March 5, 2007

In My Own Words: Mikey Jiggs

Miley JiggsOn Thursday February 22, 2007, in Miami, Florida, the dub-u-mentary, Dub Poetry: The Life and Work of Malachi Smith, had its premiere. Geoffrey, who appears in the film, asked me to write about the process of creating it.

The Beginning

In 2003, I invited Malachi to perform on a show I was doing in Baltimore, Maryland. In the dead of winter, Malachi arrived in Baltimore, several inches of snow on the ground, and delivered a dynamic show. The feedback I received, gave me the idea that a documentary on Malachi’s life and work might be a step in the right direction in order to introduce the world to him. Malachi’s story is unique and I wanted to capture it.

You see, there is more to Malachi than his writing/performing poetry-- especially, the kind of poetry that he does, dub poetry. Malachi is also a police officer and most dub poets are extremely critical of law enforcement. In Jamaica, he would be called Babylon. I found this a strange yet compelling contradiction.

Film Making

Film making is hard work. It is brain work. It takes extraordinary organization, planning and coordination to pull off a successful production. The concept of teamwork is an integral part of this process. Skillful multitasking is important, especially in independent film making. However, without a budget, one will only have the organization and planning to work with. I had my own money. Not a lot, but enough to get going. My partner’s draw was going to be my seed money. Initial approaches to possible sponsors were rebuffed for several reasons, among them the appearance of the word “revolution” in the early treatment for the film.

After the filming ended, I made a sojourn to my studio in Maryland to log over fifteen hours of footage, compile and scan pictures and I had countless discussions with Malachi via telephone and e-mails. Because of my meticulous preplanning, post production was supposed to run smoothly. However, from this early stage it was evident that I had a problem. We had used limited lighting indoors and that caused some shots to be darker than desired. I had to tweak them to get them to acceptable broadcast levels.

I also found that most of the tracks were noisy. This was because we were trying to shoot mostly outdoors in inner cities or in locations that were convenient, given our limited budget. The sites, however, were not friendly to filmmaking and our very sensitive microphones. First lesson, (sound recording mistakes cannot be fixed in the mix) get it right on location.

Shooting outdoors was consistent with the look we wanted for the film. Our objective was to show the poet in outdoors and how these environs contributed to his life and work. We also did not want the program to be overproduced with clean clear cuts settings. Instead we wanted to highlight the aggressive harder edges of the artist. Besides, shooting indoors would be more expensive to light and to make more attractive.


Our first location was in NYC at the International Reggae and World Music Awards. We then trekked to Toronto, Canada, to film at the Dub Poetry Festival. Great vibe artistically. However, I was spurned by the promoters over the filming of the event. I tried to convince them about the aims of the film and I even gave them one of the tapes I shot. Nothing worked. Personally, it was a bit upsetting to see and hear our own people so mistrustful of each other. They must have thought that I was going to film the whole festival, sell the tape and make a whole bag of money without compensating them. I had no such intentions. I filmed Malachi at the early venues, did an interview on Lake Ontario and left town with my heart broken and my spirit way down. On the drive back to Maryland, I had enough time to decide that I was not going to let anything get in my way. I was going to proceed in spite of everything.

Next stop Miami, Florida. I arrived in Miami to do the interviews and those went without any problems. By then I had some seed money from my partner’s draw, so I was a little more relaxed. I interviewed Geoffrey, Sidney Roberts, Marta Burke and Malachi. I was not satisfied, so I came back a second time to cover the other people and do a second interview with Malachi, his family members, and Karla Gottlieb.

The Jamaica shoot was great. We had a great time in Kingston with Mervyn at home, Oku at work and Calvin and Tomlin at the Drama School. The performance in the amphitheatre was great. The crowd was not that large, but they were excited about the event. Tommy Ricketts was great. He provided me with enough lights to cover the event. I hired a cameraman to shoot while I tried to take care of the other duties. On the second day we went to Port Royal, White Marl School and Central Village where Malachi grew up. I shot these scenes myself with Nabbi working as my assistant.

The next day we left for Milk River and had a great day. Then it was onto St. Elizabeth, and Westmoreland, I then traveled overnight to Montego Bay and returned to Kingston with stops in Discovery Bay, Ocho Rios and Spanish Town. In Westmoreland, we stopped in Delveland and briefly at Peter Tosh’s home. We visited with Peter’s mother and visited his grave.

With shooting completed in Jamaica, I headed for the airport to collect my money from Customs. They took a deposit from me to guarantee that I did not leave my equipment on the island. When I arrived, I had to wait for two hours to collect my deposit I was amazed that they did not have any money to return to me. They wanted to pay me in Jamaican currency. I hit the roof. I demanded to see a supervisor and eventually I was driven to Harbor View to get my money in US currency. I was the last one to board the flight back to Miami. (Love Jamaica, but we will have to do something about this professionalism thing).


The documentary was edited on a Sony PC using the Sony Vegas 5 and later Vegas 6 software. This program costs less that the MAC and AVID editing programs. I like it because of its sound editing capabilities. It was standalone sound software before it became a film editing software. Sony products also give me confidence. I used Sony monitors exclusively. One drawback of editing on PC is the many crashes one can experience. I experienced one such crash when the program was almost complete. I lost some data and had to re-digitize a substantial portion of the footage.

Over the next eleven months, I edited and shaped the footage into a manageable program. I showed pieces of it along the way and solicited comments. I discovered that the speed of the Jamaican dialect was a bit fast for the American audience. (I am prepared to make a cut with subtitles if needed.) After discussing that issue with my partners, we decided that the European market may be a better bet for the film, since they are more accepting of the Jamaican dialect

What I would change?

Here are some of the things I would have done differently:

Hired a larger crew if I had more money—the final cost was about $21500 to $25000 on the conservative side.

Shot with three cameras.

Recorded the sound on a back-up recorder.

Shot more of the Jamaican countryside.

Spent more money and time doing some final sound work and additional color correction

Shot for two weeks in Jamaica rather than three days.

Anyway, I think we did we best we could with what we had. I think that I have communicated with my audience and have told a story that needed to be told.

I have done justice to my subject and that that is all that I can hope for.

L. Michael Bryan (Aka Mikey Jiggs) is the founder Reggae Concepts and the filmmaker behind Dub Poetry: The Life and Work of Malachi Smith. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.



Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear Mikey,

I feel very proud to have been associated with this project which based on the applause on the night of the premiere and the feedback I have received is already a success.

Truly, I give thanks that artists like you are creating groundbreaking work. And I don't mean groundbreaking in the overused media hype way.

Aided by the new technologies, you are at the forefront of reviving the dormant Jamaican film industry and part of the process of our generation telling our story. But you also went further. You also included our elder poet, Mervyn Morris, who has also helped the careers of Mutabaruka and Oku Onoura.

What's more, you've documented the process for everyone to see and perhaps learn from your mistakes.

I wish you all the best with selling your film to the general public and I hope those readers of this blog who are in positions of influence/power will persuade their libraries and educational institutions to buy this fine film.

One Love,

mikeyjiggs said...

Thanks Geoffrey. My partner draw (susu to some) went a long way. I will be making documentaries as long I can save money this way. I thank you for your participation and I look forward to working with you again.

Much Love