In the last four years, Dorothy Ghettuba, CEO of Spielworks Media, has produced TV shows for Kenyan audiences and more recently, for East, South and West Africa, which have left viewers glued to their screens.
Ms Ghettuba has been on forefront of producing TV dramas, talk shows and documentaries with Block D, Lies that Bind, Higher Learning, Saints, Ladies 1st and civic education drama series Know Your Constitution to her name.
As is evident in the upcoming Kalasha Awards — Kenya’s own Oscars — Spielworks Media has garnered seven nominations; two in the best drama and three in the best lead actress best lead actor and best supporting actor categories. It is a true testament that the production house has a winning formula.
“I consciously try to have shows that are positive and educational but they have to be entertaining. My themes are the ones we face daily — love, death, wealth, joy, love, revenge, relationships and generally the themes of our lives. I generally want my shows to be a depiction of society,” Ms Ghettuba says.
Her experience in coming up with her first TV series, Block D, helped in building the successful production house that is Spielworks Media today.
She had researched and found out that there were a lot of English dramas yet the broadcasters she was interested in were more receptive to Swahili shows. The show aired in 2009 and since she owned the rights, DStv’s Africa Magic Swahili channel picked it up and now the company is shooting 120 episodes.
Ms Ghettuba is doing what she loves. In high school, she was an award-winning actress and writer. Although she went to law school, she chose not to graduate and instead transferred her credits to Andrews University in the US where she acquired a degree in communications and political science.
She was employed in a venture capital company in the US but overtime, she became discontent with her job.
“When you are a creative person, you are restless. You like to keep your time. One day I asked myself, ‘Could I say that I have lived my best life?’ One day I was watching one of my favourite TV shows Judging Amy and that is when I decided I too could make TV shows.
“I am a self-taught producer. I would time the scenes, listen to what they say and use Internet to research further. That is how I learnt to write the scripts,” she says.
At the beginning, she went for acting auditions but it proved to be a difficult industry to penetrate. She felt that she did not have control over her destiny. Inspired by J.J. Abrams (a successful American filmmaker) who said “if you want to make it in life be in-charge”, she came back to Kenya four years ago to start the production company.
Spielworks Media opened its doors at the right time, when the industry was at a tipping point, thanks in part to the government directive for broadcasters to have 40 per cent local content in their programme line-up.
“It is not easy being a producer but it is certainly not impossible either. One simply must have the passion and be willing to work extremely hard. The market has now opened up to local content and the world is following suit, so it will become easier. However, it is a great deal of work ,” Ms Ghettuba says.
As for acting, she is yet to find that perfect role.
In her short time in the industry, she has learnt that getting ones finances in order is key to running a successful production house. To get capital, she once took her bank manager to the set to let him see what she does so he could understand that she was not dealing in an ordinary product. It worked.
“The talent is there it’s up to us (producers) to create work. But it’s one thing to get the talent to align with your vision. How do you get writers to write the way TV shows should be written to what you call ‘international standards’?” poses Ms Ghettuba.
She has been keen to foster collaborations between Kenya and other entertainment industries in countries like South Africa, Jamaica and Canada. Her objective is to create a platform for exchange of ideas and skills as well as to provide opportunities for performing artists, writers, editors, directors and creative artists to experience working in other parts of the world.
It may look like she has a lot on her plate, but with six permanent employees, Ms Ghettuba is able to delegate work so she can concentrate on what she does best; selling, marketing and coming up with new show shows.
Ms Ghettuba says there is no money in feature films as yet and since numbers inform what she does, TV shows are profitable.
In the first airing of a show, she breaks even, she says. Since she keeps the rights, distributing to other broadcasters brings in the profit she needs to grow the business. Higher Learning is airing in Nigeria and Lies That Bind is on South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). Such a move also gives Kenyan actors exposure across the continent.
“I would like to use my creativity and business enterprise to lead and inspire people to be the best they can be,” she concludes.