Local filmmaker Frank E. Flowers is a native son of whom the islands are very proud. His full-length feature film “Haven,” starring the likes of Orlando Bloom, Zoe Saldana and Anthony Mackie, brought the magic of Hollywood to Cayman, with the cast reuniting for CayFilm 2016 at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
His latest creation, “Tocsin,” once again highlights the Cayman Islands with actors Garrett Hedlund (“Tron: Legacy,” “Mudbound,” “Unbroken”) and Juno Temple (“The Dark Knight Rises,” “Maleficent,” “Black Mass”) joining the local cast comprised of Shane Allenger, Chad Bodden and Margaux Maes.
The film is a 12-minute short and tells the story of a young musician who travels to a remote island studio in search of inspiration. While attempting to overcome his creative block, he discovers a much darker secret hidden within the shallows.
“Tocsin” premiered at the Camana Bay Cinema on June 15 with three showings and an after-party, giving audience members a chance to mingle with the cast and crew. Flowers was encouraged by the fact that many who saw the film asked if there was a plan to expand it to a feature-length project or maybe to film a sequel.
“Most people wanted to see more, which is great,” says Flowers, who revealed that it took about six months to make, from concept to filming.
The idea for the story came to him when he was traveling in cooler climes than the Caribbean.
“I was inspired by a boat trip I took in Alaska,” he says. “I saw this lighthouse in the middle of nowhere and I started to think about someone there, in isolation, where the mind can play tricks on you after a while.”
The director says that he has notebooks everywhere and is constantly jotting down the ideas that he has at least a few times a week. Many just remain in the books, but some are shared with friends as an almost subconscious way of bouncing concepts off them.
“When I first mentioned the idea for the story that became ‘Tocsin,’ people laughed,” he says, “but then I couldn’t stop thinking about it and my friends were emailing me, saying the same thing.” In the end, Flowers couldn’t resist the pull of the tale, and in Dec. 2017 in a “whirlwind of craziness,” he started fleshing out the idea and got to putting together a cast and crew.
Hedlund had been visiting the Cayman Islands on vacation for a number of years and he and Flowers already knew each other. He was planning a trip in 2018 anyway and was happy to sign up for the project.
“He basically said he was happy to do anything he could to give back to the local film community,” says Flowers, who added that Hedlund was “super prepared” and elevated moments of the film using his professional instincts.
The all-local production called on Cayman actors Maes, Allenger and Bodden to bring the story to life, along with Hedlund and British actress Juno Temple. Maes had a particularly interesting part – playing a mermaid, which required her to don a 45-pound silicon tail. Luckily, she was born to play the role, thanks to years of underwater experience on expeditions throughout the Caribbean and beyond with her parents Ellen Cuylaerts and Michael Maes. Cuylaerts is an award-winning underwater photographer and Maes is an award-winning videographer; he was also the underwater choreographer for the film.
The behind-the-scenes crew were also locally sourced, making the on-set atmosphere a very friendly one.
“The vibe and energy were great,” says Flowers. “We felt like a family in a couple of days. Usually you don’t get that feeling until at least the second month into a feature film shoot, if ever.”
Filming took place over five days, with one day shot underwater, two days of on-land principal photography, and another two “pick-up” days to complete the gathering of footage.
Flowers praised the team that sometimes had to go to work in his absence and spoke about the pros and cons of filming in Cayman.
“It’s my home, so for me it’s much more relaxing,” says Flowers, “but it takes a village to get the job done [sometimes]. If something breaks, you can’t just drive to Burbank and get a replacement [laughs].
“That being said, everyone was so level-headed and willing to find a solution when any issues arose, that the stress you might find on other sets was pleasantly absent.”
Feature films or shorts?
When it comes to a choice between shooting a feature film and a short, Flowers definitely leans towards the former. The running time allows him to properly “tell a story to its completion” and then there are the financial aspects to take into consideration. Shorts, although easier filming experiences with less pressure, often end up costing filmmakers money. They are a good way to get a foot in the door in the industry, but once you’ve established yourself as Flowers has, shorts more become labors of love and passion projects than a main source of income.
Overall, the Caymanian director and storyteller is excited about what he is seeing in the film industry. “There are some amazing films out there from first-time directors like Jordan Peele and John Krasinski … such interesting stories being told,” Flowers says.
We can’t wait to see what the future holds for Frank E. Flowers.
Look for the film ‘Tocsin’ at the local Poinciana Festival.