The Review/ Interview/
The Good Lucky Story of Bad Lucky Goat
Director Samir Oliveros discusses the amusing challenges of shooting his debut feature
Before Samir Oliveros filmed his debut feature, Bad Lucky Goat, he didn’t know how to negotiate with a goat kidnapper. And, in a way, he still doesn’t. But the important thing is he got his goat back in time to put it on the back of a motorcycle. If that all sounds interesting — if a bit unconventional — you’ll likely enjoy Bad Lucky Goat, a quirky, coming-of-age story about sibling rivalry and, ultimately, reconciliation.
Set on the Caribbean island of Old Providence, Bad Lucky Goat follows teenage siblings Corn and Rita, whose troubles mount after accidentally hitting a goat with their parents’ truck. Unfortunately, the goat is killed, but the truck’s just injured, and the pair trek around the tiny island, scheming to raise money for repairs. The journey is filled with local eccentrics, lush scenery, and affecting moments.
Putting a premium on authenticity, Oliveros did his casting on the island, working exclusively with local non-actors in their native Creole language. Even the music was made by a local artist who went heavy on the horse jawbone (it’s a thing).
The TIFF Next Wave Committee spoke with Oliveros about the typical challenges of filmmaking: goat kidnappings, ransom payments, and scheduling shoots around midday naps.
Had you been to this island before? Did you write your script based on the island? Tell us about the island of Providence and what happened for you there.
I knew that I wanted to shoot the script on an island because the idea came when I was travelling through Jamaica. I was staying in Negril with a friend of mine who’s Jamaican and I was asking her mother about cool stories that happened. They’re a family of white, Jewish Jamaicans — so it’s a very curious case — and I asked them how life was there, coming in as foreigners who stayed, because they have a little hotel on the island. They just started telling me crazy stories about their experiences living in Jamaica, and one morning she told me about how the only bilingual school was in Montego Bay, which is a couple of hours away from Negril, and she would have to drive there every single morning to take her kids to school.
One morning, because it was quite early, she fell asleep driving, and hit and killed a cow. The kids just went from being in the backseat, dreaming, to Boom! Crash! and the bloody windshield, and the dead cow. There was no one to help move the dead animal, so she had to wait for an hour with her children, crying in the back, a bloody windshield, and a dead animal in front of the car. I thought it was just a very powerful image, so that was the trigger for the beginning of the movie. I knew I wanted it to happen on an island and I knew about the existence of Providence... I [also] knew that in Colombia we had an island like Jamaica, and I hadn’t been there before, so I went location scouting, realized that it was the most perfect location for it, and I decided to shoot there. I feel like I was more in control of everything in my own country — and it was going to be cheaper to shoot the film there.
What was your casting process? How did you find your protagonists?
[The locals] are isolated from technology, so the way they communicate important events on the island is through a single radio station, run by them. So we went to the station where they broadcast and we had a little casting call. We just had it running for a month in December 2015. They also have a pickup truck with a huge sound system in the flatbed, and they go around the island — there’s only one road — and just speak really loudly through a big megaphone saying important things happening. So when there’s an event, or a newborn child, or someone died, or whatever, they just go around the island a couple of loops [with the announcement].
So those were our two methods of letting the island know that we were having a casting call for a movie. They have a nice little theatre on the island, and they gave us one of the green rooms and that’s where we held our auditions. And because they’re all non-actors, we saw 500 people, and what we were really looking for was if they were open with their emotions. So we only asked everyone two questions: what was their favourite day ever in their life, and what was their worst day? And with those two questions, we could tell. We found Rita, the sister, pretty quickly in the first three days. We really liked her; she was really open, and I’m a little picky with physical similarities between family members in movies, so we were really looking for someone that looked like her. We spent three weeks looking for the kid, and we were not finding him. My casting director said that we should really scout the island at night, because the people that inhabit a place during the day are very different to the people that inhabit a place by night. And it was very true. We saw a kid playing dominoes with his friends outside a bar, and we were like, “Hey, would you be interested in auditioning for a movie?” and he was really cool about it, and he came in the next day, and we found him. The island is a crazy place.
As a Colombian, did you have a sense of Creole growing up, or was that part of your interest in the location? Can you tell us a bit about why you made the film in Creole?
Yeah, that’s their natural language — that’s what they speak in Providence — and I wanted to keep the film as authentic as possible. I didn’t want to impose on the actors a language they do not speak naturally. I just wanted to keep the authenticity because they have been through a lot. The island was initially English, then Spanish, then a pirate island, then Colombian. I didn’t want them to feel like I was a colonizer coming to force them to do something they didn’t want to do. Creole is their language, so I just decided to go with what was most natural for them.
Do they identify as Colombian?
Yeah, but they do feel very abandoned by the country.
Have there ever been Colombian films made in Creole?
No, that was the first one.
Were they excited that you were representing this place and their language?
Yeah, super excited. They were very grateful that we did that and that we put the island on the map a little bit more. We shined a spotlight on them for a little while. And still people sometimes write to me and say, “Woah, I saw the movie and went to Providence and it’s the most amazing place in the world, thank you so much.”
You mentioned that a cow was the original inspiration for the story, so where did the goat come from? Is that folklore on the island? What was the metaphor of the goat?
There are a lot of goats on the island, on Providence. And I knew from the very beginning that I really wanted to get a goat sitting on a motorcycle in between the two of them, and getting a cow on a motorcycle with the two of them would have been impossible. So that’s why we picked a goat – it was a little bit smaller. And also there’s a little symbolism behind it. Goats tend to be related to the dark arts and dark magic, so we did feel like if we replaced the cow with a goat then the duppy part of the movie – in the Caribbean, they call them duppies, which means the dead that are not resting in peace, basically. Which are the people that left unresolved issues when they were leaving, so when they die they don’t rest because they still have things pending in their lives and that’s why they come back. So with the goat, the duppy made way more sense than a cow.
And it did look great on the bike.
Better than the cow.
Is it true that the film was originally called something else? Why did you changed the title?
The original title for the film was When the Well Runs Dry. This comes from the Caribbean saying, “You don’t miss the water until the well runs dry.” But I did feel like it was quite pretentious for the kind of film that we were doing. We knew that it was going to be a very fun, light comedy, and When the Well Runs Dry seemed like more of a serious film. So we just went for Bad Lucky Goat. It encapsulates the spirit of the film.
What did Providence teach you about filmmaking? Did it change the way that you imagined making films?
So much so. Again, this was my first try at making a feature, and I think my biggest lesson was that when you make short films, you ask for a lot of favours. And a lot of the people that you tend to work with on short films are very close to you and are really close to the idea so, no matter what, they will go with you through anything just to get your vision accomplished. But when you do features and you have to pay everyone, and sometimes hire people that are not as close to you, then, obviously, they are just doing a job, and they’re not willing to go as far as your production heads, like the cinematographer or the production designer that are really close to the movie. [Sometimes] department heads are forced to hire more people and they’re not always in love with the project as much as the rest of the people. So we had some issues when, for example, we wanted to shoot for an extra hour because we started at 6am and we really wanted the sunset. But because it was over the twelve hours that they could shoot, they didn’t want to do it. So it did feel like it was an indie production, but sometimes we were tied to union rules. That was the biggest lesson that I learned; just understanding that not everyone in the project might be as in love with the film as the director.
We loved the music in the film. Where did it come from and when did that come into your production?
Again, I wanted to be as authentic as possible, so I knew from the very beginning that all of the soundtrack and all of the score for the film had to be made with artists from the island and with instruments from the island. Early on, the very first time I went there (not for pre-production, just for the location scout) I started asking around if there were musicians on the island and I met with one called Elkin Robinson, who is the guy that [ended up] doing the music, and he’s becoming bigger and bigger every day. Last summer, he started touring internationally. When I told him about the idea for the film, he was in love with it. I gave him the script and he started composing little rough sketches of the songs, but it wasn’t until I showed him a very rough cut of the film that he was able to get a sense of what the songs should be like for every scene and that’s when he started polishing them up and finishing the tracks. But it was great because he got almost every single one of them on the first try. He really understood what we were going for with the different tracks, and he composed really quick once he saw the cut.
And the score... there are a lot of a recurring instruments that I really liked and are also very popular in Caribbean music; it’s the lower jawbone of a horse. So, obviously, once the horse dies they take the lower jaw bone, and because there are still teeth inside the jawbone, if you hit it, they rattle. There are two ways of playing the horse jawbone: by hitting it, and also with a stick. I don’t know the name of that instrument in English, but if you just scrape the teeth they will also make a scratching sound. So that instrument and the harmonica were the main elements for the score. I feel like using an orchestral thing would be very off-putting and wouldn’t fit with the idea that we had for the film.
Can you tell us about the sibling dynamic in the film? Was this based on your personal experience?
Yeah, 100 percent. Those were the two things that inspired the film. It was that incident when I was travelling through Jamaica that my friend’s mother told me, and then the other one: the relationship that I have with my sister. Since we were small, we’ve been just very incompatible. We fight over everything and anything. She’s only a year younger than me, so we had to share a lot. I felt like I was very inclined towards the arts and being original, and she just wanted to copy whatever I did, and whatever I would wear, and that would trigger me, and I hated that someone was copying me. And that led to fighting a lot. So that’s the other big inspiration for the movie.
What does she think of the film?
She loves it. And we’ve actually become more friendly after everything that happened with the film last year.
What were some of the advantages and disadvantages of working with young actors, and specifically non-actors? What did you learn from them?
It was very tough at first because they couldn’t miss school, so we would only get them from 1pm on for rehearsals. During the casting process, we had a full month of just acting exercises. So we would go through the scene and find what we needed to tell with that scene, and just do exercises related to that. And then we would have them do those exercises again, just to get them familiar with expressing emotion.
On the island, everyone takes a nap after lunch – everyone. And they weren’t able to, because they were with us, so they would always be quite grumpy when they arrived. But then they just got into doing the exercises; they were really quite enjoying it, and then they would cheer up. The other thing is that while they were with us they felt like they were missing out on being with their friends. They had a very intense case of FOMO. They would always be checking their phones to see if someone was texting them. They’re Millennials 100 percent, so it was difficult to keep them with us in the room, concentrated on becoming an actor.
Do you have any advice for first-time filmmakers?
Get the first film done as soon as possible. I feel like some filmmakers tend to wait a long time to shoot their first film because they don’t feel ready for it. And I feel like the first one you just need to get it out of the way, because it’s the biggest filmmaking lesson you will ever get. Once that is done, you can move on with your career as a filmmaker. The first one is a trial. I also feel like you should respect all the crew members, and as I mentioned, understand that everyone working on the film might not have the same passion as you when you’re shooting. Another little piece of advice would be to understand that small islands are not designed to be shooting locations, so be ready for that. There are so many different stories that happened to us during production.
Can you tell us a fun one?
We initially bought our goat, Vincent, from a guy, and we gave him money and shook hands, but there was no contract. So, on the 11th day of production we rented a 20-person house on the island, and that’s where the crew was staying. [One day], we went out and Vincent was not tied to his tree where he would always sleep. We were all wondering where Vincent was, and we were all like, “Oh shit, he’s escaped! Now we’re going to waste an entire day looking for him.” And we were shooting with him that day, so we had to change the scenes for that morning and we shot something else while the rest of the crew was looking for Vincent. One of the art PAs found him tied back to his original tree with the guy where we originally bought the goat from.
First of all, I was very relieved that he was still alive. But when I got there he was like, “You didn’t buy the goat from me. You were just renting it.” And I was like, “But I gave you money.” And he just wouldn’t accept that on the previous occasion I was buying it from him. So he was like, “No, if you want the goat, you have to give me more money.” And he asked for the same price that we had given him before, which was, like, $100. So we gave him the money. We had to pay ransom money to get Vincent back so that we could shoot again with him. And this happened once again toward the end of the film. He would just keep kidnapping Vincent and charging ransom money, because he knew that we were shooting a film, and they know that, during production, you have money. So he was just kidnapping Vincent and extorting us just to get money. And then we later found out that he was an alcoholic and he would kidnap Vincent every time that he ran out of alcohol.