Cue, Action, Drama — The Road to Making Gippie’s Kingdom

Tension is brewing in the Caribbean as “Gippie’s Kingdom,” the first TV soap opera created by Bahamians, is getting ready to air their second season. The show is written and directed by Dr. Ian Strachan and features Chigozie Ijeoma as the title character, a middle-aged widower who is struggling to make critical life decisions as his entire world seems to be crumbling. The characters take on a multitude of issues that are considered common and, in some cases, taboo in the Caribbean culture.

The first season debuted on June 13, 2012. Since then, the company has nearly doubled the run, lengthening the duration from eight episodes in season one to 14 in season two. They are currently in post-production for the second season and have boasted many changes to the show’s production quality and storyline.

We spoke to executive producer of the show Travon Patton and gained his perspective on the series.

Travon Patton

Travon Patton

POTENT Magazine: “Gippie’s Kingdom” is recognized as the first televised Bahamian soap opera. Why do you think there haven’t been any before now?

Travon Patton: That’s exactly what we’ve been asking. I’m guessing someone would have to write a few episodes, which persons may believe may be too time consuming. Maybe the logistics of actually putting together the series such as casting, scouting, filming, etc. would dissuade persons working a 9-5 work schedule. Maybe the financial costs of producing a Bahamian drama series seems too daunting to even begin production, not to mention trying to make some of your investment back. There are a host of reasons why a Bahamian televised soap opera did not emerge before now. It’s essentially suicidal. However, any good student of history would observe that making a sacrifice that is essentially suicidal has seemingly always preceded the start of something great. We are no Wright brothers, but we feel that the creation of “Gippie’s Kingdom” is extremely important to the future of Bahamian television.

PM: What was the reason for telling the story in the form of a soap opera?

TP: Well, when I think of a soap opera, I think of an almost endless arrangement of drama, conflict, and intrigue that leaves one wanting to see how things play out between well-defined characters. However, it also has a unique freedom in that it can have some comedy, it can have some action, it can essentially be anything, but it wasn’t required to be anything, other than melodramatic. When the writer, Dr. Ian Strachan brought the project to my attention, I had first felt skeptical about the term ‘soap opera.” However, after reading a few lines of the script, the advantages of the genre became increasingly clear for the Bahamian cultural space. The soap opera format allowed both the melodramatic relationship conflicts to merge seamlessly with the comedic attributes of the Bahamian personality.  Furthermore, there is no drama like Bahamian drama. It is virtually a new form of storytelling as a visual discourse, so the possibilities were endless when it came to telling Gippie’s story in the form of a soap opera.

Monique
PM: The production crew has been very open about the show’s relatively small budget. What kinds of issues have you faced in regards to securing funding and
what sponsorship have you all gained since it first aired?

TP: Funding, funding, funding. Fundraising is a producer’s worst nightmare. Too bad it’s his job to find the money. Getting the project off the ground wasn’t a problem, logistically. We [got] the equipment with the help of a company I am also a part of called Fam Entertainment. We also had friends and family members that let us borrow cars, props, and apartments. Our cast and crew did not require payment. We had actors that essentially signed on to the project just wanting to be a part of something big. It was our idea to go the extra mile and raise the funds to pay the team. Paying the cast and crew was something we wanted to achieve not only because they deserved it, but because we had to create a sustainable blueprint for the future. We had to know if we could fundraise in the Bahamas, we had to at least try, despite not knowing how we were going to raise the money for over 30 cast members and essentially nine crewmembers. In some ways we believed we had something to prove and it has been an unbelievable learning experience. In many ways, one can attribute our fundraising success to divine providence because it was practically a very new idea to corporate Bahamas. We did what we could in presentations; dusting off every coat in the closet, personalizing video presentations, creating sponsorship booklets, [and] a website, however we could still see the “Am I going to get fired for this?” look in a lot of marketing agents’ eyes. It was quite humbling. Personally, you knew how much work went into the series and you really wish you could somehow telepathically transmit that to the persons with the money however that just isn’t the way things work. Thankfully, our national telecommunications company, BTC, and its Marketing Manager, Marlon Johnson, took an interest in our project and decided to grant us our first cheque. That was an amazing confidence booster along with contributions from Superwash Laundromat’s CEO Dionisio D’Aguillar and Scotiabank’s Marketing Manager Leah Davis. After we attained these sponsors, other sponsors came onboard such as ZNS TV13, our local Bahamian broadcasting station, Custom Computers, The Nassau Motor Company, and Tony’s Cabinet and Supplies. However I truly believe that BTC and Superwash helped to validate our project in the eyes of corporate Bahamas and we are truly grateful for their support.

PM: From a producer’s point of view, what has the road to making “Gippie’s Kindgom” been like? What have been some of your other biggest challenges and accomplishments?

TP: The road to making “Gippie’s Kingdom” could be summed up in one phrase my partner Ian Strachan, would always say: “We are beating bush.” He would say this when we had a pleasant surprise and he would repeat this when we faced disappointment. To me, “beating bush” was reminiscent of an explorer using a machete to carve a path into a jungle that wasn’t previously there. As a result of “beating” the “bush”, other travelers could walk through unabated, however the explorer did all the arduous work of cutting, being pricked by thorns, and facing various dangers along the way. We were “beating bush” in producing “Gippie’s Kingdom” because we had never done anything like this before and we had never seen it done before. “Gippie’s Kingdom” seemed to me like we were working on four full-length feature films in 18 days because it was such a tall order to create eight 30-minute episodes as well as an hour-long documentary. Every day was a new surprise, a new challenge, a new setback, but we were determined to keep going. Our motto was do what you can when you can, so although there were times an actor or a location wasn’t available, our executive team was able to adapt, bringing in an actor who was available and shooting an entirely different scene. It was both a challenge and an accomplishment in retrospect, but moreover, it was the realities on the “Gippie’s” set which allowed us to form a unique logistical workflow in production.

Gippie 7

PM: What is one aspect of the production that you are most pleased with?

TP: To me, the show is a miracle in itself. There [are] so many reasons why it shouldn’t exist, but not only is it being fully embraced by the Bahamian people, it has also traveled to ten Caribbean countries and has a second season in the can already. I’m very happy about this. “Gippie’s Kingdom” is something that the Bahamian people [have] taken ownership of. It is the embodiment of the Bahamian spirit – coming together with the little you have and creating a magical experience. We see this magic in our cultural forms such as Junkanoo, Rake n’ Scrape, and even our earlier bartering systems. However, despite my usual optimism, “Gippie’s Kingdom” has far exceeded my expectations in that it has taken on a life of its own. It may have been difficult getting it out there, but once it did, it became a cultural product that every generation will remember for years to come. I thank God for that because that is not something I think we did. I don’t think creating cultural phenomenons was in my portfolio until now, so I truly thank God for the success of this project.

PM: Is there anything that you would like to see improved about the show?

TP: Oh boy, you would not really like to see the list of things that needs improving when it comes to “Gippie’s Kingdom.” There isn’t a day that I don’t cringe a bit because I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I can see the sound is off here, the lighting is off there, the angle should have been different here. I’m never truly alright with my mistakes. I’m not only the producer, but I’m also the director of photography and the editor, hence so much depends upon me making the right decisions. However, when you are on a time crunch with an undermanned team, you make a lot of wrong decisions. In season 2, we have addressed a lot of our issues through reinvestment. In retrospect, I sometimes wonder to myself, ‘How did we do season one?’ because I find myself exhausted at the end of a season two shooting night and I have help this time. Maybe I’m getting old, but getting back to your question, there is a lot of improvement needed regarding production quality, however, we feel that we have addressed most of them in season two.

PM: Have there been any programs to precede “Gippie’s Kindgom” that you would credit for its inspiration?

TP: We are the first televised Bahamian soap opera, however we are not the first Bahamian soap opera. That credit goes to the producers of a radio soap opera called “The Fergusons of Farm Road”. My co-producer would be far more intimate with this show than I am seeing that he was alive [then], but I’ve heard of the tremendous impact this show had during its time. I feel “Gippie’s Kingdom” is definitely walking in the footsteps of “The Ferguson’s of Farm Road.”

Gippie4

PM: What has been one scene or message of the show that has hit you the hardest or caused you to view life a bit differently?

TP: One of the things that I find quite intriguing about the show is the plotline between Monique, Gippie’s daughter, and her husband Donovan. For me, it raises questions about love, gender roles, expectations, and even what the repercussions are of marriages that came about due to pregnancy. What sort of resentment stems from what I term ‘pregnancy marriages’? In addition, we can see that the dreams of Monique is to have a successful family running counterproductive to Donovan’s dreams of building a successful business. We know this is all too common, not only in the Bahamas, but in the world at large. How do we negotiate these issues? It’s not something you just bring up over tea and crumpets because it’s so private. I find Bahamians are private people, however “Gippie’s Kingdom” allows these things to be explored as a part of our national discussion so again, I think the Monique-Donovan plotline is a wonderful opportunity and has been quite fascinating, personally.

PM: So far, what influence do you think “Gippie’s Kindgom” has had on Bahamian television?

TP: I think “Gippie’s Kingdom” has Bahamians watching Bahamian television again. With the advent of cable television in the country, it seems as though only the evening news was able to gain any substantial Bahamian viewership because American television was such a force to be reckoned with. Now, even as “Gippie’s Kingdom” is airing re-runs, we are comfortably competing for Bahamian viewership along with major American shows such as “Love and Hip-Hop”, “The Voice” and even the 2013 NBA playoffs. For me, this suggests that there are a large demographic of Bahamians that want to consistently see “we-self”, as we say, on television in something else other than talk and news. In addition, we are definitely hoping that “Gippie’s Kingdom” will also be a catalyst for the production of many more Bahamian dramas, however time will tell. I expect there will be an increased presence of Bahamian television dramas very soon.

PM: How have audiences been responding to the show and what developments can they expect in the future?

TP: Our audiences have been fantastic. We have a Facebook page for the show, so aside from the views and persons who congratulate [us] from time to time, we have a real-time assessment of the love “Gippie’s Kingdom” has been receiving since its premiere. In fact, we have had a reach of over 120,000+ at one particular time, reaching countries like the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. Our website has had over 11,000 hits at one particular time, as well. This suggests that there is something special about what “Gippie’s Kingdom” is doing at this time. Bollywood has come on stream worldwide and Nollywood is becoming a big thing in the African regions and around the world. I believe the world is looking for alternatives to the American discourse as the same stories are frankly becoming recycled. This is a time of globalization, but also a time where countries are, as a result, looking inward to define their own cultural uniqueness in an ever-expanding world. “Gippie’s Kingdom” has emerged during this time. The storyline has expanded upon the previous story in episode one, however we decided to take the drama to a whole new level. There is definitely a whole lot more tension involved in this season that will definitely leave audiences at the edge of their seats. I can’t reveal more than that at the moment, however what I can say is that Junior is out of his coma and that he isn’t very happy about a few things. I will leave it at that.

Gippie 6PM: What is your ultimate wish for the show?

TP: My ultimate wish for “Gippie’s Kingdom” is that it will catalyze a truly robust television and film industry here in the Bahamas. There are so many talented Bahamian, actors and actresses, artists, filmmakers, writers, set builders, engineers that have to live in the United States to follow their dreams. I want “Gippie’s Kingdom” to do so well, to travel so far, and to influence so many lives that it changes the entire DNA of how this region looks at television. I want entertainment lawyers to move back home. I want increased government participation and tariffs decreased regarding camera and lighting equipment and I want companies to slot Bahamian television show ad spots as traditionally as they would an evening news slot. I want Bahamian television to be so ingrained into the fabric of our culture that our actors are heroes and that our stories can travel the world like Olympic athletes. This is not only my wish but I assure you, this is being worked towards every day through “Gippie’s Kingdom”.

PM: Thank you so much for answering our questions!

TP: Thank you very much for having me!

Season two of Gippie’s Kingdom is scheduled to air via Caribbean cable networks this fall. To tune in outside of the Bahamas, visit the Gippie’s Kingdom website for streaming videos.