HERE IS WHY WE SEE LESS THAN 4 KENYAN FILMS PREMIER ANNUALLY
There is creation of wealth and opportunities in the film fraternity. The phrase passion and talent is just a portion of the overall input in film making. No passion pays bills. Even real estate is built passionately but the landlord will give you a visit every end month. Personally I made mistakes in my first project (film Wrong Number). And some were costly mistakes. And it’s on those mistakes that I want to build my everlasting foundation and presence in the game. And that’s why I can boldly point out the mistakes and reasons why the film in Kenya might not realize its full potential.
The reason why only less than four Film films premier per year in Kenya is because we film makers are yet to understand our “customers”. My observation. And even those four, two are most likely NGO funded. And the other two, you will find my good friend Alexandros Konstataras..(I read somewhere he shall launch his “Fundimentals Movie” early next year. I Just promoted him here, will call him for a cheque later..Lol. I mean only the experienced and “hardened” producers will take the other half. Because the challenges including risks are relatively high and not many are willing to go down that road. Many will only shout how it should be done and how one can get rich but it ends there. Legendary film maker and also a great friend Cajetan Boy of “Strata-the movie” brands them as “Armchair Producers”. And they are all over social media.
Another reason as stated by an article written by a River wood producer Karanja John(One of my mentors and a major player in River wood) is after a student has graduated with certificates, the trick is turning his papers into real business. (Read the full article here) They are well versed with theory but turning them into real enterprise is the challenge. And no am not envious because I don’t have a film certificate. The schools are supposed to nurture not only actors or crew but producers. How many graduate producers do we have in Kenya??Or how many films have they produced??The films that got a public premier last and this year have been done by “street graduates”. They are well versed with the terrain. Am not ruling anybody out, but my point is that on top of how to act and other subjects, entrepreneur skills must be put and tailor made to fit our local industry, if the schools have been established to uplift our local industry. There is no point in giving our young people “Hollywood hope” only to find the reverse in the mean and unforgiving scene of our local film sector.
No film in Kenya has been able to topple Nairobi Half Life in terms of local box office. And the film being half Kenyan half German did an excellent job in giving us hope that it’s doable. But to achieve that is “the elephant in the room”. Many have tried and many have failed. Some even never got their projects finished, let alone an attempt at a cinema hall or a public screening.
So where lays the problem? I guess I have a piece of the missing puzzle. What is lacking in the film sector is a good story. A story that can sell. Story is the epicenter of a film. But the story must come with a lot of sideshows. That is in terms of creativity. The film MUST be half creativity. Half business. Period. The local TV scene is purely business and lacks creativity. Piles of episodes are short and viewers are ignored as the stations fill and kill time with boring story lines that nobody is interested in watching. That’s why Mexican, Philipino and other soaps have a huge following.
Well back to film now.
And when I talk of film as a business. I mean having a budget, paying your “workers” and having a mechanism with which to display your film for the people. Because that is what films are for. To be watched. I tried the “no-budget” model in my previous project and it doesn’t work. In fact a zero budget film is damn expensive. Avoid it. I know we have lots of learners going the zero budget way. Am not against it if it’s for learning. But a serious producer who wants to have a foothold of the future must organize his house. I have met and avoided an argument with a “producer” who got everything for free including equipments, talent etc. He has nothing to loose. Tell him to spare several hundred thousands and shoot a film and put it in the market and he gives you a different tale. Many want to talk film but are not willing to risk, even a coin. I was involved in a set that I had volunteered to assist but it went beyond that. The top guy refused to pay a supplier I had referred to him and I had to foot the bill just to maintain cordial relations with the supplier who happens to be a friend. Not many are willing to actualize their words. Just talks. If we want the sector to grow, money MUST exchange hands. To volunteer and assist is ok but ultimately bills must be paid. I don’t plan to venture into a project without enough resources. I know how it goes. And how it ends.
Short films, pilots and other mini projects are good for the growth and preparation of the industry. I must applaud the Kenyans who made films and went ahead to win awards. But the ultimate success of any film is the box office. It can either be a success or a box office bomb-where the film gets losses. Even banks get awards but what matters is the P&L account. If you peruse the internet today, you are bound to find dozens of film competitions that are sponsored by various organizations advocating for mostly human rights, drug abuse, poaching, sports etc. They give you the guidelines to follow and they will judge you with a marking scheme whether you did follow their agenda.
And that creates a film dubbed as an awareness film. A look at Hollywood (where all want to go) shows that the success of a film industry lies in entertainment films. These are thrillers, action, horrors and other genres whose main aim is to “interfere” with adrenaline and leave you “nail less” or falling off the edge of your seat. A film that left me with such a feeling is the “Phone Booth” directed by Joel Schumacher or “The Ghost” directed by Jerry Zucker. A great story creates a great audience. And a great audience creates money. And an industry at the close of the day is money that matters. However, a lot has to be invested including money, talent and commitment to purpose. So next time you want to talk of film success, think returns not unless the purpose is otherwise. Am not saying my first thriller was a box office success. Some might want to turn the heat on me. To me it was a learning opportunity. And am sure I learnt.
Still on writing, we are yet to write exciting stories that a viewer can comfortably enjoy. Most of our local films you can put a bet how it will end and start using that money even before halfway. Predictable and boring stories. Hollywood film scenes move fast, they have suspense. They grip you with their turns and twists. In most cases-you never see it coming. I once watched a Hollywood film which was “raining” and I had to peep out and confirm whether it was for real. It was damn sunny. January I guess. They simply ensure you get glued to the film. When a story excites, it generates interest, the world talks about it. More Rush to watch it. And the film gathers revenue.
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