Shooting for success
Horses, guns, cowboys — Kalilah Robinson’s film project had all the ingredients for a great western.
There were just two things it lacked, time and money.
When she started filming in February 2016, she had a budget of just $40,000 and ten months to work with.
“Lawman was the most insanely ambitious project I’ve ever taken on,” said the 34-year-old Bermudian film-maker.
Disaster was the catalyst behind the film.
“It only came about due to bizarre circumstances,” she said.
In November 2015, she was working on a masters in cinematography and production at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.
To get her degree she had to complete a thesis film with a team of students, on a topic not of her choosing. A month before shooting the team fell into disarray.
“It’s not something that happens very often at AFI, but the team was disbanded,” she said. “As a result each of the individual members were thrown into confusion, trying to figure out how to meet graduate requirements.”
The event was a blessing in disguise, because it allowed her to choose her own direction.
For years she’d been fascinated by Bass Reeves, the first black deputy to serve west of the Mississippi River in the 1890s.
Now she had the opportunity to make Mr Reeves’s life into a movie.
“I first learnt about Bass Reeves through a television show called Justified,” she said. “The topic was the old west. One of the characters said Denzel Washington should have played Bass Reeves. It was a random throw away comment, and then the characters moved on to something else.”
Lawman was directed by her friend Matthew Gentile and written by Josh Aichenbaum.
Lawman was filmed at Caravan West in Agua Dolce, California run by western movie aficionado Peter Sherayko.
“He had trailers full of costumes, props and weapons,” Ms Robinson said. “All the guns in the movie were real, firing blanks, 1/4 or 1/2 rounds. Peter also helped us by bringing on a horse wrangler whom he works with routinely.”
Tory Kittles from films Tigerland, American Heist and HBO series True Detective played Bass Reeves. Other lead actors were Lance Reddick and Erica Tazel.
She completed Lawman last December and started shopping it to different film festivals in January.
“It’s still early days yet to know if it has gotten in anywhere,” Ms Robinson said.
She’s particularly hoping the film will be shown at the Bermuda International Film Festival. She can remember skipping classes as a high school student to see films at the first BIFF.
“I always loved movies,” she said, “but I never thought of film as a career.”
She studied psychology at Stanford University in Stanford, California but loved hanging out with the film society.
“I made a few films for a director friend and then spent a summer course at a film school in Los Angeles,” she said. “By the end of 2002, I was like, wait a second, I could do this as a job.”
She took a year off from psychology to do a film production programme in Los Angeles.
After graduation from Stanford she hopped around the film industry. She made a low-budget feature film, Rag Tag in London. She helped Platinum Studios in LA make the comic book version of Cowboys & Aliens, and she also worked as a production assistant and then a production co-ordinator on a few music videos and promos, for Def Leppard and Tim McGraw and promos for FX TV show Sons of Anarchy.
But she wasn’t totally happy.
“I was driving myself mad because I wasn’t feeling that same rush that I did when I first held a 16mm camera,” she said. “I was close, but still not full satisfied.”
In 2008, she decided to focus more on cinematography and production.
“I started working in production and then camera on documentaries, mainly sports documentaries, in the United States,” she said. “Then I brought that experience back to the island and made the Bermuda Folklife documentary series for Community and Cultural Affairs.
“I shot and co-produced multiple seasons of web series such as Lisa and Amy are Black and The Slutty Years with friends before realising that if I wanted to take my cinematography career seriously then I would have to go back to school to hone my craft.”
Today, she sees that Lawman was a real gamble, but it paid of.
“I’m really proud of it,” she said. “It is one of the most amazing feats of my career today. It’s a gamble that really paid off.”
•To learn more about the film see lawmanthefilm.com
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