It seems a life time ago, yet it was only 2006. I was nearing my thirtieth birthday, and I had failed to make it as a novelist. I had to rethink my future, my ambitions, either give up on the dream or breath new life into it. I chose the latter. I set my sights on making films. This is a story I’ve told many times before, and I don’t want to repeat it here, but December 2006 is the time I directed my first film. A one minute movie that I wanted to be a horror. An old fashioned kind of horror where a girl discovers a monster under her bed, and it eats her up.
An amateur video.
At that time, I was still in this phase where I wanted to write only dark fiction, digging into the darkness of humanity and spilling whatever I found onto paper and screen. But my attempt came out a comedy. Most comments I got was that “it’s very funny.” No one told me “Oh my. It’s so scary.”
A few months earlier, I had my feature script accepted into the Maisha Film Lab. Many experienced mentors read it, and gave me a lot of advice on how to develop it, but I would like to thank Steve Cohen (writer of The Bachelor, 1999) and Sabrina Dhawan (writer of Monsoon Wedding) for making me see that my gift is not to make horror stories, but rather comedies. After reading my script, Steve asked me; “What genre is this?” and I replied, “It’s a horror.” Well, to me, it looked like a horror. There was a Monster (who I called Felistas, after the first woman who fired me from my first job — I thought she was such a monster that I wrote two stories about her) and this Monster wanted a man to love her, but which man could love such an ugly woman? Well, she kidnaps a man (in the process killing witnesses to cover her tracks, there is a lot of blood) and she forces this captive to become her lover. More like a sex slave. Oh my, I thought it would be the scariest movie ever told. But when Steve read this script, he told me, “No way, Dilman. This is not a horror. This is a romantic comedy.”
|Rehema and Geoffrey audition for The Felistas Fable|
I was angry for a few hours. How can he disrespect my work like that! It’s a horror! Can’t he see the violence? Can’t he see the blood flowing down the village paths when the monster slays men like they are flies? And I asked myself the question every writer will ask anyone who gives a negative review of his work; Did he even read the script?
|Joannitta and Isaac audition for The Felistas Fable|
Well, the good thing about me is that I am not fixated on the ‘works of art’ I create. I do not hold onto them as though they are made of stone and therefore not changeable. I looked at the story the way this guy was looking at it, and it struck me that yes, it’s really not a horror. It’s a romantic comedy. He accepted to be my mentor, and we wrote the script together for the next five years until a few months ago when I started writing the shooting draft.
In 2007, I made my first professional attempt at directing. Again, when the actors read the script, they told me “It’s so funny.” And again, I was furious, but only for a few minutes. I told them gently, “Well, it may be funny, but it is a dark comedy. Do not play it funny.” The result? What Happened In Room 13, a story that you watch and want to laugh, but then you catch yourself and say, “I shouldn’t be laughing at this.” (Click Here to Watch it free)
During the auditions for Room 13, I remember a face I’ve never forgotten. We had only one afternoon to pick actors. There were three of us, Wanjiru Kairu (Must Be A God Christian Girl), James Gayo (The Trip, but more famous for his cartoon strip, Kingo) and me. Since my script had no dialog, I did get chance to have actors read scenes from the script. I had to watch others do the two scripts I’ve mentioned in this paragraph, and hope to get the right actors.
Well, it was nearly 6pm, and there was a crowd of actors wanting to get in. I don’t know why, but one particular face stuck in my memory. The disappointment in the face, as he walked away without being given a chance to audition. If I close my eyes, I can still see the expression on his face, in the dimly lit corridor of Grand Imperial Hotel, the dark face, the white teeth showing through his lips as he gaped into the audition room, begging for a chance…. The face belonged to Isaac Kudu (Kuddzu Isaaq, however he wants his name to be spelt!)
|A face that is hard to forget!|
Five years is a long time in this business, and he did get opportunities in other projects. Today, he is famous. He is one of the reason The Hostel TV series was so popular. I worked with him in The Hostel briefly, and even then I saw he could be the kind of man to lead The Felistas Fable. To play ‘the crying man’, who gets kidnapped by the monster.
This time, I gave him a special invitation to audition (as I did to many other actors who I thought would be good for the role) and he did not disappoint. I know he will bring the crying man to life.