Fruitville is a quirky, animated comedy-drama about a group of real fruit who face an existential crisis when plastic fruit are brought into their space. Much debate and division occur as they attempt to deal with this "problem" resulting in great hilarity and ultimately in a deeper understanding of the fruits' place in the order of things. The film is directed by Lallan Samaroo and Larry Horrell.
We spoke to the director of the film, Lallan.
How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?
I have always loved movies. 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. So, 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, then make the bigger budget ones. So, here we are.
Fruitville is our first feature film. We wanted to create an original, something the world has never seen, something which entertains people and maybe leaves them with a few talking points. So, here we are: Fruitville - The World’s First Fruit Animation Feature Film.
What genre of filmmaking fascinates you as a filmmaker and why?
I love a wide variety of genres. Life is a cornucopia of stories. There is so much that fires my imagination and begs to be shown on the big screen.
I have co-/written a family-friendly fantasy adventure about one of the world’s most beloved characters; an historical epic based on a real-life incident; a social drama about underprivileged youths seeking solace through dance; a horror-thriller based on Caribbean folklore; Fruitville, a comedy-drama animation; and a dark story about the challenges two gay men face in the Caribbean.
I am currently working on a sensitive story about the choices women make; a whacky comedy about the foibles of young men; a period piece, conceived as an animation, about what life was like in the Caribbean back in the day; a thriller about the use of technology; a crime drama set in the modern Caribbean.
Why so many genres? I love stories. I love how film so vividly expresses our stories and our truths.
What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent filmmaker in the film industry?
Resources and opportunities.
Indie filmmaking is low-budget filmmaking. This means less access to talent, experienced crew, equipment, locations, even props. The answer lies in being imaginative and creative. The answer more fundamentally lies in writing a great, simple story.
Even with a wonderful, original movie, opportunities for distribution remain a challenge. Streaming mitigates that, but the democratization of filmmaking exacerbates it. The market is flooded with indie filmmakers who clamor to be heard, to be seen, to be considered. The key here is to make something outstanding, an original. We believe Fruitville is that original. Something well-structured, based on solid drama, but funny and witty, that tells a good story, and leaves the audience with something to talk about.
How difficult is it to fund indie films?
It varies. A lot. To my mind there are three key questions: 1. What is the story? Is it original? Is it captivating? Is it doable for a low budget? 2. What is the package? Do you have any key people attached? Do you have a real, practical plan for execution? Can you get it done on time and within budget? 3. Is it sellable? Would enough people want to see this movie? Would a distributor see the potential as soon as s/he looks at five minutes of it?
If you can answer those questions in the affirmative before you approach investors, you have a shot. Luckily, we were able to secure funding for Fruitville. And, based on what Fruitville has become, investors are interested in our second and third films.
Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your work?
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.
What inspired you to work on "Fruitville" and how did the film go into production?
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!
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.
As for production, my years as a Project Manager served well. I divided all activities into planning and execution. And then I planned everything (budgeting, funding, scheduling, equipment, cinematography, studio, auditions, crewing up, locations, props, music, theme song, post, screenings) to a practical level of detail. I made a firm decision that I would not go into production until the script was completed to my satisfaction, and funding was in place.
Then, I meticulously executed all of the above.
How did you find the cast and the crew of the film? Tell us more about the production of the film and working on the set of the film to create this feature.
We used social media to reach out to the filmmaking industry in our country.
For the actors, we held auditions using “sides,” per industry norms. Key here is that we looked for actors who embodied the specific character and who could take direction.
For the crew, we also asked around and got references, held interviews and looked to past performance, interest and especially attitude. Those who did well in these areas got the job.
There was significant interest in our film because it was full-length and it was a unique experiment. It’s not every day you get to make a film that could define a new (sub)genre.
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 do you recommend to other filmmakers regarding the distribution of independent feature films?
First, make something worth selling. Something people would want to see. Art does not have to battle commerce. The reality is that film is an expensive business; it’s expensive to make a film and it’s expensive to distribute a film. The quicker you deal with that reality, the greater your chances of success.
Once you have something worth selling, consider any and every avenue. Someone you know in the industry - even six degrees of separation, film festivals, private screenings, film commissions, NGOs, new contacts, film markets, social media, streaming services, every possible window for the film. Based on these, develop a strategy. But, be professional in all dealings. When people see you have a unique, sellable product and that you are professional, they are willing to help.
What is your next film project and what are you currently 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, which will be developed later on, some based in the Caribbean, some more worldly.
Why do you make films?
I have stories to tell. Most of them are visual, pleading to be shown on the screen. When I write, I witness my characters, I hear their voices, I feel their emotions, I observe what they see. As I write, I hear the tone of my characters’ expressions and I notice the type of shot that will reveal what needs to be shown. I see the movie in my head; I see what it will take to make the film. And then, it doesn’t let go. I just have to do it. I have to make films.