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May 30, 2006

I WANT TO MAKE A MOVIE

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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!

Links Bar Added to Blog

BY CYNDI GREENING, PHOENIX, ARIZONA, USA - If you look to the lower right side of this blog, you will see that we have added a links section to make it easier to get to sites and blogs of importance. Email me other links of importance and we'll get them up, too.

May 29, 2006

Keeping The Momentum Going

BY CYNDI GREENING, PHOENIX, USA - It's Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. That's a national holiday. While many people are at the beach with friends or having a cookout, I'm at the keyboard, working to keep the momentum going. On my personal blog, I wrote about how producing requires that one serve the needs of so many groups. As we approach the departure date, the amount of work to do just seems to grow exponentially.

When I am working on film projects, I tend to think of them like children. BAD TIMING was "born" (to me) in January, when Jabbes came to see me after I returned from the Sundance Film Festival. I agreed to take on "raising" this project. For the first several months, it was just the two of us. We discussed the script, logistics, possible futures for this little Zambian baby.

We drew in the initial crew. Mike, Carlos and Lindsey came on board to help with the filming of the backstory for the documentary (VOICE OF AN AFRICAN NATION) about the making of the film. We captured Jabbes' early thoughts on the film and his goals for it when it "matured" into the first Zambian feature film. We had already seen his digital story, My Journey: From Zambia to Arizona and Back Again in which we learned about the tragic loss of his son and how that propelled him to do the film and help establish the film industry in his name.

Now, we're in the "teen" years with the film and it is having some growing pains. Teenagers, you may recall, want to be totally independent. They think they can do everything on their own and they are often running about with their peers. As the parent of a teenager, I have found that teenagers need more attention and more effort than younger children. Likewise, BAD TIMING needs a lot of attention right now and sometimes it's a bit unruly. It's getting bigger and harder to handle. It can get into all sorts of things it never used to be able to get into ... it was just too small. Now, as the public profile of the film gets larger in the United States and in Zambia, there are things that change daily ... more opportunities, challenges, responsibilities and tasks to manage.

While I tend to think more money would make it easier (bigger crew, more equipment, easier to buy things, maybe hire some of the other tasks out), the truth is that this is "our baby" and we're trying to grow it up "right" ... according to what we believe it should be in the world. We want it to contribute to Zambia, to be a great film that is entertaining and enriching, to help people see they might want to visit Zambia and film there.

Principal photography begins July 3rd in Lusaka, Zambia. At that point, we will grow BAD TIMING into the film it is going to be in the world. It is the point at which the film stands on its own and greets the world as the thing it is. We're doing everything we can to make it a success. I hope it makes us proud.

May 26, 2006

KWACHA AND USD

It has been difficult to write in the blog the last couple of days. We have been working on the press kits and revised budgets for both the feature film and the documentary. Since Cyndi has never been to Zambia, I have been helping her with the cost of filmmaking in my country. We have been doing everything from planning location fees to converting prices from Kwacha to U.S. Dollars. I believe I will be able to write a more reflective entry soon.

May 24, 2006

OUR GROUP iPOD

iPodCrew.jpgiPods are not so common in my country Zambia. We do have them, but not common. Perhaps it is because they are too expensive for most ordinary people. I mean why spend one's hard earned 200 bucks on an ipod where you will be listening to music alone, and yet people live a communal life. It just doesn't make sense, though as for me, if I had enough money, I would definitely buy one.

iPods are the main thing here in the United States, almost everyone must have an iPod. Sometimes I would sit and look at young students very excited humming or sometimes shaking their bodies to music that only them could hear. I would always think "THAT'S CRAZY".

One wise person said, "Those who dance are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music".
Yes, when you see other people excited or even dancing to music that you cannot hear, you think they are crazy or insane. Little did I know that one day, I would also be listening to music that other people sitting close to me cannot hear.

When Cyndi and I agreed to work together on this project, I hurriedly walked out of her office as humble as you know me to be, but the moment I was out of her sight, I jumped and danced with excitement. I have no iPod, but I was excited. Some people saw me, and I think they must have thought am a lunatic. I don't care.

Over a period, as Cyndi got more and more into the project, moving it from a small idea to ideas that will change lives of million people, she too has become so excited and crazy. In fact she has brought more excitement and craziness to the idea. We started seeing a greater picture of the project that no one else could see. Jeanette Roe, another MCC Media Arts teacher, joined the vision. When I had a chance to meet the College Vice President, I could see the excitement in her and the anticipation of success. On Monday, I met Rodney Holmes, the Dean of Instruction, who will be coming to Lusaka as well. He was so excited and already had a clear picture of how to get into Zambia from here, definitely he has been doing research.

Now I cannot even explain the excitement that is among students who are part of this project, and just how anxious they are to make a life changing contribution to my Zambia. I have spent some time with Mike Montesa, a great Cinematographer, and he seems just ready to abandon his profession for the meantime, just to make sure that this project is a success. Another great Cinematographer I've come to meet, Carlos Espinosa, is a very quiet, modest guy, and the only words I've heard from him are "Hi" and "Zambia". I did not know that Robby Brown had another job, because every time he has to work on our project, he is always there, so committed to the vision.

I always thought there is little information about Zambia here, until Monday when I was suprised to find Heath McKinney and Jason Werner with books on Zambia. I was like "Where did you get these books from?" One thing that humbled me is the commitment by everyone to know more about Zambia. Alec Hart is a quiet and shy guy, and should have been in New York by now, but he has opted to be part of the vision to change Zambia's image to the world. On Monday, I could not believe when he told me what all the colors of the Zambian flag stand for.

When I first produced my Digital Story, I did not find it to be so touching, but I think Jeniece Toranzo beat me pants down on my own production. When I saw the re-edited version that she produced with Cyndi's guidance, I felt glows of tears in my eyes. I just loved the commitment she put into the work. I wasn't suprised though because her first production in class was equally good, and I remember telling her that one day we should work together. I have lately developed so much liking for MK Racine. It is not easy to satisify Cyndi, because she always wants perfection, and things to be done at supersonic speed, but MK manages to handle her. Tell MK an idea, she tells you how it's gonna be done.

I first met Katie Greisiger at the Phoenix Film Festival when Cyndi introduced me to her. I have been so humbled at the level of commitment and the drive she has in making sure that she gives the productions as much publicity as possible. She makes a difference. Lindsey Black is my sweet girl. From the first time we met during a recording session with Cyndi, she has been so encouraging. She even gave me the book "The Prayer of Jabez" so as to motivate me. Its a great book. She is so sweet.

Recently, we had a meeting and I met Shawn Downs. Though he is just finishing high school, he has been earning dual enrollment at Mesa Community College. He is young but very excited about film. His excitement for Zambia is growing.

One things binds us together - we share the same vision, we have the same passion, we are all committed, we are all hearing the same music - the music of success. Some people might think we are just crazy, indeed we are crazy because they do not hear the music that we hear. The sweet thing about us is that so many people, one iPOD, one song, one dance. If all of us can hear the music so loud, then we cannot all be wrong. For BAD TIMING or VOICE OF AN AFRICAN NATION, an award is sure coming our way. Cyndi's GROUP iPOD.

May 21, 2006

THE PRAYER OF JABBES

Jabbes 1.jpg"If you view all the things that happen to you, both good things and bad things as opportunities, then you operate out of a higher level of consciousness." - Les Brown -

One day I was crying and asking God "WHY?", but now am smiling and am not asking God "WHY?" That is why I have come to believe that sometimes even bad things may happen to us in order to provide us with an opportunity, the only problem is that we spent all our time crying and trying to find who is wrong so that we know who to blame. You have to let go of your most valued seed and bury it into the ground in order for you to get a harvest.

On this blog, I will in the next couple of weeks give you details of what inspired me to undertake this project and what I have and what I will be going through as we move towards the day when we shall be premiering BAD TIMING. I will give you my inspiration and motivation factors, and of course I will also pay glowing tribute to those that have contributed in any way, greatly or least, positively or negatively.

This being my very first posting, I think I should give you a loose-may of the beginning. Am not talking about the beginning of my vision, but the beginning of God's involvement in this project. The idea came a long time ago, but I invited God much later. As I was in the process of putting together my plans and preparing a project proposal, I suddenly found myself going through a lot of stress. My personal life was breaking up, I had problems back home, I was facing a lot of financial difficulties, one of my very dear and close friends who inspired me, was distancing herself from me. Things were just not going on well with me.

Just at about that time, I talked to Cyndi Greening and Dr. Edgar Ngoma about Executive Producing me, and they both agreed to give me their full commitment. With that commitment in offing, I thought of involving God in my plans. I dedicated the whole month of February to praying for success, I spent half an hour everyday giving the same kind of prayer.

1 Chronicles 4: 9-10 : : Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabes, saying I gave birth to him in pain. Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, "Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my territory. Let your hand be with me and keep me away from harm so that I will be free from pain." And God granted his request.

I cried out the same prayer everyday, reminding God that am also Jabez(s) and that I needed Him to grant my request. I dedicated my plans to God asking him to enlarge them. I asked for the greatest support that only Him cane give. I gave this prayer everyday for the whole month of February. I was also mindful that even the greatest people in the Bible met obstacles, and I knew that at some points I may meet these obstacles. I remembered to recite the prayer of David in Psalms.

Psalms 23 : : "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want ............ Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they confort me .......... Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

I should admit that God prepared me for the project. I told myself that it's going to be tough and that sometimes I may break down, but God will be with me all the way. A dear friend Lindsay Black (Linz) gave me a very valued present - The Prayer of Jabez. It is a highly motivating book, I should admit.

I never get suprised when I see the kind of commitment that Cyndi, Jeanette and all the students are putting into the project. Cyndi has become my Mum, Sister, Partner, Instructor, Friend, Producer and just anything. When God moves a car, He takes away the brakes so that it does not stop until when He accomplishes His plans. I should admit that the support and attention that I get from everyone involved is way beyond what I had expected. All in all, I just say God forgive me because sometimes I work so hard and I end up so tired that I give little time to God. However, to Him be the Glory forever and ever.

Later in the week, how it all started.