I always marvel at authors’ capacities to recall- in impressive detail- events that happened in the past… especially the kind of authors who write entire memoirs of their lives since childhood. Like what the hell man, I can barely remember what I ate for lunch jana! That being said, my good friend Isaya bullied me into reconstructing the more-than-a-year-old story of the making of Watu Wote– the exemplary, award winning, one-of-a-kind short film that everyone is talking about.
Since, as I mentioned, I don’t remember everything that happened, and because the whole experience is currently one big rapturous memory in my brain’s limbic system right now, I will break it down to the most relevant bits- that I can remember. Starting off with…
You Know Nothing… Jon Snow
It was late July 2016, and I had a day off from my only gig at the time – playing ‘Tony Kazi’ on Spielworks Media produced, Maisha Magic East drama Jane and Abel. I thought I’d spend the day lounging in my underwear at home and binge-watching Game of Thrones but my manager, Isaya Evans had other ideas. He called and asked (more like ordered) me to attend an audition at Lightbox Africa’s offices in the PAWA 254 building kule State House Crescent, and even though I had already started my GOT marathon, and I dreaded that grueling climb up State House road, I had to go! (when Isaya tells you to go somewhere, you get up off your butt and go).
So I did; I auditioned to Katya Benrath (Director – Watu Wote) and one other colleague of hers and I thought, quite honestly, that it was the worst audition I’d ever done! For a myriad of reasons! I thought I was too loud… Not loud enough… Too over -dramatic… Too everything! Auditioning really is one of the greatest tests to a human being’s self-esteem! Anyway, I consoled myself with the fact that I most definitely wouldn’t even be able to take up the role if I passed the audition, because we still had an entire month of shoots to go on J&A.
However, as the title of this section states, I knew nothing! Turned out Katya and her team loved this crazy, little, curly haired fuzzball! And about the timings, Olympia Owira (1st AD – Jane and Abel) and Krysteen Savane (production Manager – Watu wote), worked out a way to allow me the week off I needed to go shoot my bit of the short film!
I was in!!
It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn
This part of the story actually happened before I started my leg of the shoot. On the 14th of August 2016, about a day before the crew were to begin principal filming of Watu Wote, some guy broke into their rented apartments and stole camera and equipment; totaling to a worth of about (hold on to your weaves) 12 Million Kenya Shillings!
Just take a second to absorb that and try put yourself in their shoes. You’ve been in this foreign country (they are German students) for about a month, prepping and planning for this huge project and just when you’re about to begin shooting, some wanker in a pickup posing as part of your crew breaks in and steals 12 Million worth of equipment!
The strength and fortitude it must have taken them to not give up right there and then is more than I trust myself to muster… but THEY did! They found a way, made alternate arrangements and overcame that monumental hurdle!
It Takes a Village
As my character on the film, Issa Osman, was only involved on one shoot location of the movie, I didn’t join the cast and crew until about 2 weeks into the shoot when they were scheduled to move to the aforementioned location. So it was only when I arrived at the pickup point for the transport to the harsh, arid flats of the scenic shooting location, that I realized how many people it really takes to make one film!
We were two 50 seater buses full. Producers, Cast, Supporting Cast, Crew plus a whole lot of luggage and mattresses… We all crammed ourselves into those two buses and took off, on that typical sweltering August Afternoon, to the far away town- both shocked at how many we were but unconsciously happy to be around the many hands that would make the work light!
Dust Goes Everywhere
It was almost exactly like the set of Mad Max: Fury Road, only with a bit less fire breathing guitars and a lot less budget! Lol.
There was so much dust! I can imagine our camera handlers landing on location, looking around and thinking “What fresh, dusty hell is this!” And as unforgiving and testing as it was for the ARRI Alexa, it was perhaps even worse for the cast. On one scene of the film (no spoilers, trust me) my character and
his band of brothers were meant to run a full speed, brandishing AKs and all, through a cloud of dust, looking like a posse of African Rambo and I can tell you for sure: that scene was as difficult to shoot as it was beautiful to see!
There was dust in all the hairs of my body… head, eyebrows, lashes, nose hairs, arm hair, place-that-shan’t-be-named hair!! All caked in dust! I would like to tell you that the baths from a karai of cold water we took at the end of each day washed away all the dust of that day’s scenes… I would love to tell you that but I am an honest man. Most of it only washed off in my shower a week later when I finally made it back to my apartment.
Cold Soda is a Gift From GOD
I didn’t get a chance to peek at the weather app on my phone when we were down there but it felt like it was at least 65° degrees all week long! It was the kind of heat that felt like it was melting through your wardrobe-department-allocated sandals as you walked along. The kind of heat that made the art department lay down mats on the ground for supporting cast to kneel on in the scene because kneeling on bare sand felt like you were barbecuing your knee caps! The kind that made a normal, cold bottle of water become fit to brew tea after being left out in the sun for more than 5 minutes.
In this type of heat, the feeling of going to that only shop that had a fridge in town, and asking for a cold Coca Cola, and then proceeding to down it all in two gulps, and then asking for another to now sip languorously while chatting with fellow cast mates like Bellel and Willi and Marto and Justin and Joe… that feeling is what I imagine heaven should be like. Pure, innocent, bliss!
Avoid Dropping an AK47 on your Leg
I’m sure you’ve seen on the trailer and the posters, my character and a bunch of his mates running around toting deadly looking machine guns everywhere.
You probably wondered if those were real. Heck yes, they were!
See, when you wish to use firearms on your film set in Kenya, you kinda need permission from the government. Sounds like a lot of red tape and bureaucracy but with all the insecurity and terror threats around, it’s understandable why the gava doesn’t want extremely lifelike, genuine looking, prop guns all over the country. So that’s the due procedure that the producers of Watu Wote followed. With required permission and paperwork from the police we were provided with the props we needed for filming. I got this beautiful old AK 47 with a serrated muzzle and a wooden butt (haha, I said butt) that looked like it had seen some action in its day! Now, however, it had a big ol bolt stuck up its barrel rendering it useless for actual combat but perfect for pretend movie combat.
So, one day, as I was waiting for Art Department (it’s always Art Department! Haha) to finish setup on the next scene, I got a bit too confident in holding my weapon and kidogo kidogo whoops! It falls, serrated muzzle first, onto my foot! It landed on the dorsal side of my foot, right on the flesh covering my big toe’s metatarsal (God Bless Google) and I saw a bit of white meat in there before all this pesky blood came rushing out.
So annoying! Lucky for me, super unit manager-cum-nurse Kanazi Kalola came to my rescue and helped patch me up good before I went back on set.
Moral of that part of the story, don’t drop and AK 47 on your foot. Trust me!
That’s All Folks
That’s about as much as I remember unfortunately… although who knows, if you call me up for a Tusker on a random Friday and I become my usual chatty self, I might just remember some more stories about the shoot. Try it, we see!
All in all, I had the absolute time of my life on that set and I love what we all created there… And apparently so does the world. Student Academy Awards now… the 2018 Oscars tomorrow! Hoorah!!