Shaun Escayg is a Trinidadian writer and director based in Los Angeles. In 2012 his debut short film, Fish (ttff/12), won several international awards. Noka: The Keeper of Worlds (2014) is his latest short film.
In preparing for this film, I did read that Escayg’s background in the special-effects industry has allowed him to work on several major movies such as Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Scott Pilgrim vs the World and, most recently, The Last of Us.
I though, that’s great, he is qualified. Still, I was very curious. How would our folk stories translate on the silver screen? How would he keep our stories local yet infuse them with the ability to be shared with the world in a successful cinematic way?
Eight-year-old Gabriel, played by Stephen Nagy, suffers from schizophrenia and like his deceased grandfather is a timid recluse. He encounters an old friend of the family, Midnight, who gives him his grandfather’s journal. This journal opens a portal into a parallel world filled with creatures and mystics, challenging his beliefs and empowering the young boy.
Noka gives our old folk tales a modern edge and makes them relatable to the younger generation. The cast, especially Midnight, played by Conrad Parris, brought the film alive. He definitely gave me the heebie-jeebies. Gabriel, played by Stephen Nagy, is a formidable new talent who was applauded by the audience and who we all really hope to see more from.
The animation is really well done and I would like to congratulate Escayg. At times, I felt that I was engaging with the same creatures of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.
The set and costume design also pays great compliment to our local talent. As Jonathan Ali, Editorial Director of the Festival said, “We are expecting big things. You have the film festival in your corner and we will be supporting you and we are behind you all the way.”
Here is how the Q&A with the audience went down.
Take us back to the beginning and the idea behind Noka. Where did it all start?
My grandmother used to tell me all of these stories about soucouyants and la diablesse as a little boy. I was petrified but it was fun and at the same time it got the creative juices flowing in my head. So when I got to LA and I got into film, all of these things were influences and that’s what you see.
Are there plans to make a feature out of this?
Yes. So this is basically a “proof of concept” for a feature film. It will involve more characters and go more in-depth with the noka. So yes, there are plans.
Are you connected to the animation society of Trinidad?
I am connected to Anime Caribe. I have worked with them and Jason [Lindsay] is a facilitator of a lot of the work you see there as well. The goal is to try to develop the industry so we try to work together.
The house in the film, where is it located?
That’s the Stollmeyer’s estate in Santa Cruz. It’s beautiful.
I would just like to know how Stephen, the young man, mentally prepared for this role and get into the part so well, for such a young person?
Stephen Nagy: Sean helped me a lot and taught me the steps and what to be expecting. Of course I didn’t necessarily see all the monsters and creatures and he also helped me a lot with preparing myself for what’s coming.
Sean: And he’s pretty talented.
How many local people did you use for the film in terms of costuming and make up?
The only foreigner was the assistant director. Everyone is local and there is such amazing talent [here]. From the wardrobe to set design, everyone is very talented.
Were there any major difficulties in getting this film done compared to Fish?
Because of the CGI this was a lot animation. So the cut was waiting, everything else was waiting, it was just the animation. That made it a longer process and without budget it was really difficult. So it was eight months after we shot the film until the film was completed for four minutes of animation.
When you are in LA and you meet with investors and producers and you tell them about your ideas, how receptive are they in terms of Trinidad and Tobago as a place for doing the things that you want to do?
That’s a good question. They are surprisingly pretty excited about it, especially the accent, especially the set. I was shocked with the reaction to Fish. So how I started with Fish, it was pretty violent, not like this with kids but it was a test to see how Americans view [Trinidad] and [Trinidadian] English dialect in a non-foreign-language film and the reaction was overwhelming. We had written Noka first and we weren’t sure if anyone would like it and then we ended up with Fish and everyone loved it so I said OK, it’s time for a more extensive film.
Noka: The Keeper of Worlds will have one more showing on Monday 29 September, 3.30pm at MovieTowne POS.