An Interview with Lallan Samaroo: FRUITVILLE


Please tell us about your background. What made you fall in love with cinema? How did you become interested in filmmaking and what did you work on before making Fruitville?

Even from childhood, I have always loved movies. I love how a good movie takes me away, and gives me that visceral, vicarious experience. I love how the best movies leave me with something that resonates with me long after.


Sometimes, I would see a movie and think, why did they do that? Why didn’t they do this instead? A voice inside my head said, “You know, it’s easy to criticize. If you really think you can do better, write a screenplay. Put up or shut up.” So, I wrote several screenplays, sometimes with a partner.


Later, we did a Dov Simens filmmaking course. We were fortunate to have him review our first script. He thought it had great potential, it would be shown every Christmas, but would require a big budget. He suggested that we write simpler scripts, especially ones that had a touch of the Caribbean in them, make a couple of movies, develop a name, and then make the bigger budget ones. So, I transitioned from being a writer to becoming a filmmaker.


I have written several screenplays prior to Fruitville. Fruitville is our first feature film. We wanted to create an original, something the world has never seen, something which entertains people and maybe has an effect on them too. So, here we are: Fruitville - The World’s First Fruit Animation Feature Film.


Which filmmakers influenced you and your filmmaking? Which films, especially comedies, have affected you the most?

I think that any film you love (and hence the filmmaker) influences you. Why did this movie touch me so? What makes it work? What makes it stand out? What can I learn from this? What can I steal from this?

There are so many to steal from. A notable few: Orson Welles - Citizen Kane; Vittorio De Sica - The Bicycle Thieves; Francois Truffaut - The 400 Blows; Satyajit Ray - Pather Panchali; John Ford – Stagecoach; Sidney Lumet – 12 Angry Men; Francis Ford Coppola - The Godfather; Martin Scorsese – The Departed; Ridley Scott – Gladiator; Michael Mann – Heat; Quentin Tarantino - Kill Bill; The Coen Borthers – Fargo; Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire; Christopher Nolan - Batman Begins; David Fincher – Seven; Ron Howard – A Beautiful Mind; Tim Burton – Big Fish; James Cameron – Terminator; Frank Darabont – The Shawshank Redmption; Jonathan Demme - Silence of the Lambs; Alejandro Inarritu – Babel; Sam Mendes - American Beauty; The Wachowskis - The Matrix; Guillermo del Toro – Pan’s Labyrinth; Alfonso Cuaron – Roma; Jim Jarmusch – Broken Flowers; Kar-Wai Wong – Chungking Express; Alexander Payne – Sideways; Ramin Bahrani – At Any Price; Asghar Farhadi – A Separation; Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker; Ava DuVernay – Selma; Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird; Chloe Zhao – Nomadland.


Three filmmakers who have had significant influence are:

Ang Lee – masterfully manages all elements of filmmaking to achieve full realization of his vision. When making a film, I remember that everything matters.


Clint Eastwood – has an understated style; finds the truth of the story and lets it be; allows the audience to absorb the meaning rather than get distracted by spectacle. I focus on substance over style.


Steven Spielberg – has enormous range; his films show the joy and the truth of the story. I write a wide range of stories, in a variety of genres; and I pay close attention to the joy and the truth in each of them.


Some of my favorite comedies are The Odd Couple, History of the World: part I, Ace Ventura, Raising Arizona, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Little Miss Sunshine.

Little Miss Sunshine had particular significance for us. We emulated the multiple protagonist structure for Fruitville, and also sought to achieve a similar blend of humor and drama.


What are the themes/issues you try to reflect in your films? What, in your opinion, is the most important quality of a comedy that will make it memorable?

Identity is very important to me. It is featured at various levels in Fruitville. The fruits question their value, and struggle to understand their place in the grand scheme of things. Also the related existential question emerges: what is our relationship to the higher powers?

To my mind, there are two critical elements to making memorable comedy, which are humor and meaning. Comedies are meant to make us laugh and to reflect on something. As is often said, “Comedy is very serious business.” A very funny but meaningless movie will be enjoyed and forgotten. A too-heavy comedy will not be enjoyed. A comedy filmmaker needs to strive for a balance of these two attributes, even from the moment of conception.


Where did the idea for the film come from? How long did it take to get formed into what it is now?

Funny story. I was tooling around with my DSLR and accidentally pressed the “burst shot” button. Several rapid-fire shots of my wife went off, taking her -- and me -- by surprise. When I reviewed the shots in sequence, a voice went off in my head.


Voice: Wow. It looks like she is moving. (Everybody has a voice in their head, right?)

Voice 2: She is moving. (Everybody has other voices in their head…right?)

Voice 1: Yes, but it looks like she is moving.

Voice 2: I don’t get it.

Voice 1: Look at it, man! A bunch of individual photos. But put them together, and it looks like a person is moving. This is the very essence of cinema. Especially stop animation.

Voice 2: I don’t get it.

Voice 1: Put 24 of these in one second and we got something.

Voice 2: You’re gonna have to do better than that.

Voice 1: Look at that ceramic dog on the table. (Moves dog, takes photo, moves dog, takes photo…) Look at this (scrolls through photos on DSLR).

Voice 2: Whoa! It looks like he is moving towards us! And like he is waiting for something. Cool.

Voice 1: That’s cinema. We made cinema…on this table. What would normally be on a table?

Voice 2: Well, plates, doilies, fruits-

Voice 1: Fruits! That’s it! Let’s make a movie about fruits on a table!

Pause.

Voice 2: You want to make a movie about fruits on a table?

Voice 1: Yes.

Voice 2: You’re nuts!

Voice 1: We’re past that. (Beat.) Are you in?

Voice 2: Oh, hell yes!


This concept burned me. I felt I could do it. I could create an original: The World’s First Fruit Animation Movie.


As the story developed, clear themes emerged along the lines of fear and ignorance, knowing our place in the order of things, where does plastic fit into our lives? Interestingly, these themes melded into a coherent unity.


From the time I decided to green light the project, it took approximately two years to complete the screenplay done and get the film made.


Please tell us about the production and your experiences of making Fruitville, especially as you co-directed the film. What are some of the challenges and difficulties you faced?

There were two major challenges we faced in making the film. Firstly, we had limited resources. The Caribbean does not have a large, established filmmaking industry. Much of the expertise, equipment, and the many nuts and bolts of filmmaking are not readily available. We had to employ a lot of ingenuity and creativity in solving problems and in just making things work.


Secondly, we were making a stop animation film with real fruit. (Made with real fruit! Isn’t that something?) How would we ensure continuity? This required modeling each fruit and developing a standard for each. Then we had to micromanage the supply chain to ensure we maintained that standard.


Animation is a great teacher. It is very demanding. You can’t do take after take. So “get it right the first time” becomes the mantra. You have to know what you want to achieve with each shot, and plan accordingly. Then, you must pay close attention to detail in every moment of execution. Great teacher.


I found it amazing to see my vision come to life, to move from idea to creation. It was a joy to create original Caribbean music. I was in awe that we could produce something which anyone in the world can relate to, but which also gives a taste of the Caribbean. For me, it was a humbling wonder to make Fruitville for audiences to have fun with and maybe even to see a message.


What are the advantages and disadvantages of independent filmmaking and working with small budgets? Does it liberate the filmmaker or limit his or her freedom? What do you think about the future of independent filmmaking?

An independent filmmaker has the freedom explore themes and subjects that studios won’t. S/he has the freedom to pursue her/his own vision, as opposed to having a committee control things. The result is often that a film has a singular voice.

On the other hand, an independent filmmaker has limited resources (money, people, time, equipment, sets.) This restricts independent filmmaking to certain kinds of movies – the kinds that don’t cost a lot.

The future? The acceleration of technology means that independent films will increasingly rival studio projects. At least in the area of production values. Story will still remain king, though. And the challenge will remain distribution. Democratization of filmmaking is creating opportunity for many, and clutter for all. The key here is filtering. And I believe that film festivals have a significant role to play in this regard.


Tell us about your festival run. Have film festivals provided you with the experience and exposure you needed? What is your opinion about how festivals can help filmmakers with their career?

Fruitville has been doing very well in festivals. We have, so far, gotten in to 30 film festivals in 10 countries, winning 36 awards. The feedback from festivals has been very positive. “A gem,” “original,” “funny,” are typical comments. This would suggest that Fruitville has appeal, and can reach audiences.

I believe that film festivals have delivered on part of their potential: they have collectively created an opportunity for unknown filmmakers to have their films seen. That’s wonderful. Still, I feel there is scope for film festivals to truly become the champions of the indie filmmaker. I would love to see three things happen:

Capsule reviews. If every film festival gave a one-paragraph capsule review of each submitted (or even accepted) film, filmmakers would see consensus after a few. So would distributors. Festivals would then become a natural filter, allowing better films to rise and get noticed.

Media links. Every film festival should strive to create links with the variety of traditional and new media to showcase their accepted and winning films. A capsule review in a blog, a 30-second trailer in a regional news program, or an online critic’s assessment of a film will go a long way to giving viable exposure to an independent film.

Distributor links. The bigger film festivals attract the bigger distributors. Can smaller film festivals develop relationships with smaller distributors so that they can recommend winning or outstanding films? Every screening of a film at a festival is an occasion for feedback. Beyond Q&A with the filmmakers, there is the opportunity for film festivals to gather audience response and share with filmmakers and distributors. A distributor seeing the same film get positive feedback across several festivals will see the real potential of the film. And a festival which regularly gives such useful information to a distributor becomes a relevant partner.

There is a real risk of a festival run being a merry-go-round. It’s a nice ride, but it goes nowhere. There are an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 film festivals around the world every year. Do we need so many? Are all of these of real value? Maybe some of these, especially those which serve similar types of films, or are geographically close to each other, should join forces. In sharing resources, there can be one stronger film festival instead of two or three less-potent ones. Perhaps some of these resources can be used to do capsule reviews, and to create media and distributor links.


What was the reaction of those who watched your film? Was the feedback what you hoped for?

Based on our screenings, Fruitville will appeal to a wide audience. Grandmas and kids loved it. Young, socially-conscious people were drawn to its environmental message. Animators thought it was an interesting and brave experiment. Comedy lovers laughed out loud at key points. Drama lovers could relate to the themes expressed. And to our very pleasant surprise, a group of young men (25- to 35-year-olds) loved the innate wackiness of the film.


We believe audiences will see Fruitville as a brave, original film which creates a new (sub)genre. We think Fruitville will give people a good, fun time and will provoke discussion about many topics, such as how we face an unknown, what is our place in the order of things, and how we should treat natural versus manmade.


Please tell us about your future project(s). What are you working on?

I want to reveal more of the Caribbean to the world. I have two stories lined up. A Caribbean folklore/ horror, framed around iniquities women have had to endure; and a period piece, gently showing what Caribbean life was like back in the day, centered around a boy and a dog.


I have several other full-length scripts, some based in the Caribbean, some more worldly, which will be developed later on, as I develop my voice and my name.