Picture it: a yellow VW bug pulls exuberantly into a parking place and bounces off the curb. The female driver clumsily climbs out wearing a white nightie and cow slippers. A sleep mask holds her hair (some of it still in rollers) off her face.
A few minutes later, she emerges from Gino’s Pizza, laden down with three large pizzas, two Styrofoam containers, and a two-liter bottle of Coke. Focusing on balancing her food and large purse, she stops inches short of bumping into a handsome stranger.
Zinga. Instant attraction on his part. Complete oblivion on her part.
While slightly distracted by his shy smile, she does not notice that the soda bottle is rolling off the top of her deck of pizza boxes. General chaos ensues. The heavy two-liter container hits his toe and then the ground, spraying all over their feet. He yelps in pain and hops on one foot, knocking the rest of her order out of her hands and sending it flying. They both go to reach for the pizza boxes and she ends up on the ground, reeling from a solid clonk to the head.
“CUT!” the director yells. “Perfect! Let’s do it again.”
“Tripping Through,” a romantic comedy based on the novel of the same name, has been produced and filmed in the Cayman Islands by Malcolm Ellis, who donned the dual mantels of co-producer and director, and Michelle Morgan, who wrote the screenplay and also plays the main character, Karly.
Adam Cockerill was cast as Dr. Weiss, her romantic interest; Dominic Wheaton played Nik, her long-suffering friend; and Mary Anne Kosa was Karly’s mentor, Stella. Teri Quappe looked after their makeup, hair and wardrobe.
The Weekender caught up with the busy production duo, Mr. Ellis and Ms. Morgan, for a behind-the-scenes look at film production in Cayman.
How did you find the casting process?
It was a lot easier in some respects and more difficult in others. Between the two of us, we had already worked with, or watched, the majority of actors on the island on stage, so we approached the casting process in a backward fashion.
Instead of looking at the list of roles and searching for actors to fill them, we went through the actors we knew and envisioned which characters they would be great playing. The main challenge was that after that exercise, we ran out of actors! The film originally called for 51 speaking roles, 35 of which were for men. There aren’t as many male actors in Cayman as there are female, so we did some rewriting. Any male character that could have been a female was rewritten. Then we went through our screen tests of men who had shown up to be extras and considered whether we could cast them in speaking parts. We’re pleased to say that we found a lot of natural talent out there.
What other challenges have you had to overcome?
There were the regular challenges associated with producing an independent film with no financial backing, and coordinating some of our group scenes was difficult at times. We became good jugglers. It sometimes seemed impossible to find a common free day among 10 actors who also worked full time, had families to look after and were involved in other productions.
Have you encountered any big surprises on the way?
Yes, the first surprise was the amount of time pre-production takes! We did not fully anticipate all that was involved – scheduling, props, locations, set dressing, casting, etc. There are a lot of talented people on island that volunteered to help out but we needed to maintain a high level of control so we kept things small.
On set, Malcolm ran around doing lights, sound, camera operation and sometimes even slating while also directing. He was more exhausted than any of the actors by the end of the day.
The next surprise was the amount of community interest and support we encountered. Cayman is incredible. With no financial backing, we were not able to rent locations, so we were overjoyed at the support we got from local businesses that let us use their locations … at some at very unsociable hours! The film would not have happened without the generosity of Chelsea’s, Craft Restaurant, CJ’s Furniture, Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital, Dr. Pickering, Full of Beans, Gino’s Pizza, and various people who allowed us to use their private residences.
Adam Cockerill, one of our principal actors and co-owner of the Air Vu company, offered the use of one of his drones for some of the shots, which turned out to be amazing. Chuck and Barrie Quappe of Sea N’ B Band scored original music for the film which added a whole new dimension to it. We also had a large number of people come out and screen test to be background artists, and their energy was amazing and inspiring. I do not think we’d get the same kind of community support in any other place.
What are the next steps?
We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve been accepted to screen at the CayFilm festival which takes place this weekend from Friday to Monday. We’ll also do our own (non-film festival affiliated) premiere in Cayman this September. We’re ecstatic to have received funding from the Cayman National Cultural Foundation (CNCF) which will enable us, among other things, to submit our “baby” to the international film festivals. We’ll win a few, put Cayman on the map, and gain international fame and fortune! (That’s the plan, anyway – wink, wink!)
With the challenges you talked about, do you ever wish you were producing this movie in Hollywood with a big budget and access to lots of actors and crew?
Absolutely not. One of the main differences between working on a traditional, Hollywood film versus an Indie is that the cast and crew are not doing this for pay. Everyone’s involved purely out of passion for the project, and that passion provides a positive energy that was almost addictive.
It’s very much a team effort and there are no egos or set hierarchies or studio politics to distract from creating the best product we can. We had very seasoned actors who usually play lead roles willing to come and play a one-line part, just because we needed them.
The Cayman acting and TV/film community is an amazing group of people that work together and support each other’s projects. It’s a beautiful thing and an honor to work with this caliber of dedication and teamwork.
What would you say to others who are thinking of making a movie?
Follow your heart, be it filming, writing, acting, or performing. Stop waiting for the “right” time. There’s no special sign you’re going to get to tell you to start. Sure, it takes organization and time, but it begins with passion. Surround yourself with people who support you and people following their own dreams. You’ll find their positive energy contagious.
‘Tripping Through,’ the novel, is available on Amazon or at Books & Books.