Tahidi High and Mother in Law, some of the biggest Kenyan productions served as a kind of yardstick for the Kenyan film industry. Just about every actor who starred in a local film has pitched to a TV station.
At the time, the success or failure of a film fell squarely in the hands of media bosses leaving many actors and producers' dreams wasting away in demo/pilot episode tapes stacked on a shelf labelled “We’ll get back to you soon”.
The industry was like a series of rooms arranged like concentric circles, or rooms within rooms, joined by courtyards and antechambers, and in the room at the centre of all those rooms, media executives sat determining the future of local actors.Deputy Director of Governor's Press Ashley Murugi in a meeting with Kenya Film Commission officialsFile
Some thrived, a lot more did not, as expected in an industry where gatekeepers would play cinema gods by dictating what Kenyans would watch on their screens.
The actors’ remuneration was dictated at the boardroom many times without regard for the true value of the production.
Fast forward to 2021 where technology has laid the foundation for video on demand services opening the floodgates of creative and financial freedom for both actors and filmmakers.
According to former Tahidi High star Ashley Murugi, the digital shakeup in the industry has provided actors with equal chances to grow their careers and share their content with fans directly.
She advised actors to organise themselves better and be resourceful to create content that will impact Kenyans and in the process grow their careers.
Ashley who now works with the Embu County Government gave the example of her town which has an association for actors to exchange and learn together.
The group has received training from the Kenya Film Commission and after producing short clips, one of them was scouted to take part in an advertisement that earned the budding actor Ksh 500,000.
In a way, digital content allows someone with a large following to act as their own mini media company. Actors also don’t have to wait for big-budget films, but can instead team up to do quality low-budget productions that they can upload on YouTube or sell to video on demand services such as Viusasa.
One of Ashley's short productions was able to clinch a spot to receive part of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Ksh 100 million stimulus package for the creative industry in 2020.
For struggling actors, talent is important, but the ability to grow an audience is also key. When used strategically to support your brand, social media becomes a powerful branding tool that can eventually open up opportunities to monetize an actor’s following.
One method of generating revenue from social media is through influencer marketing. Influencer marketing is a type of marketing that focuses on leveraging someone with influence to deliver a brand’s message to their niche audience.
The Kenya Film Commission has also developed training programs to help build capacity in the film industry.
“Those capacity building workshops helped the girl land that advertising gig while others are now employed in local media,” Murugi praised Kenya Film Commission.
She emphasised the importance of discipline and consistency, especially where actors establish independence on their own because their hard work determines their success.
She also called on government officers to understand the importance and role films play in selling the country.
“We are in the digital era but it is so hard to explain the value of digital content to some people in the government. I would advocate for the government to employ people who understand and have a passion for new technology,” she recommended, adding that films were a form of communication.Former Tahidi High cast members with fellow film industry expertsFile
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