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Thursday 22 February 2018

Aurora Herrera: In Production

Local film producer, Aurora Herrera, considers herself lucky to have grown up in a family setting that valued a well-rounded life. Growing up, she was encouraged to take an active role in sports, as well as nature-oriented outdoor activities. She was also encouraged to be receptive to “hard and soft” sciences, literature, art, and music.

“My entry into the world of film came at a young age when my mother began to film environmental documentaries,” Aurora says of her first exposure to the industry she now calls home. “This was a wonderful experience: seeing our country’s caves, waterfalls, flora and fauna captured on film.” At the age of 14, she was offered the opportunity to write a column for a leading local news publication, and interned at Gayelle The Channel as a co-host for one of their television shows at 17.

She was accepted into the Journalism Specialist Programme at the University of Toronto and studied, lived, and worked in Canada for five years before returning home and partnering with her mother to launch an environmental television show, Showcase Environment.

It was this varied background and experiences that fostered Aurora’s passion for media. “I truly believe that it is the best platform to effect positive and sustainable change in the world,” she says. “For me, utilising media means fiction and non-fiction storytelling through film and television and also the practice of journalism.” Upon returning to Trinidad in 2011, her sights were set on work as a journalist. Yet, small coincidences seemed to gently steer her in a different direction. Firstly, she was offered work on the set of Caribbean’s Next Top Model where she was introduced to Danielle Dieffenthaller, a woman she respected since the TT classic Westwood Park was on air. Soon, she would meet other colleagues who she grew to admire: she worked with Robert Dumas as a researcher for his film Red White and Black: A Sports Odyssey, and eventually interviewed with the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff), becoming the official blogger for the festival – a position she filled for the past three festivals.

It was at a festival event that she met filmmaker Sean Hodgkinson. “He told me he needed a first assistant director for his film, Trafficked. I had never done that job before but it spoke to my skill set. That was my conception into the Quirky Films family, which I am proud to still be a part of today,” she shares of her first active role in film production.

She has worked on the projects of fellow filmmakers such as Salty Dog (2017), which makes its national premiere at this year’s ttff, The Warehouse (2016), Bazodee (2016), as well as other commercial work. She also produced The Weekend (2017), another Quirky production that is nominated for People’s Choice Award at this year’s festival.

“A producer is essentially responsible for co-ordinating the filmmaking process from beginning to end, developing the project with the director and other team members, finding funding, and running the production from casting to post-production,” she explains of the role she has now taken onset. “A producer makes sure that everyone does their assigned task on time and within budget.” However, she points out that in our local film industry, one person may wear many hats; directors may produce, producers may manage audio, actors edit, editors write, and writers create musical scores. She believes this diversity in roles is part of the magic that has birthed our local industry. “However, I don’t feel that is a fair or sustainable practice. Each person should have the opportunity to be paid for their particular role and also feel supported by all others fulfilling their own roles.” Of her producer credit on The Weekend, she describes the experience as intense and wonderful. “It was wonderful because so many people came together to give of their time and talent to the project,” she says, revealing that 42 pages of script was shot in three and a half days, as the cast and crew worked 20-hour days during filming. “I once described The Weekend as a passion project that took so much and gave so much. [Director] Sean has a very special ability to tell stories with dark undertones in a funny way; in many ways, this type of storytelling embodies our distinctive Trinbagonian culture and when I work with Quirky, I feel like I play a direct part in translating the nuances of our national identity on the screen.” She also worked as co-producer on Salty Dog, working alongside director Oliver Milne and producer Lesley-Anne Macfarlane, who she says has been one of her mentors and inspirations as a multi-talented woman trailblazer in the industry.

Of her work on the film, she says, “I scouted locations, set up casting sessions, and worked onset during initial weeks of filming.” Salty Dog is nominated for best TT short at this year’s film festival and Aurora holds pride in being a part of its coming-to-life.

While Aurora does not believe in “gender essentialism”, she does note that there are roles within the film industry that are not equally represented across genders. “I would definitely love to see all of these roles benefitting from equal representation,” she says, attributing directing roles to a mostly male demographic, while producers, script-writers, and costume designers tend to skew to a female average.

She has been privileged to work on balanced and diverse sets, where the gender imbalance isn’t glaring. However, outside of sets and in the arena of finance, she feels that women are less successful in securing funding for film projects than their male counterparts. “I think this speaks to our gender biases in society and needs to change.” As for the contribution of the ttff, she praises the organisation for effectively creating platforms for filmmaking on our shores that has consistently grown the industry. “They have provided workshops for filmmakers and producers, carefully opened up the market for Caribbean films, and painstakingly built regional and international relationships with investors and filmmakers,” she praises, adding that the festival has intelligently programmed the festival to examine pertinent societal issues. “The ttff has moved our country forward.” Yet, she notes that the availability of such progressive cinema that highlights our stories and societal contexts outside of the festival remains elusive, as opposed to cheaper and more accessible options such as cable television and Hollywood movies. “Hardworking creatives toil for months to years working on a project with very little revenue,” she says, pointing out that the channels for proper remuneration or constant funding to tell our own stories are limited at best.

“I fully acknowledge that our television stations need favourable economics to run. However, I feel that it is past time to negotiate terms between local content producers and television stations. We have the content. Now we need the platforms.

“The stakeholders of nation building have outlined the desire to ‘see ourselves on television’. However, how can these stakeholders expect the very people asked to work creatively to survive within substandard conditions?” She believes this situation can be changed if proper negotiated standardised contracts are instated, providing sustainable living and job security for creatives. As it stands, many cast and crewmembers currently create and contribute to projects solely out of passion, with no financial impetus.

“As human beings who are called to create, our work carries a very deep meaning,” says Aurora of the offerings the people in our local film industry bring. “Often, these cultural meanings have a hand in defining and redefining personal and national identities. This is a huge impact.” Even against such financial obstacles, Aurora is proud to be a part of our local film industry, and sees the ttff and other bodies that promote our local film market as irreplaceable. While there is still a ways to go, the progress that has been made thus far cannot be ignored.

“I genuinely feel that I am contributing to effecting positive change within TT. I am able to manifest and engage in national conversations on human rights, migration, government corruption, environmental degradation, crime, family, economic imperatives, art, and creation,” she says of the topical themes that can be relayed effectively through the magic of film.

“I have been very blessed to possess my particular skill set and I have worked very hard to develop and expand it. I believe that life is a gift and that if you can utilise your talents to make the world a better place, then you should.” 7


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