My New Year resolution is to make a short film every month. I started very early, with this scifi/horror, What Happened to Jilted Lovers, and I hope to carry the momentum into the new year. I had this same ambition way back in 2008, the year I quit a salaried job to focus on writing and filmmaking. Back then, I didn’t achieve it because I had no equipment, filmmaking was way too expensive, and there was no market. Today, I have no excuse. Only motivation. And each film I make will be strictly for direct-to-consumer distribution online.
|Me, somewhere in Nothern Uganda,
making a documentary.
I’m not giving up on festivals, or on being discovered by the big players, I’m just not going to throw my energy and resources into that direction anymore. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s just that the films I make can’t get their attention. Or maybe there is a systematic bottleneck that ignores independent films produced in sub-Saharan Africa? Many indie films from Europe, America, or Asia, produced entirely in the country of origin, go on to make it big on the world stage, but I’m yet to see one produced entirely in sub-Saharan Africa, without a grant from the likes of World Cinema Fund, and without a co-producer from Europe or America attached, making it (and by making it I don’t mean a token selection in one or two or a few of the major festivals). This makes me wonder; Is it a reflection of the broader picture framed in neo-colonialism and imperialism? Is it a symptom of how the system perpetuates Africa’s dependence on the West?
In 2007, I made my first professional short film, What Happened in Room 13. Some people, who have had successful careers in Hollywood, saw it, and called it a masterpiece. With their connections, I submitted it to many festivals, without success. They put it in the hands of programmers, made sure the programmers saw it, but none of the festivals took it on. Only a few little ones bothered to show it.
I tried again, with my first feature film, The Felistas Fable, but I didn’t push that too much, for I had made a few mistakes in it, and I knew early on that it would not make it big internationally. So when I got making my second film, I played my cards right. I had made contacts with programmers at major festivals, and as they advised, I shared with them the script before going into production. Three of them read it, and gave me feedback. ‘Yes! If you shoot this film, it could be in our festival!’ they all said words to that effect. So I threw all my energy into production, using money I had made from working on Disney’s Queen of Katwe. Once I had a rough cut, I again contacted the programmers, and all three said; ‘Very exciting stuff! Send us the final cut by this date and we’ll consider it for the next edition of our festival.’ And again, I threw all my heart into the final cut, running very broke in the process. They were all kind enough to give me promo codes so I wouldn’t have to pay a fortune in entry fees. I was very excited. I knew one of them would say yes. My big moment had come. Alas. One by one, they said, ‘We liked it very much. Your film was shortlisted, your film was there right up to the last selection round, but unfortunately we got a high number of very high quality submissions blah blah blah…’
That was my wake up call. After the third rejection, I sat on my bed and thought hard about my career. It’s not that I’m a bad filmmaker. It’s not that these programmers lied to me. They surely loved my film and they surely thought it was the kind the big festivals would fall in love with. But so were a hundred other films. Sadly, festivals have only a very limited slot. They can’t accept all films they like. It had happened with Room 13. It was happening again. I felt suffocated. I felt like a bird without wings. What could I do? Keep waiting for a major breakthrough in the traditional platforms, or respond to the fact that my short film has attracted over six million views on YouTube?
This film is What Happened in Room 13, the same film the festivals rejected. People love it. People are watching it and sharing it and commenting on it. Over six million views! And above that, I get paid for Google runs ads on the film. Some months it’s as little as US $100. Other months it’s as much as US $600. Festivals wouldn’t pay me anything to show it!
The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to put energy into making films for YouTube, and other online platforms. If I have several that people are enjoying, and sharing, then my revenue might go well into thousands of dollars a month.
I have several ideas running through my head. The first, and the easiest to get off, is #HorrorRomance, a series of loosely interconnected films, told very much like What Happened in Room 13, dark, thrilling, no dialog, and with romance that goes horribly wrong. There’s a group of bad guys, The Clique of Jilted Hearts, who vow to avenge broken hearts, and who I hope will someday be as famous as SPECTRE. What Happened to Jilted Lovers, which you can see on youtube, sets the pace. Then I plan to produce Safari Nyota, a multimedia project featuring prose, a graphic novel, interactive fiction, and a film series. Safari Nyota is Kiswahili for ‘journey to the stars’, and it is about a pioneer space trip that goes horribly wrong. Being a little too expensive, that might wait a while. What I will produce alongside HorrorRomance is Fashion Fixer, a comedy series about a girl who fixes people’s relationships by advising couples on what to wear.
This is very ambitious Dilman, how will you manage? You might ask. That’s why I need your support. It’s simple. Subscribe to youtube.com/dilstories Watch my films. Share my films. Tell all your friends about them. And, you can support me on patreon. Patreon is a little bit like Kickstarter and indiegogo, but the contributions are not one-off. Instead, you get to contribute every time I make a film, and there are a lot of rewards for each contribution you make. For as little as $1 a film, you get stories, photographs, digital art, wallpapers, tutorials and behind-the-scenes, and many, many other cool perks. Head over to patreon.com/dilstories and give me wings to fly.
|Producing a TV series.|
|Filming a documentary in Biratnagar, Nepal|
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