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There Goes the Hood

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After burning through a million dollars in costs, Silvera was finally able to call himself a legitimate director. He moved to Los Angeles, and Shottas (Jamaican slang for gunmen) premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2002. While snobby newspaper critics dismissed the movie as a crude and misogynistic variation on the gangster cliché, Silvera's tale had one key distinction. His story opened a window to life in Jamaica, a land almost never broached by filmmakers.

All of Silvera's characters spoke in an authentic patois, their accents so heavy that the film was subtitled in English. He cast reggae artists Ky-Mani Marley (son of Bob) and Spragga Benz to play the leads. The soundtrack would be overseen by Wyclef Jean. While Silvera was being true to his culture, financially it was a gamble: Would the audience be big enough to recoup a return on investment?

It would — but only after a twisted real-life saga played out over the next five years.


According to urban legend, Wyclef Jean was in his studio with preliminary copies of Shottas, which he was using to create the score. He called Silvera when he realized the tapes had gone missing. Two weeks later, Silvera got word that bootlegged copies of Shottas — even with their grainy look, poor sound quality, and time codes interfering with the picture — were being hawked all over Times Square. Eventually, friends would report finding copies as far away as Cairo and Cape Town.

The movie gained a reputation as "the Jamaican Scarface." While the underground buzz worked wonders for Silvera's street cred, it did little for his bank account. With bootleg videos of the film proliferating like rabbits, studio execs scuttled the distribution deals. No one would pay to see the movie in a theater if they'd already bought it on the black market, the thinking went.

Over time, though, the numbers became too big to ignore. Those involved with the making of Shottas like to say that it was the most bootlegged movie in history and that studios were dumb to underestimate the reggae scene's global audience. After the movie spread underground for five years, Sony Pictures released it in just six theaters — a kind of consolation prize to Silvera — and then put it out on DVD, giving it wide distribution through official channels.

Still, "there was like zero, zero promotion," Silvera laments. "Not one print ad. Nothing on TV." Nonetheless, he says, "It sold 1 million copies on DVD. All from word of mouth." These days, any kid from Miami to Minnesota can walk into a Blockbuster or Target and buy it. That's bittersweet for Silvera, who estimates there are 2.5 million copies of the bootleg in circulation — sales he could never cash in on. In the credits of the 2006 DVD release, there is a special thanks "to all bootleggers worldwide (Shottas official PR firm)." The credits warned: "Never again, though!"

There was another warning of sorts in the credits: a tribute to Silvera's loved ones who had died of gun violence. By the time of the 2006 DVD release, Silvera had to add his brother's name to the list.

Silvera won't talk about how much money he's made — finances are something he keeps close to his chest. But he says he's funding G.E.D. with his profits from Shottas, and producers say G.E.D. is costing about $2 million to make.

On the surface, the two films couldn't seem more different: one, a hard-ass gangster drama; the other, a lighthearted comedy with stoner appeal. Silvera says they represent two distinct but valid sides of his personality, and at their core, "They're both about friendship."

Silvera once boldly told an interviewer that he wanted to do for Jamaican moviemaking what Bob Marley had done for reggae. If that's the case, material will not be a problem. He says he now has 150 screenplays completed on legal pads and some 400 more in simple outline form. Up next, a TV pilot called East of Fairfax — which he describes as a black version of Entourage. In addition to that, Silvera says, he's ready to start Shottas 2. The studios, he claims, are begging for it.


With flawless skin, a long ponytail, and a tiny frame, Theresa Frankel doesn't look bossy. But get this chick on a movie set.

"When we are rolling, there is to be no noise," she scolds into a headset that transmits to crew members' walkie-talkies. "Pretend you're in kindergarten — it's like timeout until I say 'Cut!' "

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Deirdra Funcheon

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