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FUTURE OF KENYA’S FILM INDUSTRY BRIGHT BUT ARE WE READY-Mwangi Kaburungu

Wrong Number Producer Mwangi Kaburugu (KBG)

Wrong Number Producer Mwangi Kaburugu (KBG)

It’s been months now since I launched my film, WRONG NUMBER, which I wrote and co-produced with Zeph Mwangi (Bubbly). Analysts, critics and fans alike hailed the premier as the biggest ever in Kenya even getting an 8/10 in launch logistics. The Red carpet launch was characterized by an unprecedented grand entry l of the cast in Limos, drinks among other glamour.

Well, the premier of any product is crucial; it prepares the ground for the actual or main event and is also serves as a publicity stunt.

Although WRONG NUMBER was never highly rated (4.5/10), a figure which I actually applauded, considering that it was a first film from new players in the industry. After all how many first projects done by first timers reach to the level of a grand premier? Minimal, if any.

I had the most talented crew and cast. Many of them students from Kenyatta University (K.U.) and other institutions. Plus a few outsiders whom I considered to be the source of direction in the film. I mean, personally, I got to know the name of the “white board” on set. Yeah am talking about the Clap Board. That might show you the level of “greenness” I had and am sure my co-producer has the same tale.

Challenges were there during the film production, most of which could have been avoided but that is just life especially when you have zero experience in store for the kind of project we had, and it was simply overwhelming. A film that was to take 90 days ended in the cinema hall two years later. Well, experience is expensive.

But all in all, am actually grateful for the experience the film Wrong Number provided. It was like a training field, where a soldier must endure to be able to survive a real warfare. I believe I graduated even though am not sure whether with flying colors, but only my next movie can tell.

In addition, I believe that the cast of the film if well managed and mentored will go ahead to impact hugely and positively Kenya’s film industry. The likes of Biko Nyongesa(whom I refer to the “African Denzel Washington”),Koi Ngunjiri,Winnie Njoki,Jamlek Maina,Jacktone Busaka and others are part and parcel of the future of the film industry in Kenya

Well so much water has passed under the bridge I have since then involved myself in assisting and mentoring some groups doing pilots or short films. The most notable short film is Sticking Ribbons produced by Kevin Njue from Kenyatta University, which scooped an award in the Zanzibar International Film Festival.

“KENYA’S FILM INDUSTRY UNEXPLOITED”

The film industry in Kenya is still small, unexploited and I guess even the government is yet to take it serious. I know I might be ridiculed for nearly saying the famous Kenyan slogan “Sirikal saidia”/Government please intervene but for any creative industry to thrive, the government must be involved, especially in curbing things like piracy, policy formulation, taxation etc.

However, the bulk of a film lies with the producer or “owner”. He is the one who always has a vision of where he wants to take the film, or where he wants the film to take him. Some do it for entry in competitions, others to satisfy their ego and become famous but if we take the Hollywood model (strictly business) then we get to the main course.

Currently, producing a film in Kenya is like going to war in an unfamiliar territory, the challenges including risks are relatively high and not many are willing to go down that road. Pirates among other spoilers will be waiting for you and that explains only less than four Film films premier per year in the country.

Another reason as stated by Riverwood producer, Karanja John (One of my mentors) is that after a film student has graduated with certificates, they hardly venture in the industry to turn the papers into real business. That explains why we have vibrant film students making films and other project while still in school but once they finish, they disappear into thin air. One would rather be employed in another industry instead of venturing into the unknown.

Film lecturers also don’t know how to make money from film. They are only well versed with theory. No hard feelings but am certain that Steve Anderson Wekesa will be yearning for a piece of my neck after reading this.

SO WHERE DOES THE PROBLEM LIE?

I guess I have a piece of the missing puzzle; Story and publicity. Well I know River wood is growing and they have their target market but I don’t want to delve into that for now. Let me talk about Box Office, where you prepare a film for the audience to pay and watch per view. This is how a successful film is rated, its returns, which is as a result of being watched by thousands of fans.

I respect a film that wins an award, but winning the hearts of a few judges is different from winning the hearts of a thousand fans. I have perused the internet and I have come across several competitions, they have a theme and in most cases want you to follow a certain formulae in executing. An entertainment film is different from an educative film and that’s why to me winning an award is secondary.  Below are other ailments ailing Kenya’s film industry ;

a) We are yet to write exciting stories that a viewer can comfortably enjoy. Most of our local films are so predictable. Scenes in Hollywood films move fast, they have suspense. They grip you with their turns and twists. I once watched a Hollywood film where there was this “raining” scene and I had to peep outside my window and confirm whether it was for real. When a story excites, it generates interest, the world talks about it.

b) Financing. Many film makers don’t have the cash to make films. Not many investors are willing to invest in films. Even the government fund was withdrawn. No bank in the country can give you money to make a film.

c) Integrity; Many people in the industry don’t see eye to eye, some I hear have even blacklisted each other. How do we make films if we can’t maintain integrity and professionalism? I mean why can’t we all get along? Some talents on sets I have witnessed are a pure disaster. They want to come late, not take instructions and when you thought you had enough, they want to engage in clandestine activities on set. The cheap pride in set has made actors loose contracts.

Some producers also don’t want to stick and respect their cast and crew. Some editors will hold you hostage by holding and hoarding your work. Many films have “developed Ebola” and died in the hands of editors. They will never celebrate Uhuruto system. Or it’s mourning. I don’t know. So let’s maintain discipline and integrity people. Respect your fellow mates even if you were on the same set with Nicolas Cage. Let’s co-exist.

d) Poor Government Policies; The government has not done much in expanding the industry. Only boardroom meetings with heavy lunches and some allowances. But I also feel them at times, they might not have a clue on what film entails. But I must applaud Kenya Film Classification Board. I was happy and contented with their services and support. Others should follow suit.

e) Piracy; Pirates always lay in wait for a good movie. They end up making money from your sweat. An individual can’t tackle them, but the authorities are better placed to deal with them. And until that happens, then too bad for us.

After all said and done, Kenya still remains Africa’s most promising country in film. We have the best talent, locations and modern equipments are coming in day by day. We have a large populace that is lacking entertainment. Majority is drinking to their death and other modes of entertainment and am sure a good popular film can tap in that populace.

“IT’S NOT HARD TO MAKE MILLIONS IN A FILM, BUT IT’S TRICKY”

A wise man begins a project with the end in mind. In writing, let’s involve a “prospective customer” .How does him/her feel about the story? I have been interviewed by several product representatives on what I would like to see or have. They take in the data seriously. Once the story is satisfying, everything else depends on it. No point of using modern logistics with nothing to tell.

I have other tactics that am exploring on my next project. Unseen, untried but am sure if they work on me, they will work on others. I also would like to see other budding producers do wonders.

We don’t have to go to Hollywood to make it. We have our own Hollywood here in Kenya waiting to explode and go global.

Article by Mwangi Kaburungu; a budding independent film maker and writer

 

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