THIS YEAR'S Reggae Sunsplash Festival, set for Jamaica's Montego Bay Aug. 3-7, will be extensively taped by a Washington-based production company, the KSR Group. It's a significant departure for local video production, which tends to be almost wholly news oriented. KSR will tape eight one-hour programs for worldwide distribution to cable and broadcast stations. The festival will feature such groups as Toots and the Maytals, Steel Pulse, Aswad, the Mighty Diamonds, Peter Tosh, Chalice, Yellow Man, Big Youth and a dozen others, including Americans Deniece Williams and Taj Mahal and Washingtonian Jonathan Brown.
Sunsplash, the world's premier reggae event, was started by Tony Johnson five years ago to increase tourism in Jamaica during the summertime. "We've been working with Johnson and people in Jamaica since mid-February," says Eric Kulberg, the K in KSR. The other principals are Redskins captain George Starke and K. Stuart Reid, former head of press for EEOC in the Carter administration.
"In the past, it has been recorded only sporadically," says Kulberg of the festival. "In 1979, a German group did a two-hour film and never bothered to pay rights to the musicians. Last year, Michael Butler of 'Hair' fame did it and has been sitting on the material ever since because he never bothered to get the rights straightened out beforehand. Jamaican musicians have gotten ripped off time and time again."
To counter that trend, KSR has already committed almost 30 percent of its $1 million budget to artist and performance royalties. "We're doing that right," says Kulberg.
KSR, a minority-owned production company, was formed specifically for Sunsplash. Kulberg, former production sales manager at WTTG, had been producing and editing commercials for the last four years. "I enjoyed doing commercials but I'd been dying to get out of the control room and back into producing," Kulberg says.
Reid, a Columbia University graduate, had been involved with musical programming for cable after leaving government. Starke, his roommate at Columbia, is not only the Redskins' team captain, but also its senior member in age (34) and service.
The racial makeup of the company--two-thirds black--has led to an excellent reception in Jamaica, and KSR will also mix its crews, with British technicians and four black cameramen from Washington. "We're presenting a very black situation to the Jamaicans, which is something they are not used to when anybody comes down," Kulberg points out. Among the crew: directors Annie Rowe, one of the best vision mixers/directors in England, and Charles Stopak, (formerly of Channel 7); assistant director Gavin Boyle from NBC; associate producer Celeste Crenshaw, who also did WETA's "Jumpstreet"; and lighting director Neville Horsfield.
The company's plans for taping Sunsplash received a major boost when they went to the MIP-TV conference in Cannes last April and talked to buyers from all over the world. "There's a worldwide desire for reggae," says Kulberg. "The problem is that there just hasn't been a lot of it done." Much of the early budget came when the series was pre-sold to England's brand-new Channel 4, whose charter is "to provide more programming for the minorities in England; obviously, this was right up their alley and they made production funds available to us."
Stateside, the series will probably follow an increasingly familiar pattern: pay-per-view cable first, followed by general cable and ending with traditional broadcast.
Although it started out specifically tied to Sunsplash, KSR came away from Cannes with strong interest in several other projects, including a film about Montgomery Clift scripted by Washingtonian Karen Johnson and a series built around R&B veteran Johnny Otis. They also worked out a production and distribution deal in which a British theater, the Fair Deal, is being turned into a permanent video production facility where groups can tape before a live audience.