AN OPEN LETTER TO MOTHER – IN – LAW ACTOR/SCRIPTWRITER PATRICK OKETCH
This is a response to a quote you made in an article on the Daily Nation dated Saturday, February 21, 2015 titled "Wanted:TV scriptwriters whee you said; “We want to write superficial stories that we know nothing about like submarines or state house. How can I write about state house and the farthest I’ve ever been is right outside my gate? Kenya is not that affluent state yet, the reality on the ground is that people are buying pirated movies and that means there’s a niche that’s not being targeted. People are missing the value of simplicity and that’s where the story is.” You can read the full article here.
How can I write about state house and the farthest I’ve ever been is right outside my gate? This question bothers me. I can’t believe you had the audacity to ask that to over 40 million Kenyans. So let me throw your question right back at you. How did you ever write your compositions in school Sir? Remember those where you were asked to write about spending your holiday in Nairobi even though you’d never been in Nairobi.
Were you never asked to write about meeting the President even though the closest you’d ever been to him was through a TV screen?
Or better yet, were you never asked to write about ‘Siku za Mwizi ni Arobaini’ even though you’d never witnessed a single robbery?
If your English or Kiswahili teacher never burdened you with such imaginative tasks, I apologize for bringing it up. They failed you.
But I’ve got two answers for your question. The first is this little thing called IMAGINATION. Any scriptwriter with imagination can write about ANYTHING, even submarines, state house, aliens, a terrorist cell in Beirut, a diamond cartel in South Africa, oil smuggling in Turkana. This list gets longer but you get my point. A good script is ambitious, imaginative.
Imagination is power. Imagination is creativity. God must have had a vast imagination before he created the world and everything in it. He must have envisioned how he wanted it to look like. He must have envisioned man before he blew that breath of life into him.
Imagination breathes life into a good story. You take your own POV, and let your mind loose into a vast wilderness of possibilities. You let it travel unchained, trawling all corners of human existence, searching for the perfect story.
The second answer is RESEARCH. A good scriptwriter is first a reader, a researcher who gets all his facts right before putting it down on paper. You take something that is unknown, like a state house for example, you research about every chamber in it, how it operates. When you are satisfied that you’ve tied all your loose ends, you write the shit out of that story. And you make your audience believe that you’ve been to state house.
Just so there is no misunderstanding, Wanuri Kahiu’s sci-fi short film Pumzi is set in a post-apocalyptic Africa. So how did she pull it off, writing a story about afro-futurism? It is after all something unknown to us, just like submarines and the inside chambers of statehouse. Imagine and research, never underestimate these two.
‘People are missing the value of simplicity and that’s where the story is.’ I love that word simplicity, how people often misinterpret it, take it as some kind of a modesty movement. Simplicity is not about taking what is known and throwing it in your audience’s faces so blatantly. Mother-in-law is guilty as charged. Simplicity is about taking the familiar story, weaving in front of your audience’s eyes, allowing them to connect with your simple story through subtext. Simplicity is about giving your audience a story that is not afraid to be quiet but still delivers. Simplicity is about not insulting your audience’s intelligence. Don’t mistake simplicity for lack of creativity because then we’ll be a society lost in storytelling.
Mr. Patrick Oketch, your thinking is flawed. So before you tell our writers to stifle their imagination, think about the audience sitting back at home, waiting for a Kenyan TV show that they will genuinely love and break their legs just to get home in time. This audience has been suffocated with mediocre shows for the longest time, so please for the love of God, let our writers dream. Let them create stories about a contemporary Africa that is diverse in storytelling. Let them veer away from the stereotypes. Let them give the audience the time of their life because sometimes, the audience needs to be put in a ‘fish out of water’ situation.
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