Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Film-maker no dummy when it comes to puppetry


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Trinidadian Roger Alexis in a rush to complete a project for his Film Production class pushed his creativity to such a level that it gave birth to Santana, a now thriving series on YouTube.

While at the University of the West Indies studying film production in 2010, he got a project in September that was due in December, but with the work commitments and the usual procrastination, he pushed the project aside, only returning to it about four days before it was to be handed in.

 “I was scrambling. I couldn’t get actors, I could not get anybody. I had some puppets, so off the top of my head I created a short skit using the puppets, did the production and handed it in and I got an A,” he said.

For posterity, Alexis put the video called Thou Shall Not Horn on YouTube and received so much feedback that it blossomed into an actual career.

“A friend saw it and asked me to do another.”

The video about a puppet called Santana was uploaded to YouTube.

“One day the short started sharing.  I did not really understand the concept of social media back then, but I got ten views, then 80, then 110 and I thought that’s good that all those people took the time to look at my work”, he said.

But that was only the beginning. The video “started sharing like wildfire,” and then 110 views turned into 10 000 then 50 000.  Santana went viral as the views climbed into the hundreds of thousands.

Alexis, who is also the voice of Santana, decided to do another video to test the response and it was the same: “The ad agencies started calling and subscription base started to rise and before I knew it I had a brand in hand,” Alexis said during the interview with EASY at Enterprise Beach, Christ Church,last week.

The short skits were turned into I’m Santana The Movie in 2012. And presently there are now close to 100 videos of Santana on Alexis’ YouTube channel.

Last year Alexis entered the Caribbean Tales Incubator programme for film-makers and producers and his Santana Series was one of four selected to receive US$40 000 to make the pilot.  The pilot, called Lexo Street and to be shown on Flow TV, is still at the production stage, and shooting starts next month.

Reflecting on his journey, Alexis said the very first skit, Thou Shall Not Horn, the production quality wasn’t the best, but it was entertaining. 

Thou Shall Not Horn showed Santana, portrayed as a Rasta man who came home and heard some ominous music playing. Spying his girlfriend in a robe, he accuses her of cheating on him.

“The entertaining aspect of it was what developed the interest in Santana . . . . The fact that it was a reflection of what happens in society. The character Santana is loosely based on myself, my father and the macho man . . . . Everybody probably knows a Santana somewhere,” he said.

All the skits so far are based on life.  The other characters complement Santana, who is the lead character.  They are Narine, the abused husband; Patsy, the abusive wife; Pastor Stuart, the con artist; Santana’s girlfriend Janice; Leroy, the very rude little boy, and Mr Chan, the storekeeper.

Even though the skits are fun, they address many topical issues, including domestic violence, infidelity, dishonesty, crime and parenting.

Alexis’ ultimate goal for Santana is to have a TV series so viewers can follow their story from week to week.

“It is like you are holding yourself to a mirror using the novelty of puppets. People laugh, but at the end of the day they will stop and tell themselves, ‘We are really like that and we should change that’.  There is always a message somewhere,” he said.

There are plans to add other characters to embrace the Caribbean. A Bajan character is coming soon, since he has a large Barbadian following.

Alexis, who used to do little productions as a hobby before Santana, also created a family-oriented TV show called Herman Tales.

The Trinidadian cultural artist always wanted to be a film-maker but did not really think it was a dream he could achieve. He praised the introduction of the digital camera which was affordable for the “black man” and served as an entry for him and many others into film.

“I have always had entertainment in my blood. I did soca and I used to be a dancer, but I love writing and telling stories. I love folklore. I love comedies so I feel I am the best person to tell my story,” he said.

Now at age 42, Alexis said even though he got into his dream career in his 30s it was fulfilling.

“I could never turn back after that,” he said, adding that he has travelled to South Africa, United States and all through the Caribbean because of Santana and “is having a ball”. (LK)


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