I learned to come out of my shell and be heard



Joan Kabugu at the Standard Group offices along Mombasa Road, Nairobi, December 30, 2021. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Having recently had his short film, Gas queens air on Al Jazeera, Joan Kabugu counts his victories. Her journey has been marked by ups and downs, but she has remained true to her passion. She is the founder of Ecila Films, which focuses on women, adolescents and indigenous communities. Joan has many hours of television content to her credit and has directed several environmental documentaries as part of the series, Give a voice to nature, and short films touching on heartfelt themes such as fatherhood and mental health. The creator is currently finishing a multimedia documentary about a deaf dancer called. The sounds of silence. She shares her journey.

Your short film Gas queen just broadcast on Al jazeera. How does that feel?

Exhilarating, exciting and rewarding! I have come a long way from where it all began. The journey started 10 years ago when I stumbled upon a television and radio training program (in Medeva – Media for Development in Africa). Having no media experience, I had to work really hard when I got a job opportunity, training for a political talk show production. To go to Medeva TV for a month’s training right after graduating from college, I had to walk from the CBD area of ​​Nairobi to South B – a distance of four kilometers – and come back daily for almost a month because I didn’t had no source of income and the price of the bus I had was not enough. I started from the bottom, labeling the camera strips, practicing how the camera works, and assigning a camera for the cutaways. Maisha Film Labs was another platform that helped me grow in my early years; I submitted two of my short films and was invited to compete for a production grant two years in a row. In the second year, I won and I worked on my first short film – Madam Chef – a mustard seed which allowed me not only to carry the credit of “writer”, but also “director” and “producer” for the first time. My friends at Medeva came together to make the short film a success, I will be forever grateful to them.

As a producer, how did you manage to continually seize opportunities?

The greatest opportunities have come from learning. I did this by attending writing workshops, content creation scholarships, and participating in business and leadership training. These made me understand the business side of things and how I can take advantage of my job for a living. When I attended the Obama Leaders Forum in 2018, Ecila Films received a major spotlight for the work we did; tell stories about women, youth and the Indigenous community. This has been our niche.

What have been some of the challenges so far?

I recently had a discussion with other African designers, trying to understand two sentences; love what you do and do what you love. It was in the context of the fact that it takes a lot to make a living out of the creative industry and to hold out for the long haul. My most difficult problem has been funding projects that I hold dear and convincing investors to jump into the film space – it’s hard to get a solid ROI, unlike other industries. It was also difficult to gain ground and visibility which made it difficult to reach my audience both with my Ecila Films company and my personal profile.

How did you meet the challenge of having a steady stream of income?

Over time, I have developed different skills and used them to multiply my sources of income. The first three are; write, direct, produce and work as a production manager. I balance between creating independent content for my business, writing and taking on production assignments. This ensures that as a creative I don’t get frustrated when it comes to finding a job and paying bills.

What were your greatest heights as a producer?

Be part of Giving a voice to nature, which was an award-winning environmental documentary series. We won Best TV Series at the ZIFF Awards. This series helped me improve my storytelling ability and took me to the far corners of Kenya to find stories; from Cherengani to Bogoria to Rimoi. My first two short films were sponsored by grants and investors respectively. Working on three consecutive independent films after that was a proud moment; I have invested in myself. These projects have not yet offered a return on investment, however they have served as a portfolio for me and my team and opened doors for new projects, which have been sponsored. Winning an award for a Chevrolet project by Mofilm in 2015 was another moment of pride, I made the history of Richard Turere; Lion Lights. In 2021, I won a New York Oniros Film Award for the short film “It’s all just a game. “I know that the future holds even more victories for me.

What were your lowest moments?

I missed out on some great opportunities earlier in my career because I didn’t feel up to it. I have learned to be a boisterous introvert and to be heard while communicating confidently and politely. Being able to work with people from all over the world, from New York, Spain, Ethiopia and Liberia, has broadened my view of the world and by default made me more turbulent.

What have you discovered about yourself?

I’m aggressive, which means when I lean on something, I put all my cards on the table and go all-in. I can take criticism; this allows me to easily distribute my work without fear of judgment. I am not a perfectionist, but I appreciate exceptional excellence. This means that I don’t take long to post what I want, I just make sure that I grow up in the process. I know how to plan and it has saved me money in film production. I rarely lose my temper, I keep the production team calm. While filming on location, patience is tested and I feel like I’ve passed this test of patience every time. When it comes to working as a team, I believe in self-leadership. If we all bring our A-game, it’s a win-win situation.

What would you count as rewards for pursuing your dreams despite the challenges?

The payoff is having the chance to create more content each year, working with a diverse cast and team from Kenya and beyond and of course getting paid to do it. Being nominated for awards increased our visibility and ensured that we were seen and appreciated. Something as simple as getting direct feedback on our viewers’ stories, whether in person, over the phone, or on social media, is a big deal to me.

What future for Jeanne?

(2021 has been) a decisive year for me as a film entrepreneur. I won a grant as an innovator from Stanchat Women in Tech, I also started my monthly film project starting with a story of Lake Baringo – Save the pink beauty, a coming-of-age story about a father and daughter. We recently presented our first project on Al jazeeraGas queens – for their unique Africa Direct series featuring exclusively African stories by African filmmakers. You can check it out on YouTube. These three salient points all point in one direction; create more stories, consistently and for an even wider audience.

The goal of Ecila Films is to create more authentic African stories with multiple teams, stories that transform communities and create discourse and dialogue. Make our content readily available on YouTube through our channel, Ecila Films and affiliate channels such as Al jazeera, means we can have more people watching engage and have a dialogue. The plan is also to use our platform to launch new storytellers and filmmakers to come, I know how difficult it can be to break into this industry. It is a way of paying in advance what I have benefited from on other platforms.

How important do you think it is to work for constant growth?

Continuous learning has allowed me to understand different aspects of creativity, business and leadership. I have participated in numerous scholarships, trainings and workshops throughout my career: Amplify Content Creation Fellowship, Obama Leaders Fellowship, Maisha Film Labs Writers Workshop, Docubox Screenwriting Workshop, Young Africa Leaders Initiative, Women in Tech Business Incubator, Generation Africa Workshop, ZIFF Writing Workshop, Talent Campus Durban, and One Fine Day Production Training, to name a few.

I discovered that consistency is the oldest formula in the book; keep going, improve your job, improve yourself. Improve yourself and people will notice you before you know it, more people will be willing to pay for what you have to offer.

The other thing that has worked is becoming my own investor. I saved and paid the bill for some of my productions. Invest in the stories you love and share them with the world. Sometimes the world needs to see you believe in yourself before they believe in yourself.

Over the past five years, I have worked a lot with mentors and it has allowed me to see my blind spots, personally and in the storytelling arena. I have also done a small portion of the mentoring and this is something that I hope I can do more of in the days to come.

Finally, there is no growth that comes from magic or presumption. All growth is intentional, and although some opportunities find us while we work, such opportunities come because we strive to be bigger and better.

Plan for 2022, even if you are only reaching 50% of what you set for yourself. This is better than the five percent that you will get if you are not intentional in your growth.

Have an intentional new year.


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