The Tandaa Symposium on Film and Animation took place on 6th May 2010 at the Kenyan National Museum – Louis Leaky Auditorium and it was a great event for those who attended. For those who could not make it, the following is an overview of what took place…
I got to the Tandaa Symposium a bit late (an hour or so because I got stuck in a traffic jam.) I missed the Keynote Speech by the PS and the presentation I was longing for by the Lovely Linda whom I work with on the Princess Project. She spoke about the collaborative writing that princess project is and from the tweets coming through while I was stuck in the jam, she did a great job.
I got to the venue to find Ambani the actor on stage. He was saying that actors in Kenya cannot sustain livelihoods by acting alone. He mentioned an advert he did and from which he never got remunerated as a case in point. I must admit I almost stopped listening at this point because he was complaining about something so basic. Get a lawyer, draft a contract that all parties sign before the shooting and that will make sure you get paid and if not ensures you can seek legal redress. That was not an issue for this symposium in my opinion because it was a common sense issue. Someone mentioned this to him in the Q&A session that immediately followed.
Another thing that Ambani mentioned while answering a question was that actors are badly paid because the TV stations are cutting them at the knees when it comes to making payments and the amounts getting paid. This may have won over some sympathy votes but to a social media head like mine, I was angered because if things were so bad with TV, what of other distribution channels that might provide better returns. I asked Ambani whether they had ever considered online distribution models for their movies and programs. The Makmende video has already proved that there is a vibrant online market for Kenyan content so why not take cue from this and start utilizing online distribution platforms for these movies.
My policy is: Know where/how you are going to make your money from. Secure your monetization channel. And that for actors’ means making a conscious decision not to embark on any work before a contract is signed. Because if not getting paid is such an issue for most, why haven’t you learned already and taken decisive action about it. It also means continuously looking for better marketing, promotion and distribution platforms and embracing them as they arise. Getting bad pay from TV and still insisting on staying there and complaining instead of embracing alternatives makes me feel you deserve what you got coming.
This Acclaimed Kenyan Animator was up next after Ambani.
I really liked what he started with: “you have to start with a good story” which is ideally what content production should be about regardless of the medium. If it is animated work, it must have a good story that deserves the animation, if it’s the written word like the Princess Project, it must be a story that compels and invokes emotions, if its acting, even good actors cannot make a bad story seem good. Nobody is that good of an actor. So key, start with a good story and your foundation will be laid firm on the ground.
After ensuring we have understood the importance of having a good story, Kwame talked us through the process of turning words into pictures – Animation. He emphasized on being real because that is what draws audiences in. He said that we should ensure that we do not lose our audience because once they get the feeling that something is fake or forced, they gone! I appreciated this point more because of we are doing at Princess Project. From Juliet Maruru and her lovely Mum who thought up the whole concept, we have a great team of writers and the result has been the real emotive content that you feel find here on the Creekside Princess.
On Local Content Production, he asked us to focus on what is unique to us. Using the traditions that have been here for millennia and turning them to new media because that is where the world is today – I liked that a lot.
Then it was question time a guy called Stephen asked our Girl Linda whether the princess project we use other languages especially Foreign Languages? For a moment there I wished our Linguist was in the house to answer the question. Our in-house Linguist is one MR. Gideon Chumo aka Roundsquare. Linda told him that within the stories, you will find a flurry of many languages because of the diversity of the characters in the story. Again, the Princess Project is something worth reading.
There was also a question touching on ratings in Kenya? The MC asked whether the rating system existed in Kenya because based on these ratings, productions could likewise negotiate for better pay from these media houses.
From a social media perspective, something very interesting also emerged. If you are producing a program/series that has a certain number of fans on the Facebook Fanpage and a given number of followers on twitter, could these be used as proof of reach and influence when negotiating for better pay? I certainly believe so and hence the reason I urge anybody in the Film Industry to start getting serious with social media. Social Media is now a currency.
Mikul Shah of Eat Out asked whether these guys are aware of product placement. He told them that if you are going to have a car in your film, it does not hurt to approach either CMC, DT Dobie, Simba Colt etc with a proposal of product placement. And this goes with any other product you can think of for instance Sandstorm Bags appeared on Season 1 of Changes – the MNET production. Once you approach these companies with regard to product placement, ensure you have signed contracts and agreements determining the contractual obligations for all the parties involved?
After getting back in the auditorium after the tea break, we then briefly watched PUMZI, the Kenyan SCI-FI Movie Directed by Wanuri Kahiu. You can watch the trailer here. She then went ahead to talk about the technicalities of making a sci-fi movie and the works.
She informed us that the film was shot in the highest resolution of HD which allowed for the visual effects manipulation we now see in the movie. The quality of the movie is pretty awesome. And for a film that looks like the Kenyan version of Avatar, she surprised us by saying that it was the cheapest film she has ever made and which set her back only $35,000. However, she said that the Movie was done in South Africa because she could find someone in Kenya to actually deliver the quality of work she was looking for.
If there are any visual effects guys in Kenya, please send a shout out in the comment section below and let me know whether you can beat the effects on the Pumzi Trailer above. You may be around and people don’t know.
Assuming we were floating, she sought to teach us a bit about the difference between Special effects and visual effects. In a sentence:
Special effects is what happens when you are on set while Visual effects is what happens post production.
As I mentioned earlier, the cost of production for Pumzi was quite low. This impressed me because when I was reading up in the blogosphere, one thing that kept coming up was how to keep costs low so as to get better returns from a film/documentary etc.
Gado was up next speaking on XYZ. I liked his presentation because it was a biography of sorts for XYZ. You would not believe what he went through to finally get the show on air. I had newfound respect for this guy. First the model puppet they used to go around and try get stations to buy the idea was too heavy, they had challenges with creation of the puppets because the material needed are not locally available and very expensive. They had to “smuggle” in the latex they use in making the puppets from France. I should mention that the people who finally bought into their idea and gave them the funding to start production are the good people at the French Embassy. As is norm, most of the stations that Gado approached wanted to have control over the content and I applauded Gado for sticking to his guns. Finally Wachira Waruru of Citizen TV gave them the opportunity and they made our Sundays livelier. For the year that they have been away, they were looking for funds to shoot season two. There is a team of 50 people behind XYZ.
A lot of props go to Mike Rabar of Homeboyz who gave Gado the equipment and his team of editors to work with during the initial stages of shooting XYZ.
A guy called Martin Munyua of Malooned was next on stage. He spoke a lot on light and the toilet in the Film and giving the Toilet character. For those who have not watched Malooned, you must be lost already. I was too during most of his presentation. But I was informed that Mr. Munyua is the leading lighting expert in the country.
They were next up. The only thing that this lady said that stuck with me was that the Kenya Film Commission wants to establish a portal to enable people to send in their content to them for free so that they can promote local content in Kenya.
And here is the deal: for us to appreciate local content, we need to find the local content first and as things stand right now, that is like trying to find Tiananmen Square Massacre in a Chinese search engine.
Catherine from the copyright board of Kenya came on stage and her message was that creativity has to be protected.
Copyright infringement is rampant in Kenya and they are now sensitizing the public/copyright holders/etc on copyright regulations in the country.
They are in the process of reviewing and amending the laws because accused people budget for the fines and continue breaking the copyright laws after walking. The highest fine under the current copyright lay is KES 800,000 and this is very rarely imposed.
She also mentioned that they are in the process of creating the anti-pirate security device that they will in future use to arrest people even without complaints by the copyright holders. They will be able to walk into any shop and determine whether real or fake and take action.
She finished by saying that she hopes copyright will be given the seriousness it deserves.
He paid particular attention to the Set Top Boxes. He informed us that without the Set Top boxes, come 2012, our TVs will be converted to mere bricks. He went further to tell us that just because you buy a HDTV does not in any way mean that the TV will take Digital Signals. He had to rush so he kept the presentation short and crisp.
I liked this guy. To him and Riverwood, volume is key. He said that they have two rules: volumes and then more volume.
They do everything cheap. They produce cheap usually with a budget of between KES 200,000 – 500,000 and package even cheaper. People do not care how you package movies was his massage – at least the market segment they are targeting. According to him, they only use KES 50 shillings per movie – and that involves buying the CDs, burning them, and packaging – all at KES 50.
They then take the movies to distribution outlets and allow anybody who can make sells to push the movies. For marketing of Riverwood movies, they use the various shops around town, Radio classifieds, Posters, Fliers in Matatus and Word of Mouth to take the word out. He says that they prefer these classifieds because they are cheaper and reach they reach their segment – the people in the rural areas who rely primarily on Radio.
We then watched Siri and I was impressed. It was touching, it was moving and it is the kind of movie that I would not mind going to the theatre to watch or buy a DVD. The quality was superb and message strong.
When Alison Ngibuini came on stage, she was as eloquent as the movie great. Her central message was using media as a platform for cultural change? From the small bit that we watched, it was clear what a cultural impact movie had. You could see from the reaction of the audience that this movie touched a chord with them and I guess that was what Alison was going for.
Alison also produced Shuga and that yet another movie that was very strong on message and impact on culture.
Njoki Muhoho was representing Zebra Productions which is the production house behind the Changes program on MTV.
Changes is a great program with quality everything – including cast and acting. Someone mentioned product placement in Kenyan movies and Njoki Muhoho gave us the numbers. She said that 25 companies were behind them last season and I know for sure that Sandstorm Kenya – the makers of quality luxury bags was among these companies that got involved with changes. Njoki however told us that they have not been so lucky to get as many sponsors. But the fact they were able to get as many sponsors is testimony that product placement is no longer just an idea in Kenya but something that is already entrenched in the industry. I had blogged before about product placement here…
The lesson to take home from Changes was quality in production, impeccable product placement that transcends the cliché placement of the likes of Alfred Mutua and his Cobra Squad joke.
We then watched Together Supreme, the great movie from Kibera that was Directed by Nathan Collet and Produced by the lovely @MercyMurungi. The movie was great and the message quite strong. Check it out. The production house is Hot Sun Films.
The one thing that Collett said and which struck a chord with me was that Technology is not alien in Kibera. He said that access was not an issue also because there was a lot that they needed to download while on set and which they were able to do. The crew from Kibera only needed little training and they were good to go.
I liked this lot and will be watching them to see where the movie is showing and help with the promotion. And speaking of marketing and promotion, I was double impressed when I found this movie on IMDB. This movie and the producers have an impeccable online presence and they are an example to the rest on online marketing, promotion and distribution.
Jim acknowledged that their viral video campaign was not by design. He said that they have produced funny videos and this Makmende surprised them as much as it did everyone else. He made us laugh when he said that the days following the success of Makmende, their house was converted into PR consultancy office where calls kept coming in from everywhere seeking advice on making viral campaigns.
However, he said that three days after the Makmende Video came out, the makmende.com website came up and a day later, the makmende.net website, both of which they have nothing to do with. It was only after this that Chuchu suggested to his band that they create the Facebook Fanpage and Chuchu reluctantly created it. It now has over 45,000 fans that Just A Band say they do not know what to do with them. Do you believe these guys? I was shocked by that. And that is the reason I usually advice people to come up with objectives before diving into social media. Otherwise, you end up with 45,000 fans and no idea what to do with the,m.
I asked him whether the viral video had translated into sales for their albums and he said he thinks so but he is not sure. They get sales report every six months and so they will know in the next three months.
Isis Nyong’o of Google talked about YouTube as a distribution channel for movies and trailers and even gave examples of Kenyan content on YouTube such as XYZ, the Pumzi Trailer, the Nation Media Group account which she had over 40 million views so far etc.
Mikul Shat of Eat Out asked her an interesting question and she provided an equally impressive answer. Question, Given that virtually anybody can upload content online, how do you ensure you comply to the copyright laws because someone may watch a paid content on TV but go and upload it for the rest of the world to view for free.
Answer, First YouTube adheres to the copyright laws and TRIPS agreement. In addition to that, if someone uploads your content without your consent, you have the freedom to write YouTube/Google people and they will either ask that person to remove it or remove it themselves. Another thing, which I really liked was that you try and monetize it. She gave an example of content that she tried uploading on YouTube but due to a certain “let me call it code” can be attached to copyrighted content, a pop up by the owner of the copyright appeared on the screen asking her to purchase… The point is you can let others “distribute” your content and then try and monetize it – win-win situation.
That was a cool presentation.
I was next on stage… I said everything I write about in this blog.
We watched his Film Dawa the Film and laughed our asses off. It was a cool film that we tweeted about while/after watching it. That he asked us to tweet and facebook it is no fluke. This guy is a genius because he understood that every one of our tweets and Facebook mentions of his Film entrenched the Film’s and also his Digital Footprint, granting him digital currency that he will cash in later at his convenience.
Then it was a wrap.