Nairobi’s huge filming house with multiple sets

Appie Matere, executive producer of Zamaradi
Appie Matere, executive producer of Zamaradi Productions. PHOTO | MWIKALI LATI 

In the quiet neighbourhood of Lavington, there is a house with a green gate that is well-known beyond its number. It is the home of Zamaradi Productions, a local production house that will be shooting three television shows simultaneously.

Prudently planned out, the writers are busy developing stories and scripts, the fundis are on site painting and hammering away getting sets ready and the production team is following up on progress that is happening in the big house sitting on a one-acre plot.

Last year, they were contracted to do 71 movies in six months by Africa Magic/ MNET. They had to shoot three films a week. Trick was simple they could not go on locations because it was going to be expensive and inefficient in terms of time. So, they got the big house with a big compound and built multiple sets.

It is from that they discovered that they could shoot three shows simultaneously within the same space and time.

“You have one production/management running the three shows and the change comes with the crew,” says Appie Matere, the executive producer at Zamaradi Productions as well as a co-founder.

The other co-founders are George Mungai, producer/production designer and Victor Gatonye, director and creative. All have a combined 46 years of experience in film and entertainment to form Zamaradi. Their first job together was Kona, the telenovela by Africa Magic/MNET, in 2013 shortly after the 71 movies.

Brutally honest

The film sets tell the stories of Kenyans; Sunrise based on a slum shopping centre, Trade Centre based on an urban shopping mall and the third, FIHI, will be in a rural setting.

“We are not embellishing the stories. We are telling as is. We are targeting group C and below using the same model as the fast-moving consumer goods,” says George.

Coming up with most stories, the trio has told themselves to always be brutally honest and drop what is not working.
Once they had the idea for a talk show, the set idea and a crew ready, they asked themselves what questions they were going to ask, what were their targets and why the show.

“We just sent everybody home. We had just realised that we could not answer those questions. We then sat for four-and-a-half hours asking ourselves why talk shows do not work here,” says George.

They also share their ideas with people picked at random from their target group to test relevance. Sometimes, the same groups also enrich the stories.

Shooting the three shows will mean having 100 people, including extras, using the experience of shooting the 71 movies to their advantage.

“We also believe in delegation and training. We do not micro-manage. When I am designing I do not do it in isolation. That creates synergy without having to go back and forth,” says George, who works closely with head of the construction crew.

Their Lavington compound is a domain that is within their control. However, from outside the gates comes the challenges of the film industry.

George, who has also produced and directed plays at the Phoenix Theatre, has noticed that they have to do a lot more skill intervention with actors. The actors’ programme at Phoenix which used to produce good thespians has since died.

“There is potential and people are extremely gifted, they just need a bit of polish. And there is a cost factor to it. We invest in it then the next challenge is retaining them.”

Limited financing

To cover these costs and more, Zamaradi’s TV shows are either co-productions where a broadcaster puts in half the capital needed or pre-licensed where they are the only investors.

As George states, corporate bodies do not understand the business and are not willing to invest in the same.

“It is not tangible, you are selling creativity. If you take my copyright, you have taken away everything. If they took the time to understand how the market works then they would see how easy a TV show sells,” says Appie.

Broadcasters are known to buy shows but not finance them. This means that a production house is the only investor and also looks for distributors like Côte Ouest, based in Mauritius.

“We will get back our investment in three years. It narrows the re-investment capital because recovery takes so long then we have to look for extra financing as we look to develop and work,” says the production designer.”

The other way to get funds is for broadcasters to share the advertising money, he says. It means the industry will be content, not platform-driven, which will assist with getting a share of the advertising revenue.

This, they hope, will work when TV stations migrate to digital platforms.