“Roll starrrt”, Director Roger Bobb calls in an American or a British accent to his cast. He’s in a red-white stripe short-sleeve shirt, a blue jeans trouser and a sneaker. The call is an indirect order for compete silence before action begins on.
“Rooolling!” responds the cast. This response implies obedience to the director’s order.
Director Roger, 48, and his cast are on set for the thirteenth scene of a 95-scene Liberian movie titled “Providence”, a story about interaction between the Americo-Liberians and indigenous Liberians, writes Dr. Clarice Kula-Ford, the story’s author, on the cover page of the movie script.
‘Providence’ is being produced by Liberia Movie Dream, based in the United Kingdom.
The thirteenth scene is being shot at the Bella Casa Hotel in Sinkor, Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city, on the 16th of January, 2017. Actions spots are the Hotel’s yard and Bar on the top floor.
Shooting is ready.
A video camera on a tripod, an in-door video film’s light and an over-head microphone are turned to the direction of Liberian-Ghanaian actor Van Vicker (playing Richlou Dunbar, the son of the wealthy and influential Americo-Liberian family) explaining something to a bar attendant near a counter of a Bar in the top floor of the Hotel.
(Another part of the scene would be shot in another space opposite the Bar and the final part in the yard of the Hotel where Richlou would drive in in a grey Mercedes Benz)
Then appears ‘country girl’ Yassah (being played by Shoana Cachelle) from behind the camera but stands for Richlou to see her.
Richlou raises his head and looks toward Yassah, pauses his discussion with the bar attendant, and said in surprise “Yassah!” He walks to her, and attempts hugging her, but she holds up her hands between them to prevent contact of his body with hers.
Yassah’s facial expression changes to a terrible one, frees herself from Richlou’s embrace, and marches off to where she had come from.
“Yassah…Yassah…Yassa! It is not what you think! Yassah…Yassah…Yassa!” Richlou calls behind might-be wife marching off, swaying her waist provocatively.
Director Roger orders for the repetition of this action more than seven times for Van Vicker and Shoana Cachelle (the story’s lead characters) to master their respective roles.
For this scene, Van, a product of a European father and a Liberian-Ghanaian mother, changes costumes twice. First: a long-sleeve brown-black shirt and black cotton trouser. Second: a black coat suit.
Shoana starts in a peach body-tight suit (with edge of the skirt far above her kneecap) and changes to a white bedtime night-dress.
There’s chattering in a group of other cast members waiting for their turns, after Van and Shoana’s parts. They are all ladies. Some are doing self make-up; others are marching into or rushing out of the Dressing Room, the Bar’s Restroom, to change into appropriate costumes.
Two of those waiting to are journalists—all members of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL).
“I’m a Midwife in movie,” Anita Roberts, one of the journalists, an ex-employee of L-Radio in Monrovia, tells me in an interview with cast members on set at Bella Casa Hotel. Anita, a daughter of the late Liberian pop music star, Tecumseh Roberts, also tells me she’s an Image Consultant to the movie company filming the story.
Gloria Tamba, a reporter the Daily Observer, a newspaper in Liberia, is another journalist in the cast of “Providence”.
“I’m a University Student in the movie,” she tells me. “Acting is my first love; I started when I was in High School,” she adds. She’s combining her reportorial duty with her acting duty.
Young music sensation Ms. Sweet Musulyn Myers, Liberia’s representative to Project Fame West Africa, a musical contest sponsored by South Africa’s Telecommunication Company, MTN, in Nigeria in 2012, is also waiting.
“In ‘Providence’, I’m Harriet, a daughter of a native man and a Congo woman, Flomo and Louisa,” says the young Liberian artiste who was born in the U.S.
From the list of Diaspora Liberians featuring in “Providence” is Chichi Nebletti, who left Liberia for Ghana in 2003.
“Van Vicker told me in Ghana about the movie and encouraged me to be a part of the cast,” she tells me, adding that she had featured in many movies in Ghana where she’s based. Before coming to “Providence”, which is her first movie in Liberia, she says, she featured in “Happy Never After” (Ghana), “Mike Tyson” (Ghana), “Barrisa Anita” (Nigeria), and many more movies. “I also acted in Wedigar in Ghana,” she says, about a comic movie featuring one of Liberia’s popular comedians nick-named ‘Wedigar’.
The Make-up artist on set is Gloria Zebbeh Hayes. “I’m responsible for dressing up cast members of ‘Providence’ to make them resemble the real-life people they represent in the movie,” she says to me, applying cosmetics on the face of a young female cast member to appear ‘old’ in “Providence”.
She’s into music besides dressing up people for the movie, she tells. “Two of my songs are ‘Migrant’ and ‘All the Same’,” she informs me.
Even though a ‘Liberian’ movie, but the Technical team brings in some Ghanaian and Nigerian filmmakers to spice “Providence” with their technical expertise.
“I accepted the invitation to be part of the production of movie because of the story’s plot,” Ade Gbinte Hakeem, a Nigerian, and Director of Photography of ‘Providence’ tells me on-set.
Daniel Akwesi Arhin, a Ghanaian, and Sound Engineer of ‘Providence’, says: “Every scene of the movie is captivating and get you anxious to see the next scene. I think this movie will be the best.”
Who is ‘Yassah’ in the ‘Providence’?
“Yassah is sixteen-year-old,” Shoana Cachelle, who plays Yassah, explains to me at the end of shooting.
“She is the daughter of an indigenous Liberian family brought into the home of the Americo-Liberian family, the Dunbars, to be a house-help.
She falls in love with Richlou Dunbar, the only son of Yassah’s employers.But Richlou’s parents, Yassah’s employers, oppose the relationship, saying to him Yassah is not of his class.”
But ‘American breed’ Richlou Dunbar, Yassah’s age-mate, can’t stop loving this ‘country girl’, so Riclou’s parents drives Yassah from the house, adds Shoana, who is a Liberia-based young Liberian entrepreneur in real-life. “But they met thirty-five years later,” Shoana says.
Do Richlou and Yassah exchange marital vow at the altar, later? I asked Shoana.
“I will keep this information from you as suspense, so that you to watch ‘Providence’ on your TV screen,” she replies to my question and laughs.
How do the Diaspora Liberian filmmakers working on ‘Providence’ grade performances of Liberia-based Liberian movie makers against their colleagues in Ghana or Nigeria?
“I won’t answer this question because many people would take my answer out of context,” Van Vicker, who is based in Ghana, replies to the question from me.
“One of your colleagues asked me similar question some time ago, and some persons attacked me on my answers to the journalist’s questions.”
“I think Liberia-based Liberians into filmmaking or acting have the artistic talent or potentials like the Ghanaians or Nigerians, but they have a problem of mindset,” Christabell Leornard Peters, Executive Director of Boss Media, based in UK, responds to my question on comparison.
“Most of the people here want you to give them money for everything, even for the free training you’re organizing for them. Such mindset is hampering the growth of the film industry in Liberia.”
About two weeks following shooting of the 13th scene of ‘Providence’, Christabell and his colleagues conduct filmmaking training for Liberia-based filmmakers with the Liberia Movie Union under the Van Vicker Foundation.
Turning the script of ‘Providence’ wasn’t without challenges.
“Getting the equipment into Liberia was one of the challenges,” responds 48-year-old ‘Providence’ Director Rogers Bobb, a Liberian filmmaker born in London, but now lives and works in America where he has been since at age 20. He’s directed some movies in the American film industry—Hollywood.
“Another challenge was getting together Liberians from different countries to act in this historical Liberian movie.”
The amount of money spent on turning the script ‘Providence’ into a film wasn’t disclosed to me. But getting the equipment being used would cost more than four thousand United States Dollars, from Boss Media’s Christabell’s disclosure on his company’s charge for bringing filming equipment into Liberia.
“We charge around five thousand,” he replies to my question about the amount he would take from me if I want his film company use their equipment to turn into movie my Liberian novel, “Grade Sin”, a story about problems in the education sector of Liberia, including bribery and sex for grades, and how students use their mobile phones to expose their school’s officials on grades-related crimes.
Like many other filming expeditions, production of ‘Providence’ was not free of criminal behavior by some persons who had come to only feature in the movie.
“Many people left in the early period of production, after complaints of missing phones and other things started coming up regularly from their owners,” Derrick Snyder, Footage Manager of ‘Providence’, tells me.
The cast and technical crew of “Providence” are all Liberians based in different parts of the world. From Ghana, America and United States, for example, come Rogers Bobb (USA), Christabell Leonard Peters (UK); and Zubin Cooper (USA), who co-produced a documentary of the Liberian civil war.
As scriptwriter Clarice Ford-Kula writes in the introduction of “Providence”, the story begins in Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America, and ends in Liberia. Parts of the intro reads: “It is based on the experiences and relationship between the Americo-Liberians and the indigenous people of Liberia.”
“Providence” is a good story, in my judgment, and all Liberians who now prefer Nigeria’s films over Liberia’s (due to poor quality of the latter in all areas of filmmaking) will rush for it. The film is of quality—based mostly on the inputs of filmmakers (Liberians) working in America’s and Britain’s film industries.
Grading “Providence”, as a movie, I would talk about only one ‘but’ (problem).
The problem is wrong pronunciations of English words by some members of the cast on-set for Scene 13 at the Bella Casa Hotel. This is a national problem in Liberia. You will hear such ‘flawed diction’ from characters of ‘Providence’ on your television screens. But this problem doesn’t rub off the quality of this Liberian literary masterpiece.
On the entirety of ‘Providence’, my thumb up to director Rogers Bobb and his teams! With “Providence”, the Liberian movie industry (christened ‘Lollywood’) has taken a long stride in comparison to those of other countries on the global movie stage!
About the Author:
Samuel G. Dweh, an author, is a Liberian writer of fiction and fiction and a member of Liberia’s two national writers’ groups: Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and Liberia Association of Writers (LAW)