RK: Solaire, it’s great to have you and I’ve been telling everybody who is willing to listen to me that you’re the most brilliant film mind in Kampala.
RK: Would you argue against that? Just take the compliment.
SM: I forgot to say I’m not really the best.
RK: We’ve seen a lot of your work. I tried to recruit you but I failed and that’s one of my biggest failures at my previous job but it’s great to have you. I want to start with what I think is an interesting opportunity. But maybe let’s start with what we do with my visitors. So, let’s start at the beginning; you from career. Where did it all start? How did you start to get involved in film, were you born with a camera, oh?
SM: I’m the last born in my family and I was born to a family of story tellers I’d say. My mother is a creative and I believe that’s where I get my creative sight from, she’s actually a designer, interesting story. She actually designed a gomesi for her mum, so that she could wear it with us because my grandmother was a traditional Muganda woman. My mum was very creative and is very creative. I’d say my entire family is for story tellers, all my siblings are story tellers and I think growing up as kids that is the way we entertained ourselves because there was no cable. Growing up in the 90s, UTV would only come in at 6.
RK: If you were lucky, it would last until 10pm in the night. So you had to talk to each other that was the only form of entertainment.
SM: My family was of story tellers. My siblings used to entertain me and it was almost like a competition. We made sure that we told each other a story. Primary 5 is when I can recall my love for writing kicked in and English composition. I remember being excited one day when they told us; “you can go and do a biography about yourself and your family.” I was so happy. I still have it till today but I didn’t come with it. I’d have that book where I’d put photos in it. I would tell stories of where I was born and how it all happened. I really went overboard and I remember the other kids in class were looking at me and they were like “check this chic.”
RK: So is that now your intro into film?
SM: Yes, that was my intro into film uhm, the beauty about being in the world of television is that you actually get to know the psychology behind TV. Why? There’s a program line-up, and the set up the way it was. There was a wonderful lady called Pamela Mwayi, she was the Head of programming at WBS and later on at NTV. I remember having to sit with Pamela and figure out why we would have world news at 6 O’clock till 7:30 and from 7:30 to another time it was something else then DW would come on and then after, it was entertainment so I was always curious. Like, why is it always like this and she explained to me that “when you think about it, business people as they wake up, the first thing they’re going to think about is the news, so you have to give them highlights.” When it came down to the evening, when we’re coming to 6 O’clock, and the children programming, I learnt a lot from Jackie Ssennyondo who was the Head of Production as well. Once again about the psychology behind you know. Why is the program for let’s say 3y/o to 5y/o is a specific way and then it’s different from the teenagers?
RK: One thing listening to you talking, clearly to me you’ve always been curious. There are many people who can go through all that and never bother. But you have always been curious; so that’s what led you to ask all these questions.
SM: One thing about being a last born, especially when you have to fight for the remote, well, my brothers would torture me from volleyball to documentary, saving private Ryan, having to watch football. But I think the curiosity that you’ve talked about would make me think like okay, say Lewis Hamilton and his team. Just seeing how quickly they change his car, I would be like “wow! I wonder what it takes to be part of his team. Having to learn all this on top gear. I mean I knew nothing about cars, but I learnt all this on top gear and I think about having natural curiosity. Even for people, there’s nothing I love more than talking to people, hearing them and sharing their stories. My father was a very gifted story teller but would be boxing with Luganda and Runyankole.
RK: He must have been a dramatic fellow.
SM: He wasn’t dramatic, he was a very gifted speaker and orator and if I can just say this, there’s a beauty in knowing what you want and chasing after it. I remember after working at WBS for about 2 years, I had moved from being an intern to production assistant and then assistant producer in a space of about 1½ years. We had these old cameras, I cannot tell you how old those cameras were but they had a battery that was a stick, a tripod that weighed like 5kgs and the set up with the lights that could literally burn you up. But what I learned about that was that I learned to quickly adapt to my situation so the reason why I was able to dress in a specific way because I knew that we were going to the field so I had to pick up equipment. I had to jump over wires so you can’t be dressed in your pencil skirts. It’s not going to work. After I left WBS because I had to focus on school, I ended up joining a shipping company, Maersk and this was around 2004/5. I joined the company and that’s when I learned about the corporate culture. Media is very laid back in terms of how we dress, very casual not that serious unless you are the executive. While I was at Mersk I learned a lot about the corporate culture. I was in customer care and it was a very sharp learning curve for me because for the first time in my short career I was actually failing at something. The culture itself and having to deal with work but I liked dealing with people and I knew that I had a knack for talking with clients and calming them down. At that time, I remember there was an influx of Chinese traders coming to the country, so the sign language came into play. I was there for about 2-3years. Then I heard that NTV was opening and the advert was in the papers and I was so excited. I was like “oh my gosh I have to be a part of it.” So I put in my application, I applied about 3 times, and then I didn’t get in. I thought I was being rejected. I wasn’t hearing anything and then I saw some of my colleagues had started work there, like Simon Kasyate and Maurice Mugisha. I saw a bunch of people who had been at WBS and were now there. Then I had serious ‘FOMO.’ I was like “how, why?” I remember once again the determination in me, I remember I was 25 at that time and my determination said. “Come hell or water I’m going to enter that company. So I was complaining about it in the staffroom pantry one time and our manager of sales caught me complaining, “Oh I really want to work at NTV da da da da” He was like “You want to work at NTV? I know Victor Ngei.” He was the General Manager at that time. He was like he could get me a meeting with him. I was like due, that’s all you got to do. He set up an appointment, I packed up my stuff, that had my briefcase that’s an important thing to remember. Document all your work, now you have cloud saving and etc but you need to have some hard copies of your work that you can show off quite easily. So I went in for the appointment, I remember I had my cute pencil skirt on, I had my heels on and was looking all sharp then I walked in. My appointment was at 1O’clock I came during my lunch break and sat at the edge of my seat. Any minute he opens the door I’ll be ready and I’m going to enter. I had rehearsed what I was going to say. 30mins later, Victor opens the door, looks out, he’s talking to his PA, he looks at me and he’s like “Oh, you’re here.” I said yeah yeah, we have an interview Mr. Ngei and he was like “Oh I’m so sorry I can’t see you right now. But you can talk to that lady over there and she’ll show you what to do.” He pointed at a lady called Sharleen Samat. Sharleen was the lady who interviewed me and I’ll tell you till today. I can talk myself out of situations but there’s a moment when I was talking to Sharleen and she asked me, we were talking about production and I remember it was an open office the rest of the production team was seated on the other desks and she threw me a question I remember I was just about to find my way through it and I think it was the voice of God that said “DON’T! Don’t try to lie your way through it, just tell her the truth.” I remember I told her I have absolutely no idea. When she dismissed me, I was like okay, maybe she knew I absolutely know nothing about production. And I remember that moment once again, that feeling in me saying, “I have to be here.” And I told her you know what; just hire me for a month. You don’t have to pay me.
RK: So this is your dream and you’re chasing it.
SM: This is my dream and I’m chasing it.
RK: You’re done with the shipping company.
SM: No no no no. I met some important people there, some of my best friends there but I had to get this job. So I told her take me up for a month, you don’t have to pay me. And if you’re not satisfied I’ll go not to cause you any problem. She took a while looking at me and she told me she’d think about it. I left thinking I hadn’t gotten that job and I was like “okay back to documenting, and emails, cargo, sign language.” And then a day later I got a call that I’d got the job. I have never left a job so fast. I was trying to negotiate, do I have leave days? And my boss let me go so fast, I was a bit hurt. I was like wait, I know I’m leaving but at least put up some little bit of a fight. He was like “We wish you the best of luck at your new job at NTV.” I was there for 4years.
SM: I remember him entering the room it was quite intense and people were really angry. It was around 100 employees in the newsroom who were upset with too many different things. But I remember him coming into the room and being very calm. And it was now a switch where seeing leadership from the top operating in a different way I thought maybe he’s going into a shouting match with us but I remember we wanted salary increment, we wanted better food, we wanted trips around the world and we wanted to be on air essentially and I remember he was able to calm us down by just resolving the whole situation and we were all happy after that and we were like oh he’s a good guy. But I remember just seeing him handle crisis management it was quite impressive. So while we were working at NTV there was a young man who came in, he was called Martin Kintu he came in as an intern he was working with me and some other producers and at the time Martin had come in from Malaysia he had just finished his degree in TV production and film and his internship comes to an end and he tells me “By the way Solaire I’m planning on setting up my own production company with my brother we’re going to do this the two of us.” Martin at the time was 23 so I kept thinking, there’s no way I’m going to leave and start working for a 23y/o so I was like “Yeah that’s good.” And then I just asked him (voice of God) who his brother is and he said Conrad Nkutu I said “you should’ve started with that.” If he had said that I would have said yes to the job. At the time it was time to move, I’d been at NTV for 4years and I was itching for a challenge and I wanted to move up. At the time I felt there was no way I was going to get that opportunity at NTV there was no way I was going to be made H.o.D so I just thought it’s now time to move. So 2 young men came up with the idea of ‘The Hostel’ and at the time it was centered around these two guys and I shared it with him.He said “this is a good idea.” The thing about me is that whenever I see a good idea I always get goosebumps and I sort of felt that thing and I was like, “this is it.”
RK: That’s the thing. Somebody described an elephant and said you know it when you see it so you know a powerful idea the way your body reacts.
SM: Exactly. If you ever think like; how do I know that I have a good idea? When you tell that story to somebody and if you can tell it in like three lines, don’t stop. Okay, what is it about? It’s about these university students, boys and girls, living in a hostel, come from different walks of life, and all the drama and chaos they go through. Their love life; relationship with their parents, all of that. So immediately, whether someone was above the target group of 18-24, there were those who had left university, who actually found appeal in it because it was very reminiscent of their days and there those who were younger who were coming into university who were curious to see what is life going to be at university. The beauty about the hostel, once again Conrad being the crazy person he is, but I remember him recommending a book that was called The Blue Ocean Strategy and then telling me, “find me an idea that makes me money.”
Granted there had been other productions, ‘Kakibe ki, That’s Life Mwattu’ that had been there before and had done an amazing job. But he was asking for a daily show. What I loved about this is when you’re thrown a challenge where you have no idea, don’t reject it. Just take it on, see what you can do.
RK: You’re dropping these profound notices, I wish you could give me a hint that it’s coming.
SM: When you’re given a challenge, just try it. Don’t be scared to fail and I know that’s scary because even now more than ever, because of social media. It’ll backfire to the public and it’s there, people will always be quick to remind you.
Robert: Well we’ll always bring up Cheptegei’s moment in 2017 when he collapsed in Kololo at the world championships and it was a total disaster but now today, there you are. If he had given up then….
SM: And that’s the thing.
RK: So, the point for me, because I really wanted to know the logic behind you getting onto the hostel and of course you went on to do many other things and that is what I want to find out from you. What is it that makes an epic compelling visual story?
SM: In regards to ‘The Hostel’ I’d say, what made it a compelling story was the fact that it appealed to me and I thought; If I can talk to somebody about this, they can buy into the idea and I think it’s a good one. So when we were able to re-work it, we re-worked the idea and showed it to Conrad. He played devil’s advocate so well when he was poking holes on things like “this won’t make sense, tell me how this would work,” and being able to refine. Also to realize that you have to bring people who’re much knowledgeable than you. People who’re smarter than you when it comes to creating really good concepts and projects. At the time, the shows I was really into were like Gilmore Girls. Gossip Girls at the time was also popular, there was something that spoke to me about the dialogue, how they spoke to each other and that was the thing where I just said, we need these killer one liners. People have to be able to quote. So that made it very appealing. It was finding something visually appealing that, we knew we could find. Uganda is full of gorgeous girls and guys. I’m sure we could find that but we also needed to make sure that we got the right talent and we knew it was going to be a challenge. When we were still building this concept and we were trying to see how to execute it, when the quality of gossip girls was still here (low). We were wondering how we were going to get it to the next point? I’m an avid researcher, I’m an avid reader. At the time YouTube had started these tutorials, there was a gentleman called Chuck Peters and he was a kids’ television producer and director D.o.P. He would be like “this is how you’re going to shoot that and this is how you’re going to shoot this” and at the end of every episode he would say “get in that with me, get my e-mail, let me know if you have any questions.” I said why not? I will send the young man an e-mail.
What I liked about him as a boss and why I respect him up to today, he never used his authority as a way to get his way. There’s a time when he would lose the argument and he would accept it and I learnt a lot about leadership in that regard from him. With Chuck Peters writing to me and he shared everything, there was no Asana, no Trelo all those production management apps, they were not there. I was trying to figure out how do I manage budgets and timeline? Because one affects the other. If we spend all the money it’s going to affect the timeline because we are not going to hit all our episodes and if I end up delaying on filming the episodes, it’s going to affect the budget. How do I find a formula that helps me keep an eye on everything from each day of production? So Chuck Peters shared his work plan, his schedule, his score sheet. He shared everything. Then also on top of that which was most important was putting together a good team. I realized we needed to bring in more people who were more knowledgeable in script writing because I know what makes a good story but at the time I couldn’t write a drama script. I absolutely have no idea how to write a script so we brought in people like Consolin Mujabo, Kwezi Kaganda, Cathy Bagaya, Daphne Ampiire, Frank Bisase; it was a beauty of having a good team who you give the freedom. I want to take 360 to an international level. Now if the thought occurs to you, no one has said it. So the thought will ask you that” How will I shoot it? Will I have the time? And how will we get people?” You start putting roadblocks and before you know it you’ll drop the idea. When it comes to creating ideas, knock yourself out. Dream as big and as crazy and as unreasonable as it is, then you can work back and see what’s possible and what’s not. Find other people who can help you build that dream, which is why we did the hostel. We brought in people; we were listening to feedback from our audience.
RK: Did it help that there was no established way of doing things and structure that it allowed people to just take in content?
SM: I think the fact that it was a new company and we knew what we were doing. We were like ‘knock yourselves out and I’ll keep referencing Conrad here. When it came to finding solutions, we actually figured out the formula to film an episode a day and it took us a whole season to do that. Close to 6months. I think the first season took us 8months to film and it was through consultations from the technical team, the cast, everybody was involved plus myself. It came sitting down in a meeting and we air things out. Everyone had an equal ground, no one was higher than the other when it came to brainstorming and he would just keep asking the question WHY? We can’t this now, WHY? Because of bla la la la la WHY?
We were challenged at one point by some people in the industry. You have the staffroom what are you using it for? I just want to stick to comedy, is that all you want to do? “I’m like yeah, we’re meant to entertain, this is light-hearted we’re not doing anything too heavy but it’s enough drama.” I remember thinking about it like, challenge accepted can we make this an entertaining show while tackling the real issues? We actually had actual customer feedback, I remember we got a survey from Synovate, we got feedback from audiences. There’s a time we actually had people come in at Hotel Africana, the age group we were targeting, 18-25 had them come in and we had a questionnaire for them. We asked them “what do you want to see?” They said “we love what we’re seeing but we wish that if you could tackle more issues dealing with depression, anxiety, suicide, pregnancy issues are there and everything but that’s not the biggest challenges that we face, could you talk about those issues?” and we tackled them. And I remember the feedback oh my goodness! I was in church on my phone, with my grandmother during the Luganda mass and I’m there refreshing the page looking for what they’ve said quickly. Because at the time it was ‘The show’, whatever happened around it was news. So I remember just talking to Cindy and I was like “I don’t understand when people say they don’t like the dark stuff and I’m like why is it the case?” I remember she explained to me and said “You have to think about our history as Ugandans and what we have been through. We would rather laugh than cry. So do not remind us. People go to the movies to forget, to laugh, no one comes to cry.” So, when Cindy told me that and explained to me that you have to think about your audience and what they have been through, and what appeals to them, at least you can understand and find a way to deliver a message without being too preachy or without getting too serious.
RK: You talked about delivery, in making this visual storytelling, what are the building blocks? Is it the personality? Is it the delivery? Is it the language? I find that sometimes people get so obsessed with the visuals, the graphics. So what is that package? What’s in there?
SM: Wow! I think the people who’d be best to tell you that would be script writers like Cathy Bagaya but I’ll try and answer. It involves a number of factors; you can’t just be compelling enough. You don’t have to be likable you can even be nasty. And sometimes the villains are the best actors because they really do things as they please and it’s always lovely to unpack that about the people, like what brought this person to the stage? One of the things that I knew were most important, and these are things that I learned is that it’s very important to, especially when you’re doing drama and fiction stories to build your character by both. It’s very important to build your character bibles. These are basically biographies of your characters, their relationship with different characters they’ll be interacting with, some we’ll see some we won’t see, skeletons in their closets, the secrets they have to deal with because it helps the writer if it’s not the person who created the character at least by the time the person who created the character comes in they know who they’re dealing with and they’re like “oh this is how this character behaves.” So, character bibles are very important. Next thing would be how the story is woven and told. When the audience sits down to watch it, we have people who’re very intrigued they’ll start asking questions. How did this happen? Explain to me how did this happen and when you weave the story well enough so that they can see it, that would be fantastic and I agree with you when it comes to substance, maybe we were lacking but sometimes what I love right now is that when you see scripts and stories coming out of Ugandan filmmakers right now, brilliant stuff; psychological thrillers, beautiful love stories, so there’s reading a really compelling story in that regard and 3-4 characters were compelling enough and then there’s having the right cast. Casting is extremely important. Getting the right people, now; some people might not look the way you envisioned you might have said all mu characters are supposed to look like x, y and z but if you have someone during auditions doing so well that everyone can see that they’re the character take them on, push it up a bit and say, “I can do with that because I want this person to actually play here. And in that scene you train them, you let them have enough rehearsal, don’t wait till someone has appeared on the set and give them a script and say okay you have 30mins and then we’re going to shoot. Give them enough time to know and absorb their characters and of course getting a crew and a director who’s a fantastic leader. The crew normally follows the direction of the director. The director sets the tone. If a director is someone who’s very erratic, it’s going to affect the rest of the team that he/she leads. If a director is to be calm, level headed, knows how to break up tension, knows how to get actors to loosen up, to understand them, and even the crew.
RK: So, this is gonna take you to a different direction. My people who’re listening in on zoom, spaces, everyone wants to become a You Tuber, you are experienced, how would you advise anybody listening in that guys, these are the things you do, these are the things you don’t do but before you do that, describe it from your point of view. What kind of opportunity is there?
SM: I think there a lot of opportunities now that the online space opens up to everybody. The normal gate keepers have been eliminated. I’m so thrilled when I think about it and I think we saw this coming about 10years ago. Anyone who was in media 10years ago saw this coming. We could see it coming but the internet was the hugest piece of junk. People had ideas for video demand platforms, they had ideas for putting content online but in Uganda specifically it was how do we deal with this monster called the internet data charge? It was a bit insane. So right now what I see is such a tremendous opportunity for everyone. I don’t care if you’re 50years old, thinking about retiring.
RK: What you’re describing is the opportunity even for someone like me.
SM: It’s for everyone. Now it’s almost like the World Wide Web, it’s a gold mine everyone has an opportunity but the gold you’re looking for is the value, you have to give people content of value.
RK: So you’re saying the gold is in the value, what is this value that you see that the audience would be interested?
SM: People are always looking for compelling stories. I’ll tell you what I was doing the other day on YouTube. So I come across a woman who has a channel, she has probably 1million subscribers. Her content is her feeding wild chipmunks. She’s in a forest area in a cabin in Canada and you don’t even see her face you only see her hands feeding a chipmunk and she’s learned how to identify them, her channel has been there for almost 3years, 1million subscribers. Another channel that I wondered on, this is where the researcher in me comes in. So my Namagunga Old Girls group, we were chatting and I think someone asked a question and was like does the liver regenerate like how does it happen and what other body organs regenerate? When I saw that question I was curious, I was like okay. I found something on YouTube, I don’t know how it happened but I found something called The Institute of Human Anatomy. These are guys that are basically showing you what happens and these are interesting topics. This is how alcohol affects you; and they’re actually cutting up a body. I know it sounds gruesome but it’s not I promise. But they’re talking about it in such an engaging way, they are showing you what the liver looks like, this is how huge it is and how it stretches across the stomach when you drink this is what happens. Alcohol gets absorbed into that mucus then after it goes and affects your body, your inhibitions are lower than. All these fascinating things are being done in a 5minute talk by a guy who teaches at the institute and he’s just talking to a camera. What I’m getting at is, find your niche. Whatever it is that you’re thinking about and you think “I doubt people will be interested in this.” Trust me there’s an audience. By the time we’re following chipmunks, honestly.
RK: I’ve seen businesses now struggling. You’ll talk about it.
SM: I think maybe about 5years back, getting people and companies specially to put content online was a struggle. Everyone said “we have TV, we have newspaper, we have radio, we don’t need to go online there’s no solid evidence it’s going to help us.” And I remember having conversations with people as recent as 2019 saying you have to get your content online. Uganda is not your only audience. You have a wide market out there that would like to know as an investor, what exactly can I find in this country because the news they get from the other side could be war, disease, the usual narrative that they always hear about Africa. And to show them that guess what, there opportunities for you to come and invest in IT here, there opportunities for you to come and invest in our Shea butter production because we happen to the best Shea butter trees, opportunities for you to come and invest in agriculture as far as tourism is concerned, this country is filled with too much treasure. And most of them kept saying nuh it will pass we have our marketing team. The beauty about Covid was, the moment we went into lockdown, all we had was our screens and that was our only form of communication, suddenly people were being forced to talk about the business.
RK: That’s what drove me, for the second lockdown to start the mentoring sessions. First one we did over the 42days, you know how many people it reached? 14million. So Ruth Aine ran the numbers and showed them to me and it was massive. So, the online culture is beginning to take shape.
SM: It’s one of the things why I want to encourage everyone. You know most of us we have jobs, we have to work. We have bills to pay and families to take care of but the beauty about being a human being is that we’re all born creative. Some people might say for me I’m not a creative but you are. I just need to meet you and tell you how creative you are. So, when it comes to creativity and what you can do, you now have your phone. When I say the normal gate keepers, you have an email account, go and set up a YouTube channel, go set up your tik-tok, your Instagram or whatever it is just try it out.
RK: You say that and the person who comes to mind as a case study and I hope all these universities reaching mass comm. can take her as a case study, and I know this is gonna shock you, Bad Black.
SM: That doesn’t shock me. You know what appeals to people about Bad Black? She’s the most authentic person that you’ll come across. Bad Black is living her life. And there so many of us who wish could do that and that’s why she has a huge following because she appeals to people. If you can recognize that in her, it goes to show that’s the same thing you need to do when you’re presenting your content. You have to be authentic. Don’t try, for example if I come here and try to be like you, I have to be very gentle, I must sit upright, I must speak like this, one of that wouldn’t be me but you would carry it on very well because you’re you. And then on the other hand, I’m very expressive when I talk I have to even remind myself sometimes “keep your hands here.” So when it comes to you saying things like that about Bad Black, I’m not surprised because right from the beginning, she has not changed who she is she has been authentic from day one that’s why everyone appeals to her because of that.
RK: So, let’s take some questions and the guys on spaces you know what to do so I’m waiting for you to click. Let me start with the guys on Zoom.
Shanice Smart Quality: Actually I missed her point about mentorship choosing someone to mentor you I need some more clarity on this, thank you.
SM: Okay, I think it’s also important when we talk about mentorship. I’m part of a business network group Business Network International (BNI). So we talk about mentorship and the importance of mentorship and what that means and the relationship. Between a mentor and a mentee there’s responsibility more towards the side of the mentee. A mentor is not someone who’s going to come and tell you what to do, a mentor can be your guide, your soundboard, and a mentor can have a life of their own. Sometimes I might be speaking to people and they’re like “my mentor hasn’t got back to me, he/she is not doing their job, I asked them to mentor me and they said they’d think about it.” What I did is that there people whom I looked up to, I didn’t really look at someone’s name. When I speak about Shaleen and how she became my mentor even before that, Jackie Ssennyondo, when she was at WBS and then went to NTV. Jackie retired and is living her best life now, but I hope we can get her onto a show. I remember she was fantastic on what made an editor, what made a producer, the SOPs that we have to follow as editors, Graphic designers, she was very gifted with that and I remember it would frustrate some people. So what I did in terms of my mentorship is to look at someone whom I admired and with Jackie I loved the fact that she was a young mum at the time, H.O.D and she was still able to run that department so perfectly without losing her mind and making sure everything was running on time. When it came to structure she was someone whom I followed. With Shaleen, it was the same thing with how an entire company is run, how does that run and operate and insisting on quality. That lady would give almost asthma sometimes. So you need to find people whom they have something you admire, then from there if you ask to be mentored by them just prepare yourself. Have your questions ready, be willing to take notes, because it is really important, and don’t waste their time.
RK: Mentorship, you don’t even have to meet the person physically. A mentor can be the person you read, a person you watch on the screen. How they carry themselves, as long as you value the things they stand for.
Aggie Akwamong: How can we use the internet and film to offer quality hopefully free fast track education to our children who’ve been in lockdown for so many months, those from low earning families?
Solaire Munyana: One of the things that I loved about growing up in Uganda and what we were able to watch on TV were the children shows that would come on. We had those weird Russian puppet shows that would come on and we would learn about other cultures, and I think UTV played a big role in our childhoods especially when it came to learning about what was going on in the news around the country, about culture, I remember there was Introduction to Animal World, I loved that show it was so fascinating. I think it’s time for us to reinvest in our state owned broadcast becasue it’s an assumption to assume that everyone has access to internet.
RK: First of all for me, the thing that was very frustrating was that we made a decision to close down analog television just to accommodate telecoms and because people had to comply with something that had been decided in Geneva and we killed access to television. I had that argument it was a frustrating time of my career. And now, you say we’re going to teach kids on TV. How many people have set top boxes? You’ve already limited the audience, if TV was free to air like it used to be; now content would be the thing that we create. But you see the thing about animal world and all those things; maybe the classroom setting is not suited for delivering instructions on screen or radio. Are there ways we can creatively come up with content that can be used for learning purposes without it being a classroom setting, where there’s a guy pretending to be teaching on a white board?
SM: I actually have a friend, Dr. Molly who’s listening from Netherlands who actually set up a YouTube channel that’s written a book about African folk tales is doing tremendous work to make sure those children who have grown up in the Diaspora get to know about their culture and different cultures. So, there different ways we can teach children if we take them out of the classroom, if you’re talking about biology and all these things, actually let them explore their neighborhood, like what are the particular creatures that you see? Maybe it’s tree frog, or a chameleon, I remember doing this as kids, we’d go looking for chameleons and feed them flies to see how their tongue comes out and I think there’s a lot that we can do, we could take it out of the classroom and radio is still a very powerful tool. That’s one way we could use radio to reach low income families, to make sure this education could get to them. I know that there ways that have happened in my past, when I was working in Mogadishu it’s something that we did when we put up a messaging about getting more women in politics. And how could we go about that in a way that was respectful and we weren’t torn deaf.
Jackie Namara: What makes for a good story, the kind that gives you Goosebumps?
SM: I hope I can answer this question because Jackie is one of those fiercely intelligent ladies. The kind that gives me Goosebumps would be the one that completely reels me in. Like I almost seem to have tunnel vision but I can’t seem to see anything else. It’s something that completely reels me in and I’m taken there in my imagination. One other thing I appreciate about my childhood is when UEB would do its thing of power cut. That would freak me out because the house would be in total darkness and my brothers would take me out and scare me.
RK: When you look at the level of advertisement done by big companies like the Emirate airline and the American super bowl is there an opportunity for us to get to that level?
SM: I think there is, if brands can invest more in storytelling. I think right now it’s also very important to realize that your audience is pretty intelligent and they catch on when something is being pushed out there. And once that happens, it’s not even the thing that we’re stuck with the few TV stations where we have to watch the adverts, now it’s scrolling, 3seconds swipe onto the next one. So, right now you probably have few seconds to catch people’s attention. If you’re talking about your story, don’t make it about you.
RK: Which takes me to this one; watching TV back then was pretty much a social affair. To the changes in consumption and people individualizing their experiences sharing videos, groups, what does that mean to people dealing in content? Now people don’t sit and watch.
SM: I think it means there more opportunities to challenge ourselves creatively and to have these out of the box ideas. You know when it comes to creativity we tend to think “I’m all toughed out.” One of the tips I could share is; when it comes to creativity and trying to give ideas to people, challenge yourself by doing things out of your normal like how I was telling you how my brothers were forcing me to watch formula1, and I found myself having to understand what the fascination was around it and realizing that these are history buffs. Reading autobiographies by people like Warren Buffet, just trying to step out to see how differently I could tell stories. Trust me there people who might not be online or well known but are in the industry of creating content and they’re doing fantastic work. I think you’ll be amazed even when we go past video, the gaming industry. That has opened up an avenue and I could feel that for our children especially, this is their reality. So now that they’re playing off their phones, their tablets, and you the parent you’re telling them to get off the tablet. And yet this is the industry they’re entering. The AI industry is opening up where we have Mine Craft, where they can actually build a world, create characters and create a story line. What they’re doing there is, one they’re creating a storyline, then they’re being a script writer, then they’re being a director and they’re casting all these characters. So, to you the parent who’s just watching you’ll be like ‘kid’s just playing games.’ But they’re actually figuring out how to create content. We’re now seeing companies like Adobe, wondering what they can do for this new generation that wants everything on their fingertips.
Suzan: What do you have to say about people who no longer want to grow into the process and want to leap and put out sub-standard work even in the news room?
SM: When you look at the newsroom, news is a very tricky animal, it moves very quickly. Now everybody is a reporter. So you can’t blame the newsroom it can be very tough I’ve been outside there, even when social media wasn’t what it is today. Everyone has a camera on their phone, it’s very tricky but even then, journalists need to go back to the very basics and hopefully finding a conversion time between catching the story and putting it out there.
My last piece of advice, if there’s anything you want to do, just do it. Don’t worry too much about what they’ll say, or don’t let them determine what to do.
RK: It’s been such a wonderful pleasure having you here, Solaire!