Platinum Award Winning and, African Movie Academy Award-nominated director LEILA DJANSI started writing the script for “Sinking Sands” in March 2009, as result of being self-conscience of her scar.
“I have a scar on my arm that I always felt self-conscience about, because I am a girl. I always felt this was something that stuck out on me. I began to think, what would happen if someone had a very visible scar, how would it affect them,” shares Leila.
Being the story is based loosely on her scar; she decided to give the scar to a male character, because she feels men have more complex emotions and feelings than women. It would have been too easy to give the woman a scar. With a scar a woman is automatically not physically attractive. With a man, it may not be as superficial.
‘Men try to play down their emotions. Giving the scar to a man lets me know who to better relate to it,” explains Leila. “In my opinion, men are little more rational than women. So giving the scar to a man, you will see how both a real man and woman would react to it, giving it dimension. Giving it to a woman it would be very predictable.”
The first person to come to mind to play this part of Jimah Sanson was
Haitian-born Hollywood actor/model Jimmy Jean-Louis. He had all the physical superficial qualities that could bring the complexities of having a very visible scar.
Having worked with him on “I Sing of A Well” she decided to send him the script. Because he loved the script she was able to cast him right away.
The role of Pabi was very interesting for her to cast because she knew she wanted Ama K. Abebrese for the role of Pabi Adulai-Sanson, but was not sure if she could pull it off. Leila felt because Ama K. had a very comfortable upbringing and adult life, would she be able to channel the emotions of the character. After a reading and meeting with Ama K. she knew she had made the right choice.
“I knew the script was very dark and I needed to have an actor and actress who can bring it to life and make it believable. Jimmy and Ama K. did just that from day one. They brought the emotions and the concepts I wanted captured and centered around the scar.”
Whether a physical or emotional scar, the characters are both looking for cures. She feels what a scar brings out in people is the lack of self-esteem and a sense of insecurity which can be destroyers of a person. A physical scar can be cured with plastic surgery, and, as she as been told, an emotional scar can be cured with love.
“What is most important is that you can heal an emotional scar as you can heal a physical scar. It was so liberating to me when I finished writing the script that I walked around set wearing sleeveless shirts. Pretty much I was telling myself, life goes on and you are not being judged by it.”
“It is the way the individual deals with the scar, whether emotional or physical that makes the difference. In the film, Jimah (Jean-Louis) has the physical scar and chooses to deal with it by being cold and violent towards his wife.
While Pabi (Abebrese), his wife chose to deal with her emotional scar, lack of love all her life, by taking the abuse.”
Leila feels that all people have it in them to deal with situations with abuse, but it is never okay in her book. She chose to intertwine physical abuse in the film as a way to show we are all human and have very animalistic reactions depending on the situation.
“I don’t believe any man or woman wakes up and decides to be abusive to their spouses. There has to be a reason…a missing link, an emotional disconnect, an emotional imbalance, something should have gone wrong somewhere. You must explore to find out where and maybe you can heal the scar be it emotional or physical.”
“Sinking Sands” Pulls Firsts
With a successful and emerging film industry as Ghana’s Gollywood, Leila still managed to pull out some firsts for the industry. “Sinking Sands” is the first feature film in some years to go back to using set design, to have a Hollywood small-budget, and to be shot using Red camera technology.
The Ghana Film Industry dates back to the 1940’s when it was apart of the government under the Information Services Department, where the government would produce films to educate the masses of Ghana on the western ways in hopes to conform the people. Because these were well crafted subjects with channeled propaganda, sets were built to give the correct setting in order to convey specific messages.
It was not until the 1990’s that the film industry took a turn, becoming an industry driven by citizen filmmakers, based on stories about family and “good versus evil” captured on video, and proved to be very lucrative.
Leila chose to go back to the roots of the industry by creating her own set, which has not been done in over two decades.
She explains, “I was thinking, what I can do to set the film apart from what all other Ghanaian filmmakers are doing. I wanted to build a set that would be just the way I wanted and would capture the emotion I wanted on camera. Everything looked great on film.”
A 3,000-square foot warehouse was transformed into a set fit for one can say Hollywood or colonial Ghana by Production Designer Anthony (Tony) Tomety.
“Once the location was confirmed, I told Tony exactly what I wanted, the time period and the scenes we would shoot on this set. From here, Tony took it and gave me what I wanted. He made it seem as if it was easy,” said Leila.
The process to transform the warehouse into the home of couple Jimah (Jean-Louis) and Pabi (Abebrese) and Jimah’s co-worker and love interest Stella (Trustina Aku Fafa Sabah) took two weeks to build, with the help of 24 people.
“After reading the script and having my first meeting with Leila, where we discussed certain walk movements she wanted to have in the main house, I went back and did some floor plans and 3-D designs of the whole set and arrangements of props and furniture in the rooms of what I thought the set should look,” explains Tony.
“Leila and I agreed on my final designs taking into consideration all the movements and camera angles we had discussed. I then scaled the whole set down by measurements to fit the space and size of the warehouse taking into consideration not to oversize the rooms considering the status of the characters in the film.”
The construction needed to create the look that dates back to 1998 and reflected certain darkness in both homes. Tony chose to use colors in almost dark tones and shades to create that mood. From the walls to furniture, wall hangings, table props, curtains, upholstery, to the floor are colors that will keep everything on a more quite and dark side but certain to compliment each other.
The walls of the couple’s home had a dark color of blue which he chose to help create the right mood. Most of the furniture was made up of dark woods so to still capture the mood and stay in the time period.
Subtle details as using curtains that were a little busy and patterned with flowers compliments the time period while giving it just the famine touches needed Tony’s largest concern was getting props and staying on budget
He explains, “Finding the props and furniture for the period was difficult. We unfortunately don’t have Prop houses here where you can actually find some or most of the items one will need for productions. I really had to do a lot of walking around, phone calling and even placing advertisements just to see what I could find.
”Finally using items owned by friends and family, he was left to rent main items and purchase accent props from shops in town, allowing him to stay on budget.
Leila knew it would be more economical to build a set rather than shoot the film like most, where you go to a home an occupy it for days on end paying a rental fee that is most times more costly then having a set built.
“Sinking Sands” can be logged as the largest budgeted film shot in Ghana with a price tag of $1 million. This can be considered a small budget for a Hollywood film. No doubt elements of Hollywood can be seen in the film. From the actors to the special effects, Leila spared no expense to bring a quality film to screen.
“Because this is a dark story, I wanted to make sure it came across on film as a story where everyone can relate. This can be done through carefully choosing the actors, cast, and crew. I want it to be very believable when you see it on big screen,” clarifies Leila.
To add to the believability, the film was shot using Red Camera technology. There is only one Red Camera in the country of Ghana and to date it has only been used to film commercials.
The Red Camera is a new technology that allows filmmakers to take filmmaking into the digital age. It can be considered as much of a computer as it is a camera. The look of the film has characteristics of a still digital picture, very crisp and concise, though it can be manipulated to any feature a filmmaker so desires, still having the film quality. It is the sharpest form of picture that is closely related to actually shooting with film for an economical price.
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