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12 Questions with Actor, Writer and Producer, Paul Pryce

—Published on 3rd Apr, 2020.

THIS MONTH’S TWELVE QUESTIONS INTERVIEW features actor, writer and producer, Paul Pryce. As a professionally trained actor, Pryce’s career includes iconic Shakespearean roles in theatrical productions of Hamlet, Julius Caesar and Othello. He later transitioned his acting career to onscreen roles in television series such as Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” and A&E’s “Unforgettable”, all the while developing his off screen career as a producer. Pryce’s debut film, “Come Out, Come Out” premiered at the Cannes Short Film Corner in 2017 and was quickly followed up by his film “The Deliverer” – the latter was successfully screened at multiple film festivals around the world, including the trinidad+tobago film festival and Montreal International Black Film Festival. Now a member of FILMCO, Pryce has been working around the clock to launch “The Deliverer” as a full-length feature film.

FILMCO: What initially attracted you to filmmaking and how did you get started? 
PP: I’ve always loved the idea of telling a story through moving images. I learnt acting in the theatre and so I naturally progressed to acting on film. Filmmaking became a way of telling stories (of which I am passionate about) and it was a way to create an opportunity for myself to act.

FILMCO: You have had experience as both an actor and a producer, how do they compare; which do you prefer, and why?
PP: Acting is all about spontaneity and trusting your impulse at any given moment; astutely observing human behaviour and recalling it as it relates to a given scene.

Truthful acting is making something that is imaginary feel and seem real, as if happening for the first time, and allowing an audience to suspend their disbelief in that moment and become invested in what another human being is expressing about life. It’s very spiritual on one level, and quite technical on another. I think it’s the technical aspect of it is where acting and producing overlap for me. As a producer, the process of putting together any one of my projects requires a sort of technical execution. Perhaps it’s more akin to running a business and ensuring that various departments execute their particular functions. I enjoy the administration of producing, the challenge of it. I produce my own projects, and have a small team working with me. It can be creative like acting: figuring out the matrix for funding, putting together the cast and crew, are all creative choices one makes as a Producer. Acting is more fun, but also way scarier!

FILMCO: Who or what have been some of your biggest influences in film/ television in Trinidad and Tobago, and why? 
PP:The trinidad+tobago film festival has been one of the biggest influences for me as a creative person in the local industry. Though I am based in New York City, I have been back a few times to either present films at the festival or I have been back to attend the Film Mart. The festival has always been supportive of my work and it has afforded me a platform to showcase my work and to make extraordinary relationships with other creatives not only from Trinidad but from around the world.

FILMCO: If you could collaborate with any filmmaker in the Caribbean region, who would it be and why?
PP: Raoul Peck, hands down. His work is unapologetic and speaks with a power and clarity that I admire. I can learn a lot from him as a filmmaker and artist coming from the Caribbean.

FILMCO: “The Deliverer” has had success with quite a few international film festivals. Tell us a bit about your experience with this project in your capacity as producer.
PP: This project has been a long gestating story that morphed over the years to what it is now. As I began my acting career, I also started screenwriting. “The Deliverer” is my first feature length screenplay. Rather than write several screenplays over time, I decided to choose a story that I felt passionate about, hone the script and commit to producing that film. I am an actor first, then a writer, and then a producer. I wrote it with the intention of acting in it and also co-directing it. I decided to produce it myself because you quickly realise in this business, as in life, if you want to get something done, you have to do it yourself, at least in the beginning. I knew what I wanted to say and I had a strong sense of how I wanted it to look. 

Knowing that I wanted to make a feature, I also knew that a great script isn’t always enough to gain industry traction. You need something visual to show people, to get people to see your vision and get as excited about it as you are. I read in the industry trades that directors and producers were making ‘proof of concept’ short films to generate interest for their projects. This is essentially a short film version of the feature film you want to make; a handful of scenes with the main characters that prove the concept, themes and central conflict of the story. I chose to go that route.

After I had completed a solid draft of the feature length script, I condensed the first act into a 12-page short film script. On a shoestring budget, I flew down to Trinidad and with the help of a director/ DoP from the US, and a talented cast and crew in Trinidad and we shot the script in four days. Once back in the US. I recruited the services of colleagues to help with the post-production, and then came the process of submitting the film to film festivals. Fundraising has been out of pocket with lots of freebies and discounts along the way. Once completed, the proof of concept was a calling card for me to boost the critical acclaim for the film in the industry, secure meetings with distributors and industry executives and most importantly raise the money to produce the feature film. This has been the single most important investment I have made in advancing this project as a producer, and would be something I would strongly advise.

FILMCO: What have been some of the challenges you have faced with taking your films from page to screen, and how have you overcome them?
PP: This is a crazy business so you need resilience and persistence. I have had key collaborators bow out of the process for a number of reasons, which forces you to adapt and find new people to fill those roles. I have had people and organisations blatantly renege on promises and financial commitments to me that have forced my team to reevaluate our budget and the means of getting things done, but again you adapt and find a new way. If I feel my story isn’t sound enough, I will spend weeks and months rewriting over and over again. If the problem is beyond my skill level, I invest in professional script doctors to examine the screenplay and give advice to enhance the script – not that I implement all their suggestions, but at least I have solid options to choose from. Financing is challenging of course, so I have partnered up with co-producers and executive producers who share my passion for the story to assist me in bringing cash, introducing me to investors, helping to provide discounts from service providers, or who can move the project forward in a meaningful way. 

As an artist it is crucial that you balance both the creative and the business aspect of the work. When you are creating, you are operating from the subconscious mind and passion drives you, but when it comes to producing the film and getting it made and sold, I try my best to see my labour of love through the lens of a merchandisable product or a commodity, as an investor would. To bridge the challenge of sourcing the financing, I try my best to position the film in the best possible way to earn a profitable return on investment for anyone who invests in me and my projects.

Behind the scenes photo from the set of “The Deliverer”

FILMCO: You are a Trinidadian filmmaker currently based in the US. How do/ would you transpose the skills you have obtained through the work you have done in the US to your experiences producing/ directing work in Trinidad?
PP: I don’t think of it any differently, working in Trinidad and in the US requires the same amount of rigour. It’s an extremely competitive industry with content coming from every corner of the globe. In my experience, the talent in Trinidad is on par with much of what I have experienced in New York. We have the same access via the internet to the same information for the most part. The only thing that is different is the access to the spaces and networks where major deals, financing, distribution and connections are made. That’s where the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival and FilmTT help in part to bridge the gap. There is much work to be done but it’s happening.

FILMCO: Many filmmakers understand how difficult it can be to access resources for producing a film. What are some of the steps you have taken in the past to open avenues of income and manage your producing responsibilities?
PP: I know in order to convince an investor that my project can be a good investment, I need to prove that the market finds value in the project: submitting it to film festivals and getting accepted and winning awards helps achieve that. While that in of itself isn’t a guarantee that your film is merchandisable, it does indicate a certain quality standard. We launched the trailer online that generated in excess of 80,000 views and hundreds of shares which was crucial to letting potential investors know that there is a market for this content. I also created a business plan that outlined for investors how their money would be repaid and a projection of how they would earn money on their investment. I think crowdfunding is a good way to go, creating a film website, a strong social media presence is also great. It all helps.

FILMCO: You have had a great deal of experience acting/directing in the field of theatre. Any advice for those who have started in a familiar position and are looking to crossover into filmmaking?
PP: I have directed in theatre and acted, of course. I think the best advice is to just jump in and do it. Make the mistakes, but just start. Find your tribe of similar-minded people and experiment. Find a mentor who supports your vision and has some time to spend showing you the ropes. But at the end of the day, you have to get out there and just do it. Good things will happen.

FILMCO: Given the knowledge of filmmaking that you now possess, if you could have a conversation with your 16 year old self about pursuing a career in film/ television, what would your advice be?
PP: Just start where you are. Study your craft, don’t be timid – let your passion and curiosity lead you. If anybody “fightin’ yuh down, jes overs dem.” People shoot down what they don’t understand, and others mostly just follow what the people who they love and trust tell them to do. You really have to trust your own instinct and your own dreams, seek knowledge and follow your gut. It’s okay to change course, but never do it because it’s too difficult. You are supposed to fail. It always takes longer than you think. It’s supposed to be hard. Makes the victory even sweeter.

FILMCO: What do you think are the three things we need to be able to build a sustainable film and television industry here in Trinidad and Tobago?
PP: 1. A more sophisticated system for local film and TV content from concept incubation, to development, financing, to marketing and distribution. We have top-notch production skills but the real exportation of Trinidadian film content is where I would love to see the industry go.
2. Further development and resources in fostering new and existing above the line creative talent in acting, directing, writing and producing. With mastery of outstanding storytelling, audiences will grow and revenues will come.
3. Opportunities for creatives to grow professionally by travelling to festivals and seminars around the world to interact, meet, learn, collaborate and build communities.

FILMCO:Tell us about what you’re working on now/ next?
PP: Now my focus is squarely on producing “The Deliverer” as a feature film. Please check out www.thedeliverermovie.com  I also have a number of other features and TV projects in development.