GERALD LANGIRI ON THE ACTORS’ STRUGGLE

Image Gerald Langiri is an accomplished Kenyan actor who has taken it upon himself to champion the rights of actors. He talks to us about the state of a large majority of the actors.

1. As an actor, what are the greatest challenges you face?

Few/lack of opportunities. Whilst we have many a budding talented actors passionate about their craft, we lack the opportunities to quench our thirsts especially financially. We are therefore forced to have a plan B income avenue and plan B is usually not something we love to do but have to in order to survive. I’d like to see many actors survive solely on acting if only the opportunities can allow.

2. As we build a world class media, what would you say is the role of the actor?
The role of the actor has always and will probably forever be the voice of the society. We speak where most would shy away or be afraid of speaking. We depict real life scenarios where most are oblivious of and make people see their lives through actors. At the same time we educate the society through our craft and last but not least, we entertain the societies who already have a lot to stress them with. With a world class media at our disposal, all this will be made bigger and better and that will in return bring in revenues and create employment.

3. Do you think that the industry is professional? And why not/ why is it?
Good question. A debatable question where many will have different opinions about. My take however is we are semi-professional and we havent reached the height of professionalism as an industry if at all we have one established (debatable too).

A fully professional industry must have bodies/associations that govern them.Bodies that have  rules and regulations that clearly state policies of how things should run. At the moment it’s everyone for him/herself and God for us all. Everyone with a passion for being an actor will call themselves an actor but lack of accreditation and schools or guilds that can actually identify actors in Kenya is lacking and that makes it a very haphazard industry.

4. Are actors paid accordingly and are there set standards for this?

No. It’s sad that actors in Kenya tend to be the lot that are least regarded in the film industry and most of the times they are the least paid in the hierarchy yet we are the people carrying the programs to the audiences. Part of the reason is again lack of associations/guild that can fight for this. Fight for standard fair rates for actors.

5. What do you think can be done to make the industry more professional?

Unified bodies that work in tandem with each other to make world class films. Producers’ guild, directors’ guild, actors’ guild, writers’ guild, crew guild etc. If all these were formed and work together and speak the same language and understand each others problems, the film industry can be a force to reckon with and we can approach the government with something solid and we can be given a listening ear.

I am glad that the Kenya Film Television Producers Association(KFTPA) which I am a member of, is doing their best to achieve the much it can in streamlining things in the film industry.But without the support of other filmmakers, we are still back to square one.

The Kenya Actors Guild has taken time to kick off but it’s only a matter of time before we are up and running. In the mean time we also have actors.co.ke which preaches the same, professionalism for actors and something we can be identified with.

6. As a contributor to the BFMA, what do you hope actors will take away from the experience?
Every business person knows or should know that marketing and networking themselves is a sure way to get ahead in the competition. Same rule should apply to actors too. Instead of waiting for opportunities to fall on our laps which is what most actors do, let’s go after the opportunities and BFMA is an event an actor shouldn’t afford to miss because of the new networking opportunities that will present itself with all the film makers from Kenya and around Kenya that will be present.

compiled by Christine Mwai

THE ROLE OF THE SCREEN

Dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms- Alfred Hitchcock.

I bet when the TV set was invented, many who were used to the radio, were shocked at this new and strange phenomenon; I can imagine the excitement in the air as many wondered what to expect. Suddenly it was not just voices but pictures as well that told stories, it must have been epic.

Now to present day and there is nothing strange about a TV at least to most people, and today we are used to that visual medium…but are we using it effectively?

As a script writer, one has to understand the role that dialogue and action play in a script; script writing 101 is how to balance the two …and today’s productions all use scripts , I would like to believe so as after all we are building a world class media.

I think that the screen is an under used tool in many of the African stories, why? Well when you watch a scene where someone’s mother has died and instead of connecting with the loss, the only thing you feel is the irritation and sometimes anger that is sparked by the poor and obvious acting, I think we have a problem.

Dialogue is one of the most overused tools in most productions; almost everything is said through words…little wonder why actors often feel the need to dramatize instead of act.

Where in lies the problem? Is it with the writers, the directors or the actors?

 I have hardly connected with a character in most productions, not because the story is lacking, but because the delivery is just wanting.

I remember titanic, the last scene where Jack is dying as Rose holds on to the floating piece of the ship… that is the scene that gets most people and it has mostly no words, but the actors move you to the point that you empathize with them and you are drawn into their world so powerfully you have to recover after wards…that is what delivery entails.

Sarafina was also another production that got the audience to actually relate and empathize with the characters.

The screen exists so that the audience can visualize what they can’t through listening; that means it should be less talking and more action… in fact most professional script writers emphasize on showing rather than telling.

As a continent, despite all the problems facing the broadcast and film industries let us invest in maximizing the use of the screen… let’s show and not tell

 Compiled by Christine Mwai

GOING DIGITAL IS GOOD, BUT PROFESSIONALISM IS KEY TO GREAT BROADCAST AND FILM INDUSTRIES

So in a few years (because unfortunately, many African countries are still a long way from going fully digital) we will have a great many channels to host more content and in turn, there will be more jobs created for all the industry players…. Sounds wonderful, but will it be beneficial to all??

The word professionalism means:

    The competence or skill expected of a professional, thus the practicing of an activity, by professionals rather than amateur players

A closer look at many of the industries though, and one realizes that there is a problem; there is a seeming lack of professionalism… we have a system that works haphazardly and without solid direction.

Script writers for example in the states are paid 5 % of the production budget, are paid for every rewrite and are paid a certain percentage of  royalties there after… well back home , it largely depends on the back door arrangement made.

Actors are another unfortunate crop; many times they are largely underpaid, way less than they’re worth. But one cannot overlook the fact that many actors have no training and rely on their theatrical background to dramatize on TV and film … without solid training and experience to back up their worth, it may still be a long journey for the acting sector.

The producers have better say on their rights?? , I would think so, as they are the decision makers any way though funding is still a major headache especially for film. Directors as well may have relatively better bargaining power as most end up doubling as the producer anyway.

The rest of the crew, who are very important to production are also largely paid based on back door arrangements…

In short,  are people getting their dues? And are they worth the dues?

To be honest, many of the people in the film industry are self-taught; they learn on the job… the concept of taking the time to learn is only just beginning to catch on as we become more competitive. There are quite a significant people who can’t back up their worth with the appropriate skills and education…and the question is, is this important? And is it holding us back?

Sure, as of now, people spend way more than they get back for their productions (if they get anything at all), and could this, be the reason for the haphazard way of doing things??

Let’s work towards professionalism

Compiled by Christine Mwai.

THE FOREIGN ELEMENT

We had Morgan Freeman act Nelson Mandela, Forest Whitaker act Idi Amin, Don Cheadle, as the star of the famous Hotel Rwanda, Whoopie Goldberg in Sarafina. Kenya will also be having Jim Iyke starring in a movie based on a popular novel, ‘My life in Crime’…okay he is not so foreign but still, he is not Kenyan…

Last year, the American writer and Film maker Dwayne Johnson-Cochran was in Kenya for the Script power seminar and he shared that in reality, there is a bias for African stories that have a foreign element (i.e. a famous actor from Hollywood) as this tends to make them more relatable to a global audience….

Is there an African actor who has been called upon to star, and not only star but be the lead star in a Hollywood story?  And why not?

Nelson Mandela is undoubtedly one of the greatest icons Africa has, his story happened in Africa , from start to finish… is it in any way possible that there is not a single African who could have acted his role? And if the answer is that there is one, why not use them?

At the end of the day , the creative industries are businesses, and as for any business, profit is the ultimate goal; of course a name like Morgan Freeman will grab headlines, he is recognizable and more importantly he is a bankable investment…so it might be a wise investment

Pretty woman, a popular movie in the 90s cost about 23 million dollars to make and it went on to gross about 463 million dollars; Julia Roberts was the star, now if I was to make a movie based on the colonial era for example and make Julia Roberts a star in the movie…well one can only dream the number of zeroes (although sometimes it doesn’t work, no matter who you use)

 So is the foreign factor, a wise economic decision? Or is it a way to demean or rather belittle the stars and talent we have right here in Africa? …can we make stars that can match and outperform the Morgan Freemans? And not only in talent, but in marketability as well

wouldn’t we much rather see an African act Nelson Mandela? I would.

Compiled by Christine Mwai

DEVELOPMENT OF ANIMATION IN AFRICA

ImageDavid Svarrer is CEO for Digital Age Institute Ltd. Which is a leading Outsourcing and Professional Training business institute in Software Development. He has 27 years of experience in the Software Development sector. Here he  talks about the largely untapped Animation sector in Africa.

Does animation have a future in Africa?

Business opportunity is always present, when there is an untapped potential. Potential occurs when any corporate organization or larger group of consumers, have a desire for something to be in a particular way, and it is not yet in that way.

 Furthermore, when someone develops the mobile phone, it’s not becaus the society demands it; It is because the society is ready to consume it, and that the designer of the mobile phone, saw that potential, and developed something which tapped into it. Then – after having been designed for the few rich people – it now became known that such an opportunity (talking while walking) exists, as a point to point calling system. the same goes for animation.

 

How can we tap into this field to maximize business potential?

Lots of the most recent Hollywood success stories are animated from first frame to the last, thus, there isn’t any scene / stage which does not contain one or more animated sequences. Thus, as the consumption of movies globally has reached a level where more than 100 movies reaching an audience of 10,000 persons++ are spewed out globally every single day, 365 days per year.

 It must be obvious, that animation has come to play such a major role that no matter what stage of maturity,  the animation studio is at, it can play a role. Thus, it is not only the financial factors, which set the stage for outsourcing of animation jobs to Africa – the mere international demand and supply is a factor too.

 

 What are some of the major stumbling blocks to this success?

 Now, if we are to evaluate whether  animation in Africa shall have a future, we will have to look at whether weare able to raise the level of the animation done here to such a standard, that the local animators can compete on quality, not just compete due to supply/demand being in favor of supply.

 If we in Africa shall tap into this field, we must educate our animators up to such a level where locally created textures on the animated creatures , whether or not it is attempted, natural or fictitious creatures, they appear real for the viewer.

 The major problems we see, in the IT industry as such, which also includes the animation industry, is a lack of quality – which can be seen as: Lack of definition of quality – lack of nomenclature for measuring of quality – thereby it is difficult to compare the quality of one animation with the quality of another animation.

 We need to define what it takes to create great animations, we need to define what quality in an animation is, and then we need to ensure that those who train in animation know what they are doing.

Animation is big in this day and age but why not Africa?? it’s about time .

Compiled by Christine Mwai

ONE ON ONE WITH DEBBIE ASILA

debshitDebbie Asila , is an accomplished  musician from the group Tattuu, and is currently working for the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK)

1.       As a seasoned musician what has been the most challenging part of the industry?

Making money from music – Returns on investment musically is generally low therefore music is something you must do for more than just the money, there must be a higher satisfaction, passion and calling… unfortunately we live in the real world and life is generally expensive that said, money remains a big factor.

Remaining relevant – The industry seems to have a life of its own sometimes there is nothing as far as opportunities are concerned and sometimes it’s flooded with opportunity finding the balance is a full time job not many can afford.

Time – Basically juggling between music, the creation of it and exploration of it etc. and other functions…in general, music is a really expensive hobby not many can sustain.

2.       How can you describe the journey that music has taken in Kenya and in Africa in general?

Music has moved from a place of passion and culture to a place I can describe as very commercial… because of this we see a lot less quality as regards passion, culture, value, education to a lot more quality as regards commercialized music “music that makes money” so emphasis has moved from the original-primitive-communication to technological-mechanical-execution of music. This can be a good thing or a bad thing based on perception…

3.       How can one mix the art and the money successfully?

There is no exact science to mixing “the art and the money successfully” one must in essence choose a focal point… in fact those that have ‘made it’ have found, in retrospect, that they have specialized either in ‘the art’ or ‘the money’. That said it is a gamble and a very delicate balance; a continuous battle that every artist must engage.

4.       As a musician and an MCSK insider, do you feel that musicians are well represented?

At the moment they have the best representation they can get… there are people dedicated to fight the battle of ensuring the growth and development of the musicians’ representation, whether it feels like it or not.

This inevitably is a process and in due time it will metamorphosis before our very eyes to produce what we would embrace as the optimal representation. But until then, we must respect the hassle and pray for better days because there will be better days most of this events are just the process that we must go through to procure the growth…

5.       Would you advise all musicians to register with MCSK and why?

As a rights owner there are certain rights you can’t administer individually e.g. communication to the public, broadcast and reproduction especially in this digital age where your works can be reproduced in a dozen places at once… as the user it’s a tedious, bulky and almost impossible task to procure a license from every right owner in order to exploit their works and keep going back and forth with no standardized system.

 MCSK is a collective management organization whose primary mandate is to collect and distribute royalties on behalf of its members. That said it is not only important but mandatory for musicians to be a part of a CMO to maximize the rights that require collective administration this translates to fair compensation for the use of your works. MCSK is as the sole approved CMO in the category of musical works licensed by KECOBO, it follows that the only way musicians can benefit from exploitation of their works, is by joining MCSK.

6.       What do you hope fellow musicians will take away from BFMA?

I hope musicians will engage with the community to take advantage of available opportunities of progress, have a lot of their questions answered by professionals who have been in the industry and network with like-minded people to achieve so much more as far as their individual fields are concerned resulting in growth and development of the arts.

well, there you have it, from a music industry insider.

Compiled by Christine Mwai

ARE MOST MUSIC VIDEOS WORLD CLASS?

 

Now as someone with a bias for TV and film, I find that most of the music videos are just a waste of time (personal opinion) but aside from that , is there much thought process that goes into the making of a music video?

It has become simply a way to introduce one’s face to the world; ‘so here I am the face that goes along with the song’

Why on earth would someone make an entire three minute video of themselves standing near a tree …or worse sit and just look up into the sky (for gospel musicians)

Do the videos have scripts? Wardrobe people? Make up? And of course a professional production crew to boot

The whole, musician and groupie thing is frightfully dull coupled with some rather undesirable dance moves by some poorly and sparsely dressed girls, all this in a club …is it a reflection of an unimaginative society?? That’s the new generation music video

I remember Kanye West’s video for the song ‘power’ (the one with the “angels” and horns), one could not help but be impressed by the creative concept that went into the song…also Jaguar told a story with the hit ‘kigeugeu’, and Juliani with the new ‘utawala’

South African artists have managed to capture the essence of the South African culture in their songs …when I think S.A; I think sisal skirts and legs up in the air …very spirited

Maybe musicians need to rethink music videos if it tells nothing more than what I would learn from hearing it on the radio??…

What is the role of a music video exactly?? I think it should tell the story of the song through film …but If I am wrong then musicians need to tell why they make music videos..

At the very least, give us an azonto dance, or gangam style

Musicians might want to consult creative people in the film and TV department …after all we are building a world class media…

Now credit must be given to the quality end, as some videos are actually well produced, one can tell  ( and for those that are not, really? in this day and age?), but what about the creative side of things??Or is it not just as important.

Compiled by Christine Mwai

THE MUSICIAN WHO BECOMES A BRAND

At some point in our lives we all ask ourselves the question, who am I? ; Motivational speakers particularly love this question, but I guess beyond the redundancy caused by repetition it is still a pertinent question to the keen mind.

In life we are told that one is happiest doing what they love and I bet many musicians will say that passion is their driving force ; but what essentially makes one  a musician, is it the ability to sing? Or the ability to make a song (accompanied by a catchy beat)

Sometimes it seems that many musicians are those that stumble into the industry; they record their first song with little consideration of who they are or where they are headed and gradually some find their niche but some well, as long as it is the club banger of the moment, it works.

What is a brand? The name brand is one of those that have evolved in way, it is a word that not so long ago had little significance, but not so today, the message for everyone is that you have to become a brand…. In other words find what separates you from the crowd and I guess that starts with knowing who and what you are??

The prominent musicians like Rihanna in the west are household names; they outsell any event, can sell everything from watches to lingerie (entire stocks from the manufacturers), are the brand ambassadors of top companies and in general are names that can make a world of difference to most of the people they encounter…

Here in Africa, well the culture of household names is rather…Well foreign? No not foreign since there are household names but not quite with the power that Beyoncé might have (rumors of Illuminati aside).

 One may argue that as Africans we do not have an idolizing culture  ? And that may be a credible argument seeing as most people won’t cry and want to strip at the sight of Nameless …but is that the case or are African musicians lagging behind in the branding sector?

Is branding measured through genre, money or influence for musicians? I think all determine to some extent but quality music is definitely the first step.

What do our African musicians need to do to become brands within and without Africa, besides quality music because we have lots of quality music? Do they need to develop deliberate business acumen as well?

images

Do let’s meet at the BFMA

compiled by Christine Mwai

WORLD CLASS MUSIC IN AFRICA

Music is moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and charm and gaiety to life and to everything –Plato

Music is the universal language of mankind.― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Where words leave off, music begins. ― Heinrich Heine

Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.― Confucius

There can’t be enough quotes to describe what power and influence music has, it is a language of its own that transcends all barriers that society has , be it race, age , language or class.

I can say I was alive when Michael Jackson was, to a group of people in the future and it will make sense and hopefully they might be awed by that fact or maybe just get shocked by my advanced age… People like Tupac, Brenda Fassie and Whitney Houston among others will forever be remembered beyond their deaths.

The use of stars that have passed on is intentional to illustrate how powerful good music can make people; and this is because they made world class music.

It is difficult to define world class music, my colleagues and I argued endlessly about it, some of the definitions were:

Music that everyone in the world can appreciate…

Music that a two year old and a hundred year old can enjoy…

Music that has a shelf life beyond two months… etc

As Africa we have our own Oliver Mtukdudzi, Hugh Masekela, Yvonne Chakachaka, Eric Wainanina, Angelique Kidjo (just some of the names agreed on)…among many others, who have seemingly thrilled the world stage

Then there’s the ‘new’ crop of artists who seem to be getting international recognition that comes with the money like: D’Banj and the P square group.

We all have names of people whose music leaves us wondering huh??What was that…and sure some go on to become hits but within the month or two …it is ‘extinct’. And unfortunately they are a significant number.

How can Africa reflect the beauty and spirit of this continent on a world class platform through its music? …it would be great to have a Michael Jackson equal who is homegrown

But more importantly, is Africa heading in the right direction as far as music is concerned?

Do let’s meet at the BFMA

Compiled by Christine Mwai

WILL WE EVER GET DISTRIBUTION RIGHT?

I watched Viva River, a movie from Congo, late last year from a friend; but before that, I had searched for the movie from all the normal sources and the common answer was “oh we don’t sell locals”. Getting movies like Django unchained and Lincoln however was extremely easy, within five minutes of my house. The same happened with Nairobi half life although I finally watched it on a friend’s laptop; although it did sell in some stores. Getting movies from South Africa as well has been quite difficult.

Even with the best laid intentions many of us go for the pirated versions… (they are so cheap and one can buy many at a go); but even with this being the case and I totally do not support piracy, how come we are pirating more Hollywood movies with ease as opposed to productions made in Nairobi itself for example?

Today the channels of distribution are more than ever as we are living in the internet age after all…but still there is a great distribution problem within Africa; the question is why? The truth is, it’s easier than ever to make broadcast and distribute your content, but still it’s very difficult maybe with the exception of Nollywood, although piracy still reduces the effectiveness of distribution.

Does the challenge lie in making content that stands out from the competition? (There is greater competition than ever)

Do people rely on DVDs for instance too much and overlook other channels? And which are these viable channels?

How do I as an African ensure that I can know (because sometimes one doesn’t even know)of existing movies  and get them say from Botswana without immense hustle?

More importantly how do we deal with piracy, as it is crippling the music and film industries especially?

How can Africa solve the issue of distribution?

Do let’s meet at the BFMA

Compiled by Christine Mwai.