Frances-Anne Solomon (Co-Creator/Team Story Writer/Director/Producer) studied Theatre and English Literature at the University of Toronto before moving to the UK. There, she spent 15 years working as a producer, director and writer in film, television and radio. As a producer and executive producer for BBC Television Films and Single Drama, she was responsible for several program strands showcasing low-budget productions, including Black Screen and Screen On The Tube. As a director, her credits include the award-winning feature film “Peggy Su!” and the documentary “I Is A Long Memoried Woman”. In 1999, Solomon returned to Toronto. She is the founder of Leda Serene Films, a production company known for putting people of colour both in front of and behind the camera.
Marcia: How long have you been making films?
Frances-Anne: I started working for a video co-op in Paris in 1984 – which dates me – making educational videos, then did a stint for Banyan, a television production house in Trinidad making local Caribbean programming, before joining the BBC in 1986, as a reporter and director for a Black magazine programme called Ebony. I then worked for fellow Trinidadian Darcus Howe’s Channel 4 funded production company in the UK called Bandung, as a researcher and director. My first film was “I Is A long memoried Woman” in 1990, which was made through my company Leda Serene Films. In the 90’s I worked for the BBC as a Television Drama Producer, and at the same time from time to time produced and directed shows through my own company, including “Reunion”, “What My Mother Told Me” and ” Siren Spirits”. In 1999 I returned to Canada (I went to University here), and brought my company with me.
Marcia: Are you West Indian?
Frances-Anne: I’m from Trinidad. Grew up there ‘til the age of 18. Both my parents are Trinidadian born and raised. This has very much formed my identity. I have lived in many countries (the UK, Canada, France, South Africa) over many years, but still consider Trinidad my home.
Marcia. What leads to your new work – Lord Have Mercy?
Frances-Anne: Lord Have Mercy is based on an idea by Paul deSilva, who was Vice-President of Programming at Vision TV, and commissioned the show from my company in early 2001. After a 3-month period of research in the Caribbean-Canadian community, we built the characters and wrote a pilot script. This was Vanz Chapman – co-creator and writer, Ngozi Paul – Associate Producer and Story Editor and myself. Then Vision TV part-funded the making of the pilot – the rest of the money came from an overdraft on my home! A year later we were able to secure the funding to make the whole series.
Marcia: When is Lord Have Mercy scheduled to be aired
Frances-Anne: First airing took place February 11,12,13 on Vision T, Channel 60. It will be repeated on Vision in April. Toronto/One a new TV channel, will launch with the Series in September. It will be broadcast on Showcase (Channel 39) and the Aboriginal people’s TV Network ( Channel 72) in 2004.
Marcia: Who has been a major influence for you as a film maker?
Frances-Anne: I feel I have carved my own path, as there have not been a great many role models in this field. I have had personal role models – many – but professionally … I enjoy and admire the films of Martin Scorcese and Jane Campion, because they are strong emotional narratives, grounded in the intricacies and struggles of rivetting characters.
Marcia: What was the most difficult thing about shooting this film?
Frances-Anne: There were many difficult things – raising the money, holding together a large team of people through a very highly pressured shoot. For me also wearing many hats – Co-Creator, Producer, Story Editor/Co-Writer, Director and owner of the production company – was difficult. However I prefer to focus on the good things. One of the best things about the show is the support I received from many people who helped make it possible for us to deliver this show on time and on budget to all the funders. First among these was the incomparable Claire Prieto, one of the producers and also the Line producer of the show, without whom it would have impossible to really do this. Her hard work, professionalism, commitment, and integrity are outstanding, as anyone who has worked with her over her long career in Canada will tell you. She is an extraordinary person – also a Trinidadian – you should interview her.
Marcia: Tell us about the cast…
Frances-Anne: The most outstanding aspect of our show is the range of talent of the cast. Having mapped out an idea of what characters we wanted in the show, we handpicked each actor and then grew the characters with them. The actors personalities and input was very important in shaping the characters. Each actor was a gem. My favourites are Sister Hope played by my idol the amazing Leonie Forbes, Pastor Stevens played with almost Shakespearian charm by Trinidad stand-up Dennis Spranagalang Hall, and Hope’s granddaughter Chrystal, played by the extraordinary young dub poet Debbie Young. But I am also very fond of Gary Farmer’s character , Marty C Marten, the environmentally aware Aboriginal window washer who is in love with Sister Hope.
Marcia: If you had to do it over again, would you chose the arts?
Frances-Anne: Yep. Too bad about the money.
Marcia: What was teamwork like working with such a large number of cast members?
Frances-Anne: Once we got into rehearsals the actors had an input into the final script. We had a read through at the beginning of the week which was an opportunity for actors to comment on and discuss the scripts. Through improvisations during the week, we continued to develop the script. Every Friday we shot an episode of the series in front of a live audience and the scripts that were presented owed a lot to the input of the actors.
Marcia: What relaxes you and what inspires you? Frances-Anne: I love telling stories about people’s lives. The films and tv programmes I have made are firmly rooted in strong characters, in the passions of real people. This is what keeps me going through all the politics and hassle of the television business. I’m proud that in Lord Have Mercy we were, using the comic medium of the sitcom, able to create really great multi dimensional characters with interesting relationships and stories.
Marcia: Where was Lord Have Mercy shot?
Frances: At Toronto Film Studios in the East End.
Marcia: How did you get the scripts for Lord Have Mercy?
Frances-Anne: We had a workshop in April 2002, at which myself, Vanz Chapman, (co-creator and writer), and Ngozi Paul (Associate producer, Story Editor) came up with the storylines and scripts for the series. We wanted them to be real, funny and tackle head issues of importance in the life our community and the characters.
Marcia: Do you have a favourite quotation?
Frances-Anne: A quotation from Alice Walker – In search of her mother’s gardens Womanist: From womanish. (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e., frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color. Form the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “You acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one. Interested in grown-up doings. Acting grown up. Being grown up. Interchangeable with another black folk _expression: “You trying to be grown.” Responsible. In charge. Serious.” Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health. Traditionally universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige, and black?” Ans: “Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented. Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.” Reply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.” “Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.”
Marcia: What’s next on the agenda for Frances?
Frances-Anne: The company has a handful of really lovely projects in development, and we are very excited about the future!