This prayer I utter as a filmmaker, and I utter it to my government on behalf of myself and my fellow filmmakers. Filmmaking is one of the goldmines this country doesn’t want to fully explore. It is a goldmine that will not only create those millions of Jobs the government has been unable to provide, but will also boost tourism and earn the country the much needed foreign currency. To support the local film industry, the government needs to do something as simple as banning the pirated Hollywood movies. Before I tell you why pirated Hollywood movies is my biggest obstacle in making it in the film industry, let me give you a background story.
In 2013 after the Westgate Attack I made the biggest discovery of my life – that I could be a filmmaker. The discovery came about when my wife challenged me to make my own movies instead of criticizing Kenyan filmmakers, who I had accused of not ever going to be able to make a movie about the Westgate Attack. “If they can’t make a Westage film, why don’t you make it yourself?”
Her criticism wasn’t meant to encourage me to be a filmmaker, but to sneer at me for being overly critical of people. But I took her sneer as a challenge, where I asked myself, “hmm, what could be so hard in making a movie?”. And that’s how my filmmaking journey began.
In 2014 I did two pilot episodes for a TV Series I had written. NTV actually loved the idea, but when they realised I could not deliver the quality required, they declined ever receiving my script and the pilot episode. Me seeing the concept air on Dstv a year later did not discourage me, but rather motivated me to continue coming up with storylines. “If someone can find my idea worthy of stealing, that means I can shake this industry!” I convinced myself.
That’s when I decided to make a movie for DVDs, instead of targeting the media houses. In 2016 I made a movie called Death Night – which was strictly meant to be sold via DVDS, for shs 200 a piece. I intended to use the cast and crew of the movie to do the sales, where they could earn their own pay through commission on sales. So I made 500 copies of Death Night.
Then my cast and crew picked their copies to take to their friends. And the feedback started streaming in immediately. “I buy better Hollywood movies for shs 50, why are you selling me a bad movie for shs 200?” Out of the 500 copies, we managed to sell about 30 copies. The others are still rotting in my house. That’s how I gave up on filmmaking – to forever remain a blogger.
There was no way I was going to compete with a shs 5 billion made movie retailing in Kenya for shs 50 (if in DVD) or shs 30 (if in Flashdisk). With my zero budget and using volunteer services of aspiring actors and crew members, I was never going to make a car crush, a horror scene, or even a foot chase that’s even 1% close to what a Hollywood producer with a shs 20 billion budget can create.
“I won’t make any movies – unless the government bans the pirated Hollywood Movies”, I told those kids that had volunteered their time and resources to help me make my first three bad films. That’s why after realising that Death Night was not going to sell, I wrote the article, Pirated Hollywood movies is the biggest threat to the growth of Film Industry in Kenya.
How is pirated Hollywood movies killing the local film industry?
In case it is not clear yet, let me break it down for you (KECOBO) like a two year old. A Hollywood Movie like Black Panther used a budget of $200 million to make. That translates to Shs 20 billion. In comparison, an annual budget for our counties average about shs 8 billion. What that means is that the shs 20 billion used to make Black Panther could have been used to fund about 3 counties in 2018.
What that should tell you is that it is almost impossible for a Kenyan filmmaker to producer a movie as good as black panther. As comparison, I recently listened to a true story that the storyteller wanted me to make into a film. After listening to her for two hours, I told her that her story was so powerful, but the sad thing is that if I were to translate that story into an authentic film, I’d need a half a billion shillings on the very minimum. She thought I was crazy – then I told her that a movie like the first installment of 50 shades of Grey that did not have any action sequences used shs 5 billion to produce.
Now, a Kenyan has been accustomed to getting entertained by the high end blockbusters like Avengers End Game that spent shs 35.6 billion in making, or James Bond Spectre that spent an upward of shs 24.5 billion to make. These Kenyans however do not spend the shs 2,000 that’s needed to purchase these movies in DVD/Bluray or even as tickets in theatres – but they are used to getting these high quality extremely expensive content for shs 30. To put that in perspective, that will be like buying a brand new iPhone 11 for shs 1,500. A genuine brand new iPhone 11.
Now, even if I was to make a movie at zero budget but still spend the average of 60 days needed to make a good movie – and that’s when I don’t count the pre production and post production days that entails things like script writing, location scouting, rehearsals, editing, color grading, sound mastering and even the distribution expenses, I will still need to spend on the very minimum shs 100,000 for logistics (transport, food), to make a very bad movie like Admission Protocol (this got a nomination in the 2019 Kalasha Awards for Best Original Screenplay – so it is not that bad). Getting the shs 100K back will mean I sell a minimum of 3,400 DVDs at shs 30 each – but wait – writing the movie on DVD alone will mean I spend shs 40 per DVD – so the minimum I need to sell that DVD is shs 70 if I am to get my money back at zero profit – which is already way above the shs 50 price Kenyans are used to paying for Hollywood blockbusters.
But if Kenyans were used to paying shs 2,000 for the high end blockbusters – then they surely will have no problem paying shs 500 for a poorly done movie or even shs 1,000 for a well done Kenyan production. If this were the case, it would been very easy to create jobs for Kenyans in the film industry – millions of jobs – just in case someone wants to think that the pirated Hollywood movies have created any jobs in form of movie bureaus.
Why don’t you create an online platform for selling your movies?
This is a question I get asked all the time when I raise the issue of pirated Hollywood movies.
There are two problems with online platforms – first is the pirated Hollywood movies themselves. Why would anyone spend any money on an online platform when they can get top end Hollywood movies for shillings 30?
Secondly, the reason not so many Kenyans are in Netflix or even Showmax is because data is still relatively expensive. The mobile data bundles that every Kenyan uses cannot support unhindered streaming of videos at high quality. I personally use Faiba 4G which is the cheapest in the market but I still cannot afford to stream videos in any resolution above 360p – and I cannot afford to watch more than 2 hours of videos per day.
The two hours videos cap I have set are for me to watch important content for my blogging, and learning. I can’t therefore afford to entertain myself – although once in a week I can afford to watch one or two YouTube full feature movies – but I’m not going to pay Netflix to watch content at 360p and definitely not once a week.
If however buying the hollywood movies was at shs 2,000 a movie – and someone has to watch at least one movie per week – in four weeks the cost of watching Hollywood movies would be shs 8K. In that arrangement therefore, someone could find it cheaper to subscribe to let’s say a local online VoD platform for local movies for shs 2K a month, and spend another 3K or so a month on data, and get to promote local content creators. But of course that’s an ideal we don’t have yet – an ideal the government could create simply by banning the pirated Hollywood movies.
My filmmaking right now is under threat
I was telling you a story of how I became a filmmaker, and why I stopped after making Death Night – yet I am a filmmaker today. You may wonder how.
Well in August 2017 I met this young guy called Wilson Osiolo who was very relentless in making good films – but I realised he needed the directing talent that I posses. So we agreed to be making short films mainly targeting film competitions. And that’s how I got back into filmmaking business.
I wanted to make those films for two years then by 2020 if there still no money in the industry, I quit completely. Now the problem is that there is till no money in the industry, so as the year turns 2020, I should, by principle, quit. But I don’t want to. I don’t want to because I have become so passionate about filmmaking. Quitting will be the same as dying.
But I need to make money in this industry. Is someone in KECOBO listening to my cry? Please KECOBO, ban those pirated Hollywood movies. They are killing us – they are about to kill me.