Filmmaker portrays authentic Cayman culture in movie

 The office building that caught the filmmaker’s eye was across the street from the Lobster Pot. It had the right corporate look and an unobstructed view of the sea. The combination of iron shore, smattering of boats and the cruise ship in the distance made this building a good prospect for an office scene.

Up and coming filmmaker Tim Kelly strode across the street and into the empty lobby. Next to the elevator he searched the directory for companies, selected one and took the elevator up two floors. There was only one office on this floor with locked wooden doors and a buzzer. The sign said GM International. He pressed the buzzer. Several seconds went by and the door clicked, signalling the door was unlocked and he could enter.

A young woman greeted him and Kelly explained he was scouting locations for a movie he was working on.

He asks would it be possible to look around the office and the balcony to see whether they could be used  as a movie location?

A few minutes later, Kelly was talking to the operations manager. Two more staff joined in, everyone in the group was smiling and joking. It turns out this office was also used in Frankie Flowers’ movie Haven, the manager said.

Shooting dates were discussed and business cards were exchanged.

Before Kelly left, the operations manager quietly mentioned the young woman who greeted him at the door always wanted to be in a film.

Kelly nodded; he is having open auditions in several weeks and he will need extras.

As Kelly walked out of the building, he explained that scouting locations in Los Angeles is tougher. But as a Caymanian who has lived in Los Angeles for the last seven years and now New York City, he had a sense that it would be different here.

“I knew I would be able to just walk up to a house or an office and say I am scouting locations for a movie about Cayman and they would just invite me in,” says Kelly. “I have no hidden agenda and that comes across as genuine. People are less guarded here.”

Next, Kelly walks across the street to the dock. He chats with a couple fishermen who just came in with their catch. He lingers by the sea. It has been a long time since he has been able to enjoy a view like this, he says.

He then goes to look at a purple house tucked away in a George Town neighbourhood. He spotted it when he was sitting in the kitchen of a family friend and happened to look out the window. It was not just the purple that he noticed, but also the array of colourful tiles on the wall in blues, brown, black and green. It is one of those houses that would make a great setting for a scene with an older Caymanian who sits on his porch and watches people go by.

At the purple house, Kelly talks to Mr. Clarky, who has lived in the purple house for over 40 year.  Yes, Mr. Clarky thinks it would be fine to use the house as a location and then shows Kelly about his garden.

There are no shortcuts to scouting. Kelly’s days in Cayman are spent looking at potential locations: homes, docks, offices, nightclubs, boats, talking to people and taking photos of sites as part of his pre-production work.

Originally from Nicaragua, Kelly’s family moved to Cayman when he was 12 to get away from the civil war to join their Caymanian relatives and start a new life.

Kelly’s road to get to the point of making this film has been a long one.  Early in his career, Kelly worked at Cayman 27 TV station and the government press office, before moving to Los Angeles to pursue the dream of becoming a filmmaker.

While he has not gone to film school, he has used other resources to learn the ins and outs of making films: reading film books, old movie scripts and analysing a range of movies. Meanwhile, Kelly worked as a production assistant and had guest spots on a soap opera to make a living.

He has already made two short films that catered to niche audiences .This will be his first full length feature movie that is made for a mainstream audience.

While there have been movies shot in the Cayman Islands before, which have generated a Hollywood buzz, what makes this project stand out is Kelly’s intent to use characters that reflect everyday life in Cayman: an older Caymanian who offers a Tamarind drink to a stranger passing by, university educated Caymanians, fishermen, wealthy retirees who live here part time and the mixture of expatriates from New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and all over the world.

“Movies set in the Caribbean are often based on stereotypes that are not realistic,” says Kelly. “I want the film to be as authentic as possible.”

“There is a universal theme in this movie, but the setting is in the Caribbean. I want to portray characters the audience can relate to and let the movie reveal itself,” says Kelly.

With the push towards authenticity, Kelly has already held one audition in Cayman to cast local actors for both leading and supporting roles. He plans to hold another audition here with tentative schedule to start shooting in early December.

The story is about a Caymanian man who has lived in New York for several years and has achieved tremendous success on Wall Street. But his fast paced life in New York feels superficial and empty so he returns home to Cayman to reconnect with his roots. Back in the Cayman Islands, he runs into an old girlfriend and realises that he still loves her.

Like the character in his story, Kelly has been reconnecting with Cayman from the moment he stepped off the plane. Seeing the island with fresh eyes, noting things like dialect, food, the warmth of the people, and the pace of life to add to the script to give it more authenticity.

One thing that has stood out is remnants of damage left over from Hurricane Ivan five years ago. That will need to into account in the revised script.

“I wake up every morning with an idea, 4 or 5am in the morning. My ideas wake me up. And there is the excitement and uncertainty of it,” says Kelly.

Kelly is producing the film on a shoestring budget, doing much of the critical work such as script writing, directing and editing himself. He enjoys all these aspects of producing a film, but it also helps keep the costs down.

Being from Cayman also helps. People have offered to help such as costumes, make up and the loan of a boat for the film. He isn’t surprised, there has always been a strong sense of generosity within here, he says.

Kelly intends to enter this movie into film festivals to attract a distributor for the cinema and DVD.

And if he accomplishes his vision and gets the movie distributed, there is a good chance that he will get financial backing for his next film.

With nearly six months of work ahead on this project that is still a long way off. For now, he is concentrating on the steps in front of him. Finding local actors to fill roles, organising as many local crew that he can find. And taking in as much of island as he can before flying back to New York City to start the script rewrite and all the other details of pre-production. After all, December is just a couple months away.