Friday, November 30, 2012

Filmmaking Connections- Five (actually, Six) Networks for Kenyan Filmmakers

I know someone that wants to be an actress. She has experience acting in high school plays and a little bit in church- she killed it as Mother Mary in an Easter play one year. She attends auditions whenever she hears about them, but she has never landed a role on screen. Three years of running the audition circuit, and she gave up the idea of being an actress- why? "This industry runs by connections- people that don't have connections never get anywhere." Well... In my experience, she's right. 

OK, truth is, the afore-described is not an actual person that I know, but a hypothetical example... However!  I know that the experience of my hypothetical aspiring actress is relevant and applicable to many people out there

 Most entertainment-based industries rely on knowing people that know people- that's just how things happen. It's important then, for anyone that wants to be involved in the film or TV industry in Kenya, to get in on some of those 'connections'. Most casting auditions, job openings and other events are never announced on mass media, so if you don't know the right people and they don't know you, well... Before I ever got any experience in filmmaking or TV, I attended the Lola Kenya Screen Film Festival; I met some people that have the same ideas as I do about making movies in Kenya, and those were the first 'connections' that I made in this industry. Through Lola I got exposed to other networks, including Maisha Film Lab (which is where I got my first screenwriting mentorship). Because Beth at Lola knew that I wanted to write movies, so she would call me if anything relevant came up. Because I attended Maisha Screenwriters' Lab, I got onto their mailing list so I would get information that was relevant to what I was trying to do. Because I posted on the Kenya Film Commission Facebook page, I got to meet Mwaniki Mageria, a distributor working on getting some local broadcasters interested in Kenyan movies... Connections are good, if only you'd get in on them! 

So in that case,  because I want my blog to be relevant now, I've prepared a list (in no particular order) of networks that are easily accessible for Kenyan filmmakers. This is especially for aspiring filmmakers that don't know where to start with your big dreams- these are the networks that helped me get more involved with the Kenyan filmmaking scene:

1. Lola Kenya Screen:

Lola is based in Nairobi, and their tagline is 'Keeping films for children and the youth in focus'. The have a training program for young filmmakers, so if you know a young'un that might be interested in making movies, they'll know what to do :) Lola hold an annual film festival, and it's always good-times, so even if you're not in Nairobi, you can plan to attend it. Apart from that, they have the Lola Kenya Screen Film Forums held every month at Goethe Institut- basically, they screen movies and invite the people that made the movies to answer questions and give information about their movie and the process of making it. Cool things, ya!? Ya! Check out

This is an online community, primarily of actors, but very relevant to anyone in the film and TV industry. Their website and Facebook page are constantly updated, so it's a great source of information on the industry goings-on. It's awesome also that they post articles targeted at helping actors to improve their skills, land roles and generally grow in the industry. Any aspiring actors, this page is a must!  Even if you're not an actor, should be on your web browser 'Bookmarks' list. 

3. FilmBiz Africa & FilmKenya Magazine:
I've put these together because they're both print magazines based on the African film and production world. Absolutely must-reads for filmmakers, so be sure to pick up a copy if you can- they're widely distributed, so you should be able to get one if you're near a major town in Kenya. You can join their communities on social media- Facebook and Twitter, and you'll benefit from the updates and connections that you'll find there! 


4. Daystar Filmmakers:
This group started as a community of filmmaker that are students (or alumni) of Daystar University in Kenya, but today it hosts many people that are not linked to Daystar at all- everyone with a passion for filmmaking is welcome. Just like, FilmBiz Africa and Film Kenya, the Daystar Filmmakers family on Facebook shares information regarding auditions, job openings, movie screenings, skill-development- anything relevant to aspiring and working filmmakers and TV content producers.

5. Movie Jabber:
This one is a movie enthusiast's hang-out forum based on the Facebook Group 'Movie Jabber'. "What are you watching?" That's the question that people answer there, and it's always fun to discuss movies and series. As a filmmaker, this page is invaluable in keeping up with what different audiences are enjoying, what people are hating- what works and what doesn't, for different audiences. The beauty of this network is that every month, people meet up and go to the cinemas and catch a movie together. Again, this meet-up is currently based in Nairobi For me, Movie Jabber brought back the cinema culture- Ibefore I went for a movie with 'Team Jabber', I hadn't been in a cinema for probably two years... (o.o) Go to, or join the Facebook Group.

For screenwriters, it's imperative that you check out John August's blog and podcast at Absolutely invaluable. A lot of the infoamtion is based on the American film industry, but there is a lot to learn to to relate to on John August's blog.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hey look, a target! Let’s shoot it!

The film industry is not about making movies- it’s about selling them. Most of the best Kenyan filmmakers, however, are much better at making movies than they are at selling them. There are many amazing Kenyan movies that have never made any significant profits- save for the wondrously astounding Riverwood movies showing on Kiss TV... No, that is not appreciation for their ‘support of the local industry’.  

Generally, it is hard to make money selling Kenyan movies in Kenya- the business of film is tight here, and I realize that with the new budget and taxes on landlords and what not, I will soon need more paper than just my scripts. I took a business management class last year, and since I’m an 8-4-4 student, I forgot most of the course content soon after- but thankfully, I kept my notebook, and will use it as my first reference as I try to learn about selling movies. One of the things that we were taught is the importance of identifying a target market. This falls right in line with the idea of producing media content for a specific target audience. 
If you’re new to the idea of target-what-nots, I’m not going to type my notes here for you- you have Google- read for yourself!

Targeting Kenyans:
It is hard to sell anything in Kenya because most of us are broke. But if Rufftone can sell Vita500 then damn it, I can sell a movie!
There are many factors involved in identifying a target audience and establishing a niche in their consumption of media content, but I broke it down in it the best way that I learned from 8-4-4: Urban vs. Peri-urban vs. Rural
(The 'peri-urban' one wasn't taught in 8-4-4, I discovered it independently [wink]) 

Urban 254– Nairobians
Kenya has three cities: Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa. However, Nairobi is the most cosmopolitan, with the most hoity-toity Kenyans. As a Nairobian, this is my most comfortable target and the main productions that I have done so far have been stories targeted at urban youth; stories about people much like myself. From my experience, I say targeting this audience is like trying not to think about a white rabbit as you read this sentence about not thinking about a white rabbit. Pointless and most likely futile.
With American movies and series selling for Ksh.40 in town and in most neighborhoods, Nairobi is basically a ‘Hollywood stronghold.’ While Kenyan movie premieres on Saturday night, most of Nairobi is at home watching the news, in a bar drinking and smoking, on the phone arguing with a girlfriend, or on Facebook/2Go flirting with someone they've never met. If they’re at the movies, they’re watching a Hollywood blockbuster at iMax. They are averse to Kenyan movies (thanks, Kiss TV with the wondrously astounding Kenyan flicks for that!), and would only watch if their cousin acted in it.
Upper-class and middle-class Nairobians aren't actively supportive of local productions... No, Camp Mulla videos do not count as local productions. 

Lower-class Nairobians are a much better target than the middle-class and upper-class, because they are less indulged in Western ideals. They still present a tricky audience to capture, since they have more urgent things to buy with their money than movies, like fuel, water and Blue-Band sachets.

Peri-urban 254: Small-towners
These people live in the middle, and are not too westernized but not shady either. Peri-urban Kenyans are more receptive than urbanites to variety, and are not too fixated on Hollywood and Western media. This is where ‘Riverwood’ filmmakers begin to make their money, I hear…

Rural 254 – The Masses
This is a tricky target audience, because rural life generally doesn’t offer much space for movies and entertainment.
If your ocha is in Central Kenya, you’ll probably be defensive and demand to know who told me that ocha has to be backward. Speak not until you have spent some days in the remote Kenyan ochas in Western, Eastern, North Eastern, Nyanza, the Coast e.t.c. Places with no electricity, where the older people still think that Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi is still president because he’s still on the money, and the younger people are too busy getting pregnant to care what Korean Air said about the indigenous people with primitive energy. I mean, places where nobody listens to Classic 105 in the morning, imagine that! 

I would love to make content for this audience, and I plan to, once I have enough research down to make a good movie. Unfortunately many rural folk are struggling economically so targeting this audience is almost as disappointing as targeting the uppity urban unsupportives.

Hey look, a target! Let’s shoot it!
As a filmmaker, it is important to identify which audience you want to target with a film, so that you can tailor the film and its marketing to this audience. Specific targeting has worked in various aspects of business, and film production is no different.

For me, the peri-urban target audience is probably the most viable and I see it as one that could very effectively influence other audiences in Kenya; Nairobian-ism is a young culture that is easily influenced; where others go, it follows. It is keen on trends, and if there is a buzz around something worthwhile, it soon catches on in Nairobi… Except for condom shoes, nobody knows where those came from... If there are good movies creating a buzz in the peri-urban circles, chances are that the urban will pay attention. 

Blue Band sachet:

Saturday, May 12, 2012

DAYSTAR FILM-WEEK REVIEW - Guest post by film enthusiast Felix Brian Onyango

I walked into the ICT theatre with my head held up high on Monday morning of February 27th 2012 around 10 o’clock. My interest in the film week had been roused by the thorough publicity that had been employed on the event by my dear friends; Shiro, Debra and Miss Beverly. For me, being at the event was more of moral support if not for the love of films.
The event kicked off to low-key reception at 11:00 am, Three hours behind schedule. This was attributed to the fact that it was a Monday morning and students still had class. I tried as much as possible to indulge my interest in the event as we waited for more people to trickle in the ICT theatre.

Former CADS chairlady AnnDebra Wanjiku
We were served with tea and mandazi by none other than the Communication Association of Daystar Students (CADS) Chairperson  Debra Wanjiku at the entrance as we entered into the theatre. At exactly 12 noon Laka Nyagah, the Chairperson of Daystar film-makers took to the podium and invited everybody to the event and gave a short history on how they came up with the concept of having a film week. He narrated how as a freshman he got to act in his first film a Daystar production with the COM 408, Advanced Video Production class of January 2009 with the likes of Guantai Benson,Joy Obuya and Julius who are now  executives of Iris Production house. I was humbled with the nostalgic memory lane his story took as he recalled how he acted alongside myself in his first film even mentioning my name while I was sitted in the audience.
Now four years later, he was doing the same Advanced Video Production class not as an actor but a producer and orienting film lovers into the film industry in Daystar. For a moment I thought the person who was standing on the podium could have been me had I taken the path to pursue film making industriously like he did. But did I? Four years after being exposed to film making and acting in my first film, my life had taken a different path in campus. I had gotten got into student politics, student Radio and Public Relations.Is it too late to rediscover my interest in film? That question lingered on my mind as I left the room that afternoon for my afternoon class. To do that I decided to engage myself in the film week by coming to the ICT theatre every single day of the week for the remaining four days to rediscover what I had lost, my passion for films.

The Premiere - Guest post by cinematographer Steve Waguwa

Time is 7.30 pm, I quickly button up my favorite pink shirt, grab my jacket, scurrying across the room I nearly trip on the TV cable, the screen goes off momentarily then on again, at this juncture my heart is racing with rapid beats, I pull the window curtains and peep outside, its raining, clearly the weather does not give a damn about what lies ahead of me. With each and every minute the sound of rain lashing on the roof grow louder and louder. A streak of sweat cuts through the deodorant I had applied on my armpits as my eyes dart back and forth around the room scanning frantically for an umbrella in sight. All of sudden I hear the boom of thunder, the whole house is engulfed in pitch darkness, I personally have never understood why lights disappear when it rains heavily so I freeze for a moment then go for my phone from the breast pocket of my jacket. “Three missed calls from our Director” what! Now am kind of cooked and screwed at the same time! The premier for The Nairobi report and Deserted is just about to start and I am stuck in my house off-campus coz of the heavy rain pounding outside. I refuse to wait for the big debate on whether I should run in the rain or wait for it to subside, so I hurriedly fold my trouser up to knee length, grab an umbrella and rush out into the cold dark hazy night. As the Director of photography in the Nairobi report I vowed to attend the premier come rain or high water and come to think of it, it started to make sense as I jump from puddle to puddle and slid through the mud, panic grips me as water starts to sip into my highly polished leather shoes which I paid for through the nose “focus!” I silently tell myself, Mother Nature can be so unpredictable. My cold hands clench hard on the umbrella to prevent it from swaying side to side, the wind offers me no mercy and blows harder, I stagger on with a sober mind that all will go well at the premiere.
Time is 8.30 pm, At the Ict building on-campus the hall is dark except for the light coming from the projector near the dais, after the hassle of reaching here I am proud and humbled to see our movie trailer “The Nairobi report” playing on the big screen, murmurs can be heard from the crowd already seated and standing on the corridor- they have all braved the harsh weather to come for the premier, the air is eager and full of anticipation from the crowd waiting to watch our movie, I cannot complain at this point. Strategically I make my way along the aisle up to the front where I seat behind the projector. A hand touches my shoulder from behind, I turn around and who do I see… Dr. Donald Smith, the founder of Daystar University, he tells me to adjust the sound levels to reduce the distortion coming from the speakers. Dr. Donald Smith has come with his Mrs. Faye Smith they are our senior guests tonight. Sir Lotan is our emcee for tonight; he stirs up the crowd with his creative and witty communication skills. Just before the movie is played all members of crew and cast for both films are requested to go outside for a grand entrance. Clad in flowing dresses, beautiful hairdos, manicured nails, its all about pomp and glamour…the passengers have already boarded the plane, crew walks in, doors are closed “please fasten your seatbelts” the pilot announces from the intercom, Premier for The Nairobi report and Deserted taxis on the runway and takes off smoothly into the skies of success…

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

2012 with SFTV Film

So it's been a while! Since the beginning of this year, I have been in production. I teamed up with filmmakers Laka Nyaga, Ian Njuguna, David Ngome and Pepe Haze to form Team Nobody (because Nobody's perfect), and we made an advert that we submitted for Safaricom's Saf4Reel competition. Watch it HERE.

I also enrolled for the Advanced Video Production course at my university, and worked on the production of The Nairobi Report. This is a Kenyan suspense-thriller produced by Team Fortitude Productions; I am writer and co-director on this film, and it premieres on 4th May 2012 at 7pm in Daystar Athi River's New ICT Theatre Hall. WATCH THE TRAILER HERE! I'm excited about this production because it was one of the most challenging for me to write; I learnt more about screenwriting in 3 months than I have in most of my time as a screenwriter! Special thanks to Mr. Emmanuel Wanyonyi and Miss Beverly 'Bev' Gatimu for that- they guided me through the re-writing and re-drafting of the script for this film, an I am eternally grateful for their input!
 It doesn't sound like much, but these two projects have taken up most of my time in the first quarter of 2012. For the remaining 3/4 of 2012... First, I can't wait for Blind Sight (Directed by Ian Kithinji) to finally be released! Post-production is so much more drama than I had thought! This is my first major project as producer, so I'm really holding my breath for it... You should too; it's HD :) ((Applause))

I also look forward to the growth of SFTV this year. Watch out for fresh-and-newness from SFTV (*Again, thanks Mr. Wanyonyi for taking me through an education in Broadcast Programming)... 

Please give me feedback on the Team Nobody video, as well as the Nairobi Report trailer. The movie is to be released on the date of the premiere as well, so if you want a copy- halla!

Happy May-Day!

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Kenyan Love Story

I love love stories, and most people do- even men, if the story is told in the right way. In the African context, expression of romantic love is restricted and public display of romantic feelings is pretty much disallowed. I’m sure that in the traditional African society people did ‘fall in love’- it was just not shown in the same way that the modern cosmopolitan society dictates.

I’ve always wanted to do a Kenyan romantic comedy/drama but every time I tell the idea to someone in the industry, they give me that skeptical look- exactly the one I get when I tell them my action/thriller idea about a guy that gets shot while proclaiming the Kenyan loyalty pledge in a live on-air radio broadcast. 

 Most Kenyan movies and television productions are drama- most likely because this is one of the cheapest genres to produce. Romance is creeping into the storylines now, and we’re no longer watching the awkward kissing scenes that made African romantic moments seem gauche (There’s a time in Tausi that some guy was snogging a chic’s cheek instead of her lips… It was hard to watch). Last night I watched a Kenyan love story, live and in living color! At a poetry event in Daystar University, a guy, introduced as 'Anonymous', took the stage and dedicated a piece to his girl. By the end of the night, he had all the women screaming, half the men applauding and the other men cringing!
I was a screamer (I could hardly hold still long enough to take the footage!), and as soon as I left the venue, I went to my archives and revisited my ‘Romantic Movies Idea Collection’ folder! Check out A Kenyan Love Story:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Share Your Life - A PSA by Loi Awat

I made this PSA as a class project for my Advanced Video Production course. Working on this, I finally got to spend significat time with a professional video camera, and I was really excited about the blurs and different lighting options that don't exist on my borrowed camcoder. I also got quality time with Final Cut, and spent this time recalling (and then employing) the editing styles of some really good editors (Read: Ian Njuguna and Robert Njeru). This was definitely different from stop-motion animation, and I enjoyed working on a video production on my own.
Check it out! I am open to criticism and advice