Dayo stands with his hands on his hips, his white cotton Ralph Lauren T-shirt tucked into the band of his dressy black cargo pants. His feet, clad in a pair of red Adidas three-stripers, tap impatiently.
It's the second day of casting for the new Jamaican reggae video he's directing, and so far, the casting crew has not found him the perfect lead dancing girl. They've been through 45 candidates now at Picture Perfect Studios' production room on Biscayne Boulevard, and none of the girls has looked right. None of them had that certain je ne sais quoi.
To put it bluntly, says video consultant Gil Green, none of them can move her damn hips.
The problem, it seems, is that American women just do not know how to "wind." Not in the way Jamaicans do, anyway. "Americans," Green explains, "don't use their asses. They don't concentrate on each individual movement; they want everything done quickly. And it shows."
Dayo sighs. "If we were casting for a Ricky Martin video, we'd be good."
He turns back to the young woman in front of him. A thin dark-skinned model with straight black hair and skintight jeans, she is shaking her ass pretty good to the beat of Anthony B's hypnotic new single, "Someone Loves You." But her rotation's totally off.
"Slow it down, slow it down," Dayo yells for what seems like the 69th time. The girl nods, drops a few degrees on her rotation, but the overall effect is still more like an electric mixer spinning on all cylinders than the requisite wooden spoon moving seductively around a bowl.
When the song ends, the 19-year-old dancer lets her arms flop and walks over to Dayo. He thanks her for her time, watches her turn on her heels in her three-inch-high stilettos, then tosses her picture and résumé in the rapidly growing "maybe" pile.
"What time is it?" Dayo asks, yawning. Green, stretched out on a folding chair, his legs splayed, baseball hat turned to the rear, head back, shrugs.
Then Romina Buroz walks in. She's in tight white pants, cut at the ankles, and a seam-straining white bustier tank that reveals a ruby-red belly ring. Her hair, a collection of dyed-blond ringlets, 'fros out around her face. But most important -- Green sits up now -- this girl can wind. Big time.
"Watch her," Green whispers to nobody in particular. Buroz' hips move 'round and 'round, her stomach stiff, her arms looking like they are pushing a wagon uphill. The seeming clincher is the, well, eye-catching aesthetic dimension. She is hot. Really hot.
Dayo nods his head.
"Beautiful," he says. "Beautiful."
When Buroz finishes dancing, Dayo ambles over to her. "Do you object to having anything done with your hair? If we 'fro it out a bit more? Gelled it a little? Made it bigger?"
"No, no," the girl says.
Dayo writes a few notes on her contact sheet.
Things are looking better for the casting crew.
Pardon Dayo and Green for being superfinicky here. Big doings are in the works. The backers of the video are engaged in a kind of rear-guard guerrilla action, whose aim is the subtle Jamaicafication of American music.
The star of this shoot is crossover artist and Jamaican superstar Anthony B. If things go according to plan, "Someone Loves You" will go mainstream in a big way. The producers want the video, which is scheduled to be released just before the new year, on BET and MTV, and they want to hear Anthony B's dancehall-inspired sounds bouncing off club walls and his tracks emanating from the headphones of teenaged boys everywhere. It's time for reggae to catch up with its more popular American brother, hip-hop, which dominates the club and radio scene here, reggae-oriented record execs keep saying. That's why Togetherness Records, the Miramar-based record label that carries Anthony B's records in the United States, is sinking so much money into this shoot. Nobody will come up with any exact figures, but, the producers say, this will be the biggest-budgeted reggae video ever.
Not that there aren't some potential stumbles right off the bat. Reggae isn't something to be tampered with lightly -- not in its hypnotic beat nor in its mellow Caribbean image.
Because the music is woven so tightly into Rastafarian culture, which generally shies away from flash and ostentation, certain cultural traditions need to be upheld. That's partly why Anthony B's Jamaican entourage has rooted itself on the set. Dressed in traditional knitted tams, draped in gold Rastafarian crosses, friends, managers, and retainers sit at the end of the production room -- Anthony's own Reggae Board of Standards -- watching the selection process with a critical eye.
Anthony B is not nearly as stressed as everyone around him. Video, no problem. The 20-something vocalist has shot tons of music videos in Jamaica. He can turn on any popular radio station in his home country and hear the sound of his own politically inspired lyrics, and his face is already recognizable in Europe. It's just this damned American market that he can't seem to penetrate. "There are still radio stations in America that won't play reggae music," he says, frowning, "still venues that won't let popular reggae musicians play."
The shoot this evening is at Sundays on the Bay, an upscale bar and restaurant in Key Biscayne where patrons can pick at their eggs Benedict and drop breadcrumbs into Biscayne Bay. The dockside dance floor is now closed off, though, while a film crew sets up its shots. Anthony B is there, supercool, in a pair of Academic-brand jeans and a red, yellow, and green sweater vest, his dreads tucked into a tam. He holds a marijuana roach in his right hand, and every few seconds, he takes a puff from the smoldering joint.
"I'm trying to do for Jamaica what Bob Marley did for the country back in the '70s," he says. "I want to build a subway here for reggae music."
Anthony B pauses to take another drag on his reefer. He glances at his Jamaican manager, Richard Bell, sitting calmly at a back table, rolling a joint in one hand and holding a lit cigar in the other. Bell, who has been clutching the cigar in his hand for a while now, has not actually lifted the thing to his mouth. The sole purpose of the cigar, it appears, is to disguise -- albeit not very well -- the smoking joint beneath it. Anthony B is more straightforward, waving his joint around as he speaks.
"Do you know," he asks, "that Bob Marley is still the only Jamaican in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? What does that say?"
Marley is dead and gone, of course, but he is still an unavoidable presence on the set. Half the extras sport T-shirts with the late singer's name and mimeographed face, and his picture pops out here and there on the walls of the restaurant. The name seems always on the lips of investors and producers, as if all the references might rub off a little and bless Anthony B's new video.
And why not? For Anthony, Jamaican music begins and ends with the reggae patriarch. What about Sean Paul and Elephant Man? somebody asks.
Anthony B pauses for a second, sucking at the roach. "It's true that Sean Paul has opened up a lot of ears, but we're part of two different genres," he says. "Reggae has a slower beat; you need to stop and listen to what's being said. Listening to hip-hop is like going to a gym. It's supposed to make you dance till you sweat."
Will American listeners absorb reggae any easier than American dancers have adjusted to the beat?
"That's what the Rastafarian culture is all about," Anthony B says. "Faith and togetherness. That's the message we're trying to get out with this shoot."
Anthony B holds out his fist and pounds it gently against his inquisitor.
"Togetherness," he says, grinding the spent roach into the floor.
South Florida is a video maker's dream haven. Blue-green water, waving palm trees, and bleached white sand provide the perfect cinematic backdrop for the estimated 3,000 videos and feature films that are lensed down here each year. The Hours and 2 Fast and 2 Furious were shot here. Iggy Pop was here in September to shoot the video for his newest single. And singers like Lil John, Busta Rhymes, and Elephant Man are frequent video visitors.
The effect is not lost on Broward commissioners. Video-making and its cousin, television, generate about $200 million in revenues for the county each year, about as much as for its Miami-Dade neighbor. State-wide, the industry accounts for 2 percent of Florida's gross domestic product. It comes as no surprise to anyone, then, that county film commissioners bend over backward trying to entice producers to set up shop in South Florida.
Not that it takes that much encouragement.
"People like to come here," says Jeff Peel, director of the Miami-Dade mayor's Office of Film and Entertainment. "It's not like going to Topeka, where you're basically bored out of your mind. And the Cayman Islands, yeah, it's pretty, but after a few days, it's like, 'Now what do I do?'"
There's a distinctive Florida look to videos made here. Tropicality, of course. Sunlight, babes in thongs, surface-skimming ocean shots, and -- according to Tim Bourque, a jaundiced crew member who's worked in the industry for more than 20 years -- a certain vehicular consistency. "If the stars aren't on motorcycles," he says, "then they're gonna be on Jet Skis."
Of course, Anthony B has more Florida attachments than sugar cane has roots. Jamaicans are the largest immigrant group in South Florida, 300,000 of them in Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade counties alone. The production studios backing the shoot are all Florida-based veterans on the scene. Reggae has grown up here too, a diaspora stepchild to the compelling music of the homeland. For years, while hip-hop reigned in the clubs, reggae lived like a homeless man on the streets of Miami. But it grew strong, particularly around Miramar and Lauderhill. And it was here, at underground parties, that Green, a half Moroccan white guy from Coral Gables who has earned a Source award for his Caribbean-themed music videos, first learned about the scene.
Green and Dayo, good friends from their days at New York University's film school, collaborated on the treatment, incorporating their Caribbean sensibility --Dayo grew up in Brooklyn's Crown Heights section and is part Trinidadian -- into the shoot. All they want to do, they say, is showcase the love Anthony B has for his girl and epitomize the passion, love, and "togetherness" of Rastafarian culture.
Not everyone on the shoot is feeling the so-called "togetherness" today.
Carolyn "CJ" Johnson arrives on the set fuming. The casting crew, including Dayo and Green, had decided Friday that Johnson had the perfect "Rasta girl" look to play Anthony B's love interest. (That flush of enthusiasm for Buroz of the previous day has by now subsided somewhat, and she has been relegated to a four-member corps of backups.) But Anthony B's team apparently thought differently. Johnson was informed that she did not look "Jamaican enough" to play Anthony B's girlfriend. She was replaced by Esther Baxter, 19, a darker-skinned model of mixed heritage.
This demotion would have pissed Johnson off anyway, but what hurt her most was the fact that she is Jamaican. Born and bred. To tell her that she's "not Jamaican enough" is like telling someone she's somehow not good enough. But don't ask Johnson to talk about this affront. The 21-year-old light-skinned dancer with blond dreads and cat-like eyes says, for the record, that she loves Anthony B's music, she had become familiar with it from countless radio broadcasts in Jamaica, and she does not want any of her personal issues to interfere with Anthony B's success here. Behind the scenes, though, Johnson shoots murderous glances at Anthony B's team and complains to associates about the injustice of it all.
In the makeup trailer, Shazz, the studio's hairstylist, listens to the dancer's gripes. Shazz, who has done Johnson's hair and makeup multiple times before, has been in the film business for six years now, creating styles for artists like Lil Jon, Lil' Kim, and Monica.
"There, there," she murmurs to Johnson.
The stylist, a short curvy woman with long stick-straight hair who bases her studio in Hollywood, or "Hollyhood," as she likes to call it, struts around the trailer in jeans so tight you can actually picture her veins constricting. She pauses in front of the mirror. "The look I'm going for in this shoot," she says, "is a more natural one. Kind of free-flowing." While she talks, Shazz pulls on a dancer's hair with one hand and points a hair dryer at the girl's nape with the other.
Part of the reason Shazz was hired for this particular shoot, the line producer said, was because she is from Trinidad.
But until a few months ago, Shazz had no idea how to go about creating dreads. "Why should I?" she asks. "I never wore them."
But Shazz knows how to read the tea leaves. Reggae is coming in strong. It was while she was styling for the Bad Boys II shoot in summer 2002 that Shazz says she finally learned how to dread hair. She sat for hours, using her friends as templates, matting, twirling, and dreading human hair into appropriate shapes until she was satisfied with the results. Since she figured out the look, Shazz says, she's gotten lots of requests for dreads in her hair studio. And Baxter, done up in vibrant colors and matted dreads looks pretty darn authentic, if you ask Aisha, Anthony B's female lead singer.
In the reggae business, though, you have to pass muster. Richard Bell, leading Board of Standards watchdog, looks on skeptically with his arms crossed. "That's not how wraps look in Jamaica," he says.
Steve Gagnon, president of Fort Lauderdale-based Gravity Productions, one of two prime production companies involved in the project (the other is Miami-based Toe Jam Productions), sits a few paces removed from the shooting. Dressed in knee-length khakis, a blue collared shirt, and a Marlins baseball cap, the tanned executive is not a "suit." But sometimes he talks a lot like one. Music videos aren't really his forte, he says, studying the crew in action. His production studio specializes in feature films, coproducing the movies Bully and Saved. "Ever heard of them?" he asks. "No?"
Gagnon looks disappointed.
Why would a feature maker get involved in videos? Gagnon believes that Caribbean culture is about to make a huge splash in the United States. Anthony B's video, he says, will lead the resurgence here.
"The Rastafarian culture," says Gagnon, "is all about love. It's about people getting along together. That's the message people want to hear now."
It doesn't hurt, Gagnon adds, a slight smile making its way across his face, that Anthony B has an "old-school style... reminiscent of Marley." "And old-school," Gagnon says, "is what made reggae big."
Right about now, that grip, Tim Bourque, who noted a certain sameness in Florida videography is looking like he really knows his stuff. As cameras stand waiting, Anthony B struggles onto a custom-made neon Harley-Davidson. In a green jersey with the words "Anthony B" stenciled on the back of it and a red, yellow, and green wristband, he waves his fist in the air. "Togetherness," you can almost hear him saying. (There is not, however, a single Jet Ski moment in the video, though there are plenty of shots of Anthony on a yacht.)
Gagnon watches appreciatively. "The major goal in producing the video was to keep the Jamaican culture intact," he says. "We were very concerned with how the culture was perceived. There's a big difference, after all, between Caribbean and rap. They're different cultures completely.
"It was important," he adds, "that the shoot have a big budget so we could get that across."
Around 10 p.m., the money is really rumbling along at Sundays on the Bay. It's the final party scene, and the shoot is building to a climax. The extras, some dressed in bikini tops with less support than you'd find at a Bob Graham presidential rally, are hot and sweaty in the warmth of the klieg lights. Jamaican-born Togetherness Records President Christopher Kerr, looking like one of the kids in a gray T-shirt and casual jeans, has found his way into the mangle of dancers. "This," he instructs the girls "is how you wind." He gets low to the ground, his waist moving in slow hula-like circles. His wife, Allison, watching from the sideline, smiles. "Good. Let him be in the shoot," she says. "For the amount of money he's put into this thing, he should be in every scene."
Anthony B, backed up at the spin table by a group of Fort Lauderdale-based reggae artists, tells the room, in his mellow manner, that "you've got to have a queen if you are a king." His queen, though, is no longer looking so happy about her royal status. Baxter massages her temples as she attempts to stand upright in her pointed heels. A photographer asks her to smile, and she clenches her teeth in response. She's not the only one feeling the heat. At each pause, murmuring choruses of "Are we done yet?" clog the air. Relatives of the cast and crew keep checking their watches. Set designers, key grips, agents, and makeup artists sit with their backs slumped against the wall. It's been a long two days for everyone.
Finally, at 11 o'clock, an hour past the scheduled deadline, Dayo calls it a wrap. The announcement is greeted with cheers and air kisses. In a matter of moments, the set clears as extras gather their clothes and hobble home.
Anthony B, still as vibrant and lively as a Coke commercial, wants to know when the afterparty begins.
Dayo and Green's master plan clearly has a ways to go. At the end of the dock, across from the riverside café and bar where the shoot is wrapping up, Jon W. Burke, a Miami-based attorney, is about to load onto his yacht. In casual sandals, khaki shorts, a black Tommy Bahamas button-up shirt, and thin gold-framed glasses, the lawyer, who has an American-flag graphic scanned onto his business card, stares through his binoculars at the final party scene.
"Why," he asks, "are those people wearing towels over their heads? And what kind of Afro is that? Is this some kind of P. Diddy shoot?"
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