"It was not the first time Cinemas 8 general manager Onika Ali Aziz had been approached by a hopeful filmmaker. It happens regularly, she said.And last year for the first time in years Cinemas 8 gave one a chance. The puppet comedy I'm Santana: The Movie had sold-out showings after it premiered, and went on to run for seven weeks.
Since then, Ali Aziz said, Cinemas 8's management has been interested in more good-quality local movies. When Attin and his team approached her, she invited them to e-mail her a trailer. The short video told her she'd found what she was looking for. She forwarded a copy to her boss in Puerto Rico and he agreed.Escape from Babylon is due to premiere at Cinemas 8 in August–in the midst of the "blockbuster season."The film's poster fits in impressively well alongside those for Iron Man 3 and The Lone Ranger in the multiplex's lobby. Customers are already enquiring and Ali Aziz expects a good response to the film."I think it will do just as good as Santana or even better," she said. "I'm really excited about it."
The film will also be shown at the Empire Cineplex in San Fernando.Attin, who was also responsible for the film's soundtrack, couldn't believe his luck. It was a long journey to this point. It began when he made the large and risky jump from architecture to filmmaking. He'd worked at various firms and had designed the Los Attajos chapel in Gran Couva.When he visited the set of a commercial, he wasn't impressed. He thought he could do better.He'd work briefly with Santana's Roger Alexis on a few of the Santana shorts that went viral, paving the way for the eventual success of the movie.He started researching a documentary about late police commissioner Randolph Burroughs, then decided that what he learned could be the basis of a good feature film.
The lead character in Escape, Randolph Briggs, played by Kearn Samuel, was influenced by Burroughs."I sort of used a little of his background as being a dread police and put some of that element in the character," said Attin.
It's one thing to make a film, it's another to get it to a big screen commercial showing–only a handful of local films have made it, among them last year's hit I'm Santana: The Movie."The attitude is still there that local films don't really score," said Alexis, who's currently working on I'm Santana 2 and expects it to hit theatres in 2014. "And it's going to be there for a while, because not all filmmakers have the talent to give you a good product," he added."There will be hits and misses." Attin hopes that, like with the Santana film, if Escape is successful at Cinemas 8, it will be taken up by MovieTowne and other local cinemas. It could also make it to big screens elsewhere in the Caribbean.In the meantime, he's looking forward to having the trailer–which can be seen on the movie's Facebook page and the Web sitearunawaycolony.com–slotted in between the Hollywood presentations on Cinemas 8's big screens.
"We'll be going to see movies just to see that trailer," he said.