A report by Kimberley Small for Jamaica’s Gleaner.
Mental blinkers in place, film director Storm Saulter and producer Rob Maylor have toiled tirelessly for the past seven years, striding strongly side by side to accomplish what the local film industry and its audience celebrate – this next step towards international renown, reclaim and respect. Finally, Sprinter (2018) is available on Netflix US, Canada, and the Caribbean.
As they celebrate the film’s placement on a major streaming platform, the film-makers are also fashioning themselves as cartographers of sorts, who have mapped out a comprehensive step-by-step from idea, to script, production, premiere and distribution.
“It’s really gratifying. I am really proud of the ability to maintain the life of this film and its story. This is something the whole cast and crew can look back on with pride. The fact that we now have hundreds of millions of people that have access, as a creative, that’s what you want. You make it so it can be seen and shared,” Maylor told The Gleaner.
Influential as the US market may be, Sprinter’s digital availability spreads wider than Netflix’s net. Saulter revealed that the film is available worldwide. People all over the world can rent or buy the film on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Google Play and Xbox.
“You can rent it through YouTube’s rental service,” the director added. “Everyone has access. It’s not only people in the US that can now see the film.”
PITCH AND SCRIPT DEVELOPMENT
Maylor, formerly of Magnolia Pictures, met Saulter about seven years ago. “He had pitched me on telling a story about a sprinter,” the producer shared. But it was a follow-up encounter that sealed the deal.
In 2015, Maylor was a judge at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, and Saulter was there to compete. “[Storm] sat with me and said he wants to practise pitching it to me, so he can learn and try to win this pitch competition.” Saulter was convincing enough in that session, and the pair decided to work together.
Following that decision were three months of script development, a much more strategic task than just getting the lines right. This step can determine future moves, like distribution. “It was about getting the script to a point where the story really lived in both worlds, so it had a reason to connect to the US,” Maylor explained.
Script developed, the producer was able to attach talent, like David Alan Grier and Byshere Gray, who he believed would help sell the film to a wider audience than just the Caribbean.
PRODUCTION AND PREMIERE
Utilising his connections, Maylor got the script reviewed by the Overbrook Entertainment team (Will and Jada Smith) in 2016. Having Overbrook in their corner, Sprinter was shot that same year. With Saulter commuting between Kingston and Los Angeles, to maintain his commercial directing career, editing took another year. “He and I were basically doing things over the phone, ping-ponging it,” Maylor described.
Now with the final reel, it’s time to plan a premiere. According to Maylor, if the film wasn’t developed by a major studio, it should premiere at a film festival. In the case of Sprinter, that was the American Black Film Festival in 2017.
Saulter was previously acquainted with the festival, where his award-winning debut film Betta Mus Come premiered. Sprinter was awarded Best Director, Best Narrative Feature and the Audience Award. “That was really a game changer. Then we had lots of film festivals reaching out to us. That made selling the film a lot easier and getting a US distributor on board,” Maylor said.
Throughout 2018, Sprinter was screened at film festivals in major cities around the world, where there were large concentrations of West Indian people. “We knew that we were trying to create a road map for film-makers that come after us. For me, that map meant we need to play in London, Toronto, Miami, New York. I made sure we had festivals and traditional screenings in all those cities,” Maylor said.
By 2019, the production signed on with film and television distribution company, FilmRise. With the company’s platform, people could choose to screen the film at a theatre of their choice. Through that process, Sprinter was screened in over 40 cities.
Sprinter hit big screens in the United States in April 2019 and then in the United Kingdom in September 2019. During the summer, the film had its homerun (six weeks). The film also played in Martinique, Trinidad and Tobago, Guadeloupe and others.
“Now, here we are in the first quarter. The Netflix deal closed around Christmas 2019, but we couldn’t tell anybody,” Maylor shared. As the producer celebrates this new level of visibility, he’s cognisant that it’s not for profit. Instead, the placement is a stepping stone for the next Caribbean film-makers aiming for international acclaim.
He said: “Storm and I are trying to build a Caribbean production environment, where people want to bring their films to Jamaica to shoot, and also have projects that are home-grown.”
Storm added: “It will create a precedent. It will prove that there is a large international market for films that are Caribbean, or about Caribbean people. That’s always been the goal, and now is the opportunity to prove that. If we get millions of people to watch and create a moment with this, it will be one that the next wave of film-makers coming up across the region can continue to build on. That’s really what it’s all about.”
In addition to Netflix, Sprinter was also picked up by MNET, described by Maylor as the ‘HBO of Africa’.
Sprinter stars Dale Elliott, Shantol Jackson, David Alan Grier, Kadeem Wilson and Lorraine Toussaint.