Skateboard Film Pits Overtown Against Sistrunk

Go behind the scenes of this hood war.

The movie gained a reputation as "the Jamaican Scarface"; while the underground buzz worked wonders for Silvera's street cred, though, 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 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 only 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!"

Director Cess Silvera wrote his own ticket out of the ghetto by coming up with ideas for screenplays.
Deirdra Funcheon
Director Cess Silvera wrote his own ticket out of the ghetto by coming up with ideas for screenplays.

There was another warning of sorts in the credits: a list of Silvera's loved ones who had died of gun violence. There were 50 names. 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 has 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 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 begin 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!'"

Cess Silvera might be the visionary, but it's Frankel, a 28-year-old assistant director, who does the dirty work. Armed with a bachelor's degree in film theory from Florida Atlantic University, she has worked on eight eature films and "countless music videos" and has a recurring gig with Miami Ink.

Frankel says that, although fewer films are shot in Florida (about 70 per year) than in New York or L.A., work exists for anyone who builds a good reputation and hustles. The weather holds year-round, so there are no delays while snow melts. And because it's a right-to-work state, Florida appeals to moviemakers who've been financially drained elsewhere by unions. Though production workers won't get rich, Frankel says, "there's a camaraderie that you can't replicate. I'm surrounded by amazing, creative people. When you're together 18 hours a day, you become like family."

Turning back to the job at hand, she says peremptorily into her headpiece: "Let me know when the cameras are set."

Silvera pipes up to admonish Stringbean, Lunch Money, and Chadd when they don't muster the energy for the umpteenth take of a scene. "Stop partying and staying up late!" he commands. "No alcohol. No drugs. Plus, stop jacking off!" He laughs at himself and then gets serious again as he channels all the directorly wisdom he has soaked up over the years. "Either drive the scene or get out of the scene. A scene is only as strong as its weakest fucking actor!" Then he softens up: "Okay, that's my little pep talk."

A whole day of shooting might translate to five minutes onscreen. The crew must wait for a cloud to pass. A take has to be redone when a train whistles in the background. And again when Lunch Money holds an apple in his right hand instead of his left. Silvera whines, "I want to go ho-o-o-ome. I want this torture to end."

Frankel overrides him: "All set.... Roll sound.... Roll cameras.... Lock it up!"

One of the producers had said today would be a good day to check out the filming, considering it would be an exciting scene with cops.

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