Behind the scandal

Originally published in the Trinidad Guardian for January 19, 2015
Crew prepare the cameras and grip gear for the day’s shooting. Photographs by Mark Lyndersay.

There’s something big happening on this quiet street in St Clair.
On the road outside the lavish home are more than a dozen bamboo chairs spray painted gold standing next to a massive mobile crane.
So it’s either a film set, or, because it’s mid-January in Trinidad, an upscale Carnival party.

As it turns out, it’s a bit of both. The film crew for the movie Scandalous have taken over the home of restauranteur Jenny Sharma to film a lavish engagement party and as I walk past the ice blue pool and up the steps to find a contact point, the first person to hail me out is a young man I don’t quite recognise.
Mark Belix is carefully wrapping cutlery into vivid red cloth and reminds me of a photographic seminar I worked on with his parents two decades ago.

We smile, banter a bit and laugh before he gets back to his work, one small bit of the detail drudgery and controlled chaos that lies behind the success of any film production.
Buzzing around are other elements of the details in process. Actress Pauline Mark is getting her hair done, carefully stretched out and stroked, and the cinematographer is wrestling a digital Arriflex camera onto a mount on a rolling cart that’s covered with wires, grip equipment and other bits and pieces of the trade.

The home is covered in prophylactic cardboard. Full size statues stand wrapped with tall slabs of the stuff, the railings and steps of the curving staircase have more taped over them.
Shooting stalled after the musicians gathered to play turned up with a sitar but no sitarist. Director Todd Kessler wants real playing and real sound from the instrument and most of the calls and shouts in immediate earshot are about finding one.

When I finally encounter Machel Montano in the makeup chair, he’s on the phone charming someone into sending a player over to the set, agreeing that the actual music could be a sample, but no, they need a player. Now.

Two hours in, a shot is finally being set up; the film crew having turned 180 degrees from the original shot by the poolside to another looking in at the house.
A young man stands sternly looking at the camera, legs spread wide, his best intimidating glare set on his face.

Behind him, extras are placed and guided, fake food is arranged on the table and the set is readied to capture some footage.
This party will go one for the week, shot in the dozens of little visual slices that build a scene. It’s work of a very particular sort, that seems to inch along before ramping up to film speed before dropping back to much slower prep time again.

As I walk out the door, I hear the magic words for any film production in process, the sharp bark that signals the start of a movie being made, “Quiet on the set!”

Below: Machel Montano, who plays Lee in Scandalous, sits for makeup by Nina Alcantara.

Staz Mair
At left, actor Staz Mair

I’m led to the green room for the set, a lavishly appointed living room with chairs so handsome they seem to defy the brazen presence of my behind in daring to rest on them.
But everyone else is sitting down, so I do, and begin to angle for my first conversation of the morning, with Staz Mair, cast as the unfortunate Bharat, who must face down the awesome horning power of the Monk Monte, Machel Montano.

A startlingly handsome mix of Indian and Russian parentage, Mair has been gifted with a sculpted face that’s model ready and a full head of thick black hair.
Despite that, he’s spent most of his life in London as a singer and songwriter, beginning professionally at 17.

He plays the piano well, serenading the waiting actors with snippets from popular songs and charming a little girl who sits close to him taking the keyboarding lessons one suspects several of the young ladies on the sit wish they had the time for.

It’s almost a little cruel to quickly realise that the handsome Mair is also a bit of a stand-up guy, self-deprecating and funny.
“Well,” he says as we sit down, “I love experiencing new cultures…and I’m a dog person.”
He looks at my dumbfounded expression then explodes with laughter.
“I’m kidding you!”

Clearly he’s sat through more than a few star struck interviewers already and is game for something a little less giddy.
He’s also taken with Montano’s work as a musician, finally catching him in performance at Fantasy on the weekend.
“Oh Machel is a captivating performer,” he says, “nothing like what I’ve been doing, but the energy of it!”

“There’s definitely a connection between music and acting, and that’s why I think he’s doing so well with it.”
Mair has been working on the film since December, working for three weeks before returning to work in January.
“It’s been two and a half months for me, but the creative team has been working on the film for years, so getting a chance to be part of this is a blessing.”

Valmike Rampersad
At right, actor Valmike Rampersad

The actor is sitting quietly in the makeup chair, looking keenly out the window.
Valmike Rampersad was born in T&T, but migrated to the UK at the age of 14.

His family still lives here, and he’s particularly keen to note that me maintains an ongoing link with this country, returning every year for what he describes with some relish as his “fix of callalloo.”

Rampersad plays Nikhil, the scheming villain at the heart of Scandalous, the upsetter of the bodi cart, as it were.
He came to acting backward. He’d been working in PR and marketing for Ralph Lauren, a job he’d enjoyed, but didn’t feel confident about his public speaking and presentation skills.

So he went to night school to build confidence and discovered acting and his life’s passion.
He decided to pursue it and applied to several schools of acting, sure he would be turned down and prepared to return to his day job.

Rampersad was accepted by all of them and chose the Royal School of Speech and Drama, an institution with a rich alumni of practicing thespians.
He began getting roles while he was at school, though after graduating in 2007, he discovered that such rich veins of opportunity were often followed by passages of none at all.

So he works at his craft,
accumulating an impressive collection of credits. Among them he is fond of the 2008 short film Open Secrets and 2009’s Hotel as examples of his craft, and he now has three films in post-production and shot 123 episodes of a series, Cloud 9 in just seven months in 2013.

“I got here by luck,” he admits.
The location scout visited his mother’s house, and the contact led to a reading in 2013 and the chance to work in his homeland, something he’s been enjoying immensely.
“You have no idea how amazing it’s been,” he says with a broad smile.

“It’s been way beyond what I expected, the professionalism, the attention to detail, the way you’re treated. I can’t sleep at night!”
We’ve been squeezed into a hold moment before shooting and the call to be ready comes. Rampersad stops for a moment, thinking.
I wonder if he’s getting into character before he says quietly, “I work hard; I do a lot of projects. It’s been really intense.”

Below: Director Todd Kessler, in blue, at centre, lines up the first shot of the day on Tuesday.
blog comments powered by Disqus