I WANT TO MAKE A MOVIE
BY DIRECTOR JABBES MVULA, MESA, ARIZONA, USA - The first time I posted on this blog, I promised to write about how this project started but I haven’t been able to do that due to pressure lately. We are just about to get rolling and there are just hundreds of things that Cyndi and I have to take care of in just one month. I will still keep my promise and write about how the idea came to be and possibly even write about my background. I promise to write a whole boring story about my life, my struggles with my dreams and ambitions, my successes and of course my failures.
This time around I thought of writing about something on professional lines, my experiences about filmmaking so far. I was talking to a friend from Zambia, Henry Sakala. He is one of my friends in this business that have maintained very close contact. I was trying to find out about the latest developments in the industry back home. Henry is one of Zambia’s greatest Actors, and I think playwright Samuel Kasankha’s favourite. He is also an upcoming writer having penned one award-winning play. Recently, he wrote and produced a film entitled SILENT VOICES. I called him to get a feeling of what it was like making a movie.
I will summarize his experiences in brief. Henry wrote a first draft script, found a low-end mini DV camcorder, put a cast together, shot the film, did straight editing, and ... he had his film. It was simple, very basic filmmaking. Because of its simplicity, people don’t seem to have any confidence in it. No investor wants to help market it, and he was only able to screen it at the Lusaka Play House where only a handful people came to watch it. Henry put a lot of effort into this production, but people just don’t seem to appreciate it. And yet, when Henry runs a stage play, it’s been a sell-out.
Henry may be in this sad situation, but probably the worst situation is that of another very good friend and one of Zambia’s great comedians, Shingonga. The guy is good at his art, and he also put together what he calls a “film”— which he shot on lowest end VHS. The only people that have watched his production are the actors and his wife. He is the Writer, Director, Producer, Actor, and Editor of the film. My heart bleeds.
I have been analyzing these sad situations and I think I have learned that making a movie is not as simple as people imagine. If it were that simple, then almost everyone with a script would be a “Filmmaker”. Working with Cyndi Greening on this movie has taught me a lot of things on filmmaking.
One of the most important things in making a film is having a good script. I have never written a script before, though I have produced over 1000 scripts for Radio Drama and about 15 or so for Television. How do I know these numbers? Simple mathematics. I worked for Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation for 15 years, and for about 10 years, I produced two plays every week for Radio, one in English and one in Chinyanja. That is about 104 Radio plays every year for about 10 years. I worked with Zambia’s prolific writers like Samuel Kasankha, Francis Magiya Manda, Joemwa Mtsinje Mwale and Nick Venter Shamilimo.
When I started writing the script, adapting it from stage to screenplay, Cyndi gave me screenwriting software that helped me a lot. I wonder what it would be to write a script without the software. I wrote each page about 4 to 5 times just to come up with the first working draft. Every time I wrote about 5 pages, I would take them to her for analysis, and she would make her comments, advising me where it was weak. She maintained that she wanted it to be a Zambia story, and so she never made any corrections or changes, only offered suggestions. She would only point at the weak points and ask me what I was trying to put in the movie, who were these characters and what was I trying to tell in this part of the story. I worked for some months to come up with the first draft.
When I had finished my first draft, one day she brought to class a lot of films and let the class watch the first ten minutes of every film. She also taught us to watch the first ten minutes of a film with volume turned off. A good film has very little talking with so much fast action in the opening minutes, while a bad film has everyone talking with very little action in the opening minutes. After watching the films, Cyndi and Bob Lewis (the other teacher who also a Regional Manager for Apple Corporation) led the class into analyzing the films. I just felt like they were all critiquing my script 'coz it had a lot of talking in the opening minutes.
After class, she told me to cut my first 10 pages into 5 pages, and I should describe my main characters using actions. I said to myself “If this is what it means to make a movie, then it is not fun." One of the things I have known with low-cost films is that the first 5 minutes do not inspire people to continue watching, and I realized that Cyndi wanted me to turn my script around so as to inspire my audience.
After putting in all this work, I thought I have done the best, and I gave her my FINAL script. I had a shock when she told me that she is breaking it down using the latest script software, and then she would make her comments so that I can produce my FINAL script. After that, I would then work with the people doing the storyboards.
After talking to Henry, I wondered if he or Shingonga had access to this kind of guidance. I haven’t even begun to write about the kind of filmmaking equipment that we will be using or the award-winning editors that I will work with to do post-production on the film.
Am not better than these two guys, but I have just been privileged to work with a professional person on this dream I have that started from the simple sentence “I want to make a movie." Now am getting to understand what it really means to make a movie, I hope to use my experiences and observations to inspire and motivate others in Zambia and around the world. I know that there are a lot of people out there who are saying “I WANT TO MAKE A MOVIE."
Producer's Note: Jabbes asked me to find a photograph of the two of us together to post with this entry. I have over 500 production stills that Mike Montesa has shot so far and this is the ONLY photograph I could find of the two of us together. Apparently, there is so much going on, we're never in the same place at the same time.
This photograph was taken in the early morning at the recording of Colin Boyd's The Big Picture for FM101.5. Set to air in mid-June, Colin interviewed us about the making of the two Zambian films. Neither Jabbes nor I had had more than three hours of sleep. Thank goodness Colin did a great interview and got us talking up a storm!