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The pros and cons of film collaborations

Tuesday March 12 2019

A screen grab of a scene from the film

A screen grab of a scene from the film "Plan B". PHOTO | COURTESY 

MILDRED SAKINA
By MILDRED SAKINA
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If you haven’t watched the latest Kenyan film Plan B, then run to YouTube right now and do so because it’s all the rage.

It has one million views so far which is no mean feat.

It premiered on NTV just before Valentine’s Day to an audience eager to see what the fuss all was about.

It was produced by Sarah Hassan, a well-known face on Kenyan TV, written, directed and edited by LowlaDee of the famous Nigerian web series This Is It.

We sure hope that the two will work together again because this collaboration was a hit.

Film competitions often inspire collaborations. Each person coming on board understands that they are good at one thing and need help in another area in order for the project to be at its best.

The Machawood Film Festival is a good example. Various teams come together in the hopes of scooping the Sh1 million prize money.

VIRAL SHORT FILM

Wakamba Forever, the viral short film scooped the top prize in 2018. Looking at the credits, one can only imagine how much work went into it.

The creative mind behind the concept, Alex ‘Warle’ Maina, is quick to give credit where it is due, recognising that he would not have managed such a feat on his own.

“What I look for when I go into collaborations is trust. Our first exchange will usually tell me whether we have shared values. There also needs to be a collective vision of what we want to achieve. Personally, I look for opportunities where I can grow and also learn from the other party.”

John ‘JJ’ Jumbi is a documentary filmmaker. His company Chatterbox Studios regularly collaborates to produce his stories. His short film Trap was nominated in last year’s Kalasha International Film Festival for Best Short Film. Bei ya Jioni, a Chatterbox stage play, was also nominated in the Sanaa Theatre awards in several categories.

SYNERGY

“I look out for synergy, people who share the same philosophy and with whom our work ethic and discipline align.

For me, the benefit of collaborating has been that my projects end up bigger than if I had done them alone, and we all collectively go further.

The reach is wider and in a way we are able to create a culture of how things should be done.”

Joyce Musoke has been in the industry for more than 10 years. She is an award-winning actress best known for her role as Ciku on Better Days. As a producer, she has had two hit shows on TV: Briefcase Inc and One In a Million. In her opinion, collaborations are inevitable if we want to grow the industry.

“I never would have put together my first TV series had it not been for collaboration. Apart from shared success, shared liability cushions the risk.”

Jackline Emali, a scriptwriter and independent film producer, thrives on collaborations.

“When you come together as a team, there is a sense of shared ownership of the product. This makes the people involved give their very best in all aspects,” she says.

WHY THEY DON’T WORK

"Once bitten twice shy" might be the mantra that informs the decisions of filmmakers who prefer to keep their work in-house.

Working together demands a level of investment and goodwill from the involved parties. Where there is no money to be made, it is likely that some people may not pull their weight because they perceive it as a non-profitable venture.

The reverse is true where money is involved. Often times artists, not just filmmakers, neglect the importance of contracts and MOU’s.

When everyone understands how their input translates into money from the very beginning, there will be less conflict.

Joyce reiterates this fact: “We do not plan for the failure or success of the project. If it fails no one wants to take liability; if it succeeds everyone fights for ownership. As filmmakers we are only thinking of the project and not the business side of it.”

JJ looks at the issue from a different perspective. “If we all collaborate on everything it doesn’t leave space for growth. I think it is important to have healthy rivalry amongst ourselves.”

INTERNATIONAL VS LOCAL COLLABORATIONS

Somewhat disheartening to many filmmakers is the trend that local players are much more receptive to collaborate with foreigners as opposed to their own countrymen.

The perception is that there is a bigger stage ‘out there’. More ‘important’ and ‘influential’ people will see your work, like it and have you on your way to finally making it big on the world stage.

For example, what is it with our national film body putting out a script competition with a Sh1 million prize only to have the production portfolio handed over to a foreign country?

As per the terms and conditions it is expected that the ‘winner’ will give up rights to a potentially lucrative blockbuster for a fraction of what should be due.

“This is another example of neo-colonialism, thinking that we cannot make it unless the West approves and is involved in it,” Warle quips. “One only has to look at foreign film festivals and funding opportunities to see that there is an agenda that as a filmmaker you have to bend to in order to get ahead.”

GROWING CONCERN

There is also a growing concern about whether local filmmakers in collaborations with foreigners will ever hold the front line, not continuously be relegated to ‘second unit’.

The One Fine Day Films’ motto is ‘to give African filmmakers an opportunity to write and produce their own stories under the mentorship of experienced filmmakers’. It is interesting to note that since its inception in 2010, as displayed on their website, there have only been two Kenyans out of more than 50 mentors. It is then a valid question whether the stories coming out of there are really authentically told by ‘us’.

The Oscar nominated Watu Wote produced in 2017 collaboration had a pretty successful run. It was refreshing to see other Kenyans apart from Lupita Nyong’o getting recognition.

We have all it takes within our borders to make not just good, but great films.

If Hollywood stops being the ideal we can focus on earnestly growing our industry and collectively put out incredible stories of our people.

We might need to slow down and acknowledge each other. As the African proverb so aptly states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

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