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Without a shadow of a doubt, the Kenyan film and acting industry is growing. I base that statement from the number of professionals who can now easily answer the question “What do you do?” with “I am a filmmaker” without any bigotry or condescending remarks.  A couple of years ago, had you dared say you act for a living or making films is your source of livelihood, the question “No really, what is it that you do?” would most likely follow.

This recognition that film makers are now getting can be partly attributed to the constant quality projects that are being churned out and fed to the masses.  While the number of movies commercially being produced is still low and the movies not reaching the mass market, the same cannot be said about TV series. TV series not only makes a larger percentage of what can be termed “local content” but it is also the main source of income for many actors who solely survive on acting for their livelihood.

Most of these programs/series are largely owned by TV stations that either buy the full exclusive rights from an independent producer or have their own in house productions.

It is a vice and virtue that happens all over the world.  A good example is AMC, an American channel which has original programming like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. The situation is not different in Kenya. We do have TV stations that have their own in-house shows but also purchase shows that are independently produced.

While an independent producer will contract an actor for a project and he/she is liberated to be part of other projects as long as it does not interfere with their shooting schedule, TV stations-owned productions do not work on the same principals.  In house productions usually do not allow the contracted actors to be part of other TV series, productions and especially if they are in a competing local station.  They are locked down to that particular station and the show they are on. It is more or less like how newscasters and journalists only work for a particular station; the only difference is how much money they earn compared to actors and the reason why this article is being written.

It is a good and a bad thing. The good being

- Actors get branding. Some of the most celebrated actors are big names/brands partly because of the longevity of their respective shows.  

-Actors have constant employment and revenue streams and actors know very well how important being assured of a paycheck every month is, in an industry where getting work is hard. The main actors of most of these shows actually do get paid well to survive on one TV show. However “Well paid” is very relative.

On the flip side, the bad includes and is not limited to;

-The actors who are not well paid and are not allowed working on any other show end up suffering. They lose out on new projects that come up or are forced to choose between the new show and their already existing show. It goes without saying that you go to where the money is.If you are going to dictate that an actor whose sole source of income is acting, to not be in other projects, ensure they are well paid..

-If you contract an actor to solely work for you that means they are your employees, right?  Would it be too much to ask for them to be accorded the minimum amenities as stipulated by labor laws? Maternity leave for example is one of those important rights. There is a case of an actress who came back from maternity leave only to find she was written out of the script without any notice and after being promised that her role will still be there when she comes back.

- Sick leave. According to employment act cap 226: After two consecutive months of service with his employer an employee shall be entitled to sick leave of not less than seven days with full pay, and thereafter to seek leave of seven days with half pay.

-Would it be too much to ask for a medical cover? If house girls/maids are entitled to medical covers, I believe actors are entitled to the same.

Now while many of these necessities can be discussed at the contract negotiation stage, many disregard and are oblivious of this.

It could be a lot to expect from an independent producer working on a short project but I am sure TV stations have the muscle to actually create a better working environment for the actors on their shows. They are after all employees if not ambassadors for your particular production.

At the end of the day we are all working towards a common goal and that is to make our industry flourish and be the best it can be. We surely cannot compete at the highest level if the workforce behind making this industry strive is not well taken care of, right?

By Gerald Langiri

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