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Sunday 22 September 2019
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Soucouyant goes global

TT screenplay at international film fests

Teneille Newallo on the set of Magroves in character makeup. Photo courtesy Teneille Newallo
Teneille Newallo on the set of Magroves in character makeup. Photo courtesy Teneille Newallo

TENEILLE Newallo’s latest foray into screenwriting will soon have the eye of international audiences as well as studio and production company executives with the acceptance of her made-for-TV script, Soucouyant into two major global film festivals. This would represent one of the furthest reaches for a local screenplay and provides a beacon of light for the growing TT film industry. What sets Newallo’s initiative apart, is the way in which she has leveraged the changes in the industry to her advantage.

Mangroves, her short film designed as a proof of concept for Soucouyant, won the People’s Choice Award at the 2018 TT Film Festival. With Soucouyant however, Newallo made another specific plan.

“This TV series is something that we foresee having the global appeal and marketability of Game of Thrones with an entirely unique concept. It’s essentially designed to be on HBO, Netflix or any other major platform and has been in my mind and in the works for eight years,” she explained. “We submitted it to Caribbean Tales where it was selected for presentation at the Breakfast at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) pitches after we completed it through the three-day programme with Caribbean Tales called The Big Pitch. We also submitted it to the Oaxaca Film Festival in Mexico and the New Orleans Film Festival where it is a finalist in both,” she added. All three film festival spots will allow Newallo to share her ideas with established film production companies and representatives from Amazon Prime, Netflix and HBO among others, who are in a race to provide unique content on their services as the race heats up with streaming services internationally.

Filmmaker, actress, screenwriter and author Teneille Newallo. Photo courtesy Anthony Moore

Later this year, Disney will launch Disney+ featuring all the House of Mouse’s classics alongside new content from their more recent acquisitions of Marvel Studios and Star Wars properties, as well as National Geographic content. Apple will also introduce Apple TV+ with original content from mega stars such as Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg. Last year, Amazon announced that it had acquired the TV rights to JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings for close to US$250 billion alone, while Apple is investing between US$5 million to US$30 million for each of their new series and additions. The reality is that every platform is seeking unique new stories that can captivate customers who are willing to pay a premium for access.

What’s new in this context then, is the way in which Newallo has chosen to align with the international trends in TV and film production. No longer are creators seeking to capitalise off of small sponsorships to engage viewers on local television stations, but rather she is reaching out with our stories which can be told in a new, global context. All of these streaming platforms range (and will range) between US$5 to US$16 per month and can be viewed on mobile devices, smart TVs and smart TV boxes including Apple TV and Amazon Fire.

In that regard, Soucouyant may be the first in a wave of local stories made for international audiences via these streaming platforms. With the pilot for the TV show set in 1498 on the eve of Christopher Columbus’ rediscovery of our island, Newallo is putting her own spin on history and folklore with a storyline in keeping with the fantasy realms being popularised in film, TV and books.

Filmmaker, actress, screenwriter and author Teneille Newallo on the set of Mangroves with actor Anand Lawkaran. Photo courtesy Teneille Newallo

Her story will envision a world in which the first vampires are essentially created by the soucouyant, the Trinidadian folk creature, and follow on in planned successive seasons with the battle between soucouyants, vampires and humans. In that regard, her choice of the Oaxaca and New Orleans film festivals was a deliberate one as both of these cities offer high-level film rebate programmes but more importantly, have the right tropical environment and mangroves in which she hopes to film. Her first choice however, would be to film at home as TT offers the same – but that would ultimately be up to the studio and/or production company in time.

“We will of course try to incorporate as much local talent both in front and behind the camera as we see this as a potentially massive opportunity for work for the Caribbean in the film industry. I think that TT is ready for a big series like this; we have been waiting for a long time for an opportunity like this to blow up the local film industry,” Newallo pointed out. Earlier this year, Netflix snapped up the TV rights to another local writer’s story – One Year of Ugly. The yet to be published debut novel by Caroline McKenzie represents another major first by Caribbean talent.

In the next few weeks, Newallo, who also recently was featured in Sunday Newsday's WMN for her motivational book, Your Path to Self-Acceptance and True Happiness and her other work in the film industry, will spend the next few weeks at the three film festivals in pursuit of her dream of telling our stories, with her unique twists, to the world.

Follow developments via @soucouyanttvseries on Instagram.

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