Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Filmmaker's Guide to 2012

2011 has been good for many people in many ways and likewise, bad for many people in many ways. But for the film industry in East Africa, I feel like it has been just another year in the slow trudge towards emancipation.  In Kenya, we’ve had a few amazing films and TV series being produced and released, and the newspapers ran many articles about filmmakers and their projects. But for the most part, we remained unpaid and unappreciated, unwatched and unheard. We met in our conferences and complained about distribution and lack of financing, taxes and lack of support by local TV stations- the same old things, really!
It’s 2012 now, and by the winds of Migingo, we cannot continue this way! Because I care about you all ((HugMoment)), I will share a radical diabolical plan. My only condition for this great gesture of camaraderie ((UhuruInstrumentalMoment)) is that you accept the challenge and walk with me through each step of the way. It will not be easy, but I’m going in. Who’s with me?

The Filmmaker’s Guide to 2012
Step 1-  An education:
Film school is expensive, and almost non-existent in Kenya. We have some good film production programs (I know of good programs at Mohammed Amin Foundation and at Kenta Institute of Mass Communication), but MoForce is too expensive for most of us and well, KIMC is… Yea… I don’t know what KIMC is! As far as I know, filmmakers outside Nairobi are forced to come to the city to get some decent instruction.
If you’re a Kenyan filmmaker, I know you’re most likely of the opinion that film school is for dummies, and that you can make films without having to attend a formal film program. Unschooled Riverwood producers are trampling us schoolies to the underground in terms of sales and market share. 

Mr. Evans Mutua (big-shot Kenyan film guru man) is a lecturer at the USIU Mass Communication program, and he believes in formally educating Kenyan filmmakers. I’m going with him on this, mainly because he’s really cool and made Tough Choices, but also because I see his point. His argument is that film is a craft, and there are parameters within which the production process operates. You can’t just fumble around with it and come up with a world-class production. In order to compete with the global market and to win back an audience of people that have been watching Hollywood films all their lives, we must have the skills to use the medium of film as best possible. Technical aspects like lighting, camera techniques and sound, as well as the creative stages like screenwriting and set design are better learned through instruction from skilled and experienced filmmakers. So go to school and learn all you can. 
If you cannot attend formal film school, I can recommend some programs that are just as good- Maisha Film Lab, One Fine Day and workshops offered by the Kenya Film Commission are top on the list for me, and you can look for other similar opportunities to learn more.
My resolution is to attend all the training programs and workshops that I can. I have attended a few and at each one, I learn something new and I meet new filmmakers. The food is always amazing as well :)
Picture: Joan Kabugu with Bollywood filmmaker Anjum Rajabali at Maisha Screenwriters Lab in Nairobi, 2010

Step 2- Make a film!
I know you have no money, of course I know that! And you have no equipment? Yea, neither do I. But I still say, make a film! It’s the best way to learn and to get more involved with the Kenyan film fraternity- and in 2012 I guarantee you, you can make a cool film on your camera phone (or your friend’s camera phone) and with a few of your friends. Realize that the bulk of achievements that we make as independent filmmakers are realized with the help and support of friends (Also translated as: people that are interested in helping you with production for free). If you have no friends then I’m sorry, you cannot work in the film industry in Kenya. Go become a banker. 

With no budget and limited equipment, your film will most probably turn out whack- but you will walk away with more experience, more connections, and higher ambition to make a better film.
 If you are more experienced and have access to better equipment, understand that the industry is depending on your input in 2012- make an amazing production that Kenyans will appreciate and add to their DVD collections beside The Dark Knight and 300. The key to this, I have come to believe, is story.  Have an amazing story and be loyal to the cultural truths of your target audience.
Picture: Independent filmmakers Denis Kimathi and Muriuki Erick on set (Hunters, the movie)

The more elite members of your audience will care about your production values and undoubtedly compare your camera techniques, sound and lighting to Hollywood productions, but the bulk of Kenyans don’ t really notice all that- they’re here for the story. I’ve heard time and time again that the main problem with Kenyan productions is sound, and I feel like 2012 is the year to fix that. Take care of your sound, whether you’re working no-budget or not, and you’ll have boosted your production value 50% above what you did in 2011 and before. No shady soundtracks either please!

My resolution is to make a short film independently, maintaining the highest possible production values that I can. What’s a filmmaker without a film? Just a maker! And nobody thinks makers are cool.

Step 3- Make like a Somali and pirate!
* Disclaimer: The pirate pun works, no xenophobia- I love waryias!

I asked a question to some filmmaker buddies of mine on Facebook: Filmmakers, should we pirate Kenyan films?
“I spoke to Alex Konstantaros of Jitu Films early last year and he explained to me the idea behind selling films for as low as KSH.30. He said his main aim was to open the Kenyan market- show Kenyans that Kenyan films are actually good and they can watch them and enjoy them same as Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood. When Kenyans get to watch local films that they like, then it compels them to buy more local stuff. Without watching good Kenyan films, most Kenyans assume that local films are horrible and never bother to try them out.

I want to open a market for us in 2012- I want Kenyans to watch local and love it, so that when I put my local film on the shelf, someone will be interested in watching it. Problem is, Kenyan films are really hard to come by. I seek out Kenyan films like crazy, and hadi today I have never watched Malooned, Rugged Priest, Mwigwithania and many many other presumably good Kenyan stuff. Trust me, most of your target audience has NEVER watched a Kenyan film EVER- the rest have, but not a really good one- so what makes you think that when you put out your film they'll be interested?
Let's pirate! I know it's illegal, but I feel like it's necessary. The target audience needs to watch local films so that there can be demand for it, because right now, our market is dead on the floor.

I propose: if you have a local film, Torrent it! YouTube it! File-share it! Burn it! I don't care, just make sure everyone you know watches it- they need to know that we exist!
Filmmakers, WHAT DO YOU THINK? Coz I have Soul Boy, Noose Of Gold, First Grader, What Boys Can Do, Love, Once Upon A Rhyme, Torn, Control- and if anyone wants them, I'm file-sharing! So speak now before I spread this virus- do you agree of disagree?”

Most of them agreed.

Disclaimer: I ain't even trying to go to jail :-P So no snitching! 

There’s The Filmmaker’s Guide to 2012. No more excuses filmmakers; I’m going in- who’s with me?