“It all starts with the script”
Not in Kenya. Here it generally starts with equipment, a crew, an opportunity to make some money…anything but the script. When everything has been assembled, crew and equipment, now people will look for a script, any script will do. See, in our TV sector there has been a malignant tumor of cronyism that is killing creativity and sucking the life out of any remaining creative by driving them into depression. Local content is sourced on the basis on a producer knowing the procurement guy or some executives at the stations. Now, there is nothing wrong with networking or being friends with TV executives, but when it compromises the quality of productions that is where it becomes cronyism. Some of these executives themselves have gone one better and set up production outfits on the side to be providing their stations with material to take advantage of government regulations that require at least 40% local content.
Kenya now has the quantity, but the quality is nothing to talk about. All this for one totally unfortunate reason; nowhere else has so low a premium been placed on scripting. Scriptwriters are at the bottom of the food chain, paid less than the camera operators! Just recently a producer I know advertised for a “compelling well written and rewritten script for a TV series” and willing to buy it at a measly Ksh 20,000 ( $200)! You should know that high schoos have been known to fork out more than double this amount for 45 minute plays for the national drama festivals. The script writer is almost an afterthought, and walks on thin ice because the producers can, on a whim, fire them and come up with a cheaper alternative, like writing it themselves however poor at it they are. It’s not like the TV station will turn it down,right?
It is probably correct to say that content for TV is controlled by ‘cartels ‘. Non creative cartels. So here we are, stuck with uninspiring shows and led to believe that this is the best the country has to offer. Moreover, we also constantly accused of not supporting our artists. Are we supposed to lap up the mediocre in the name of patriotism? Really? If Kenyans ran home 20 years ago to watch Tausi they can do it again even with all these cheap western shows lying about and it will begin with producers acknowledging that script is king and that Kenyans are intelligent.
It would be grossly incorrect if I have implied that the script writers are totally innocent here. Only a handful put in work investing in their craft and outrageously outraged when they are offered peanuts for their work. Writers need to wake up and realize how deeply important their input is in this industry as this is the only way they will work to improve their work before they organize themselves and demand higher pay.