For a few years now, I’ve thought about founding a collective for artists, particularly filmmakers based in Uganda, and this year I finally did it. I’ve floated the idea to others, and we had an online meeting on 10th November, and so I write this little article to summarise what we talked about, to explain why I thought a collective is necessary, how a filmmaker can participate, and benefit. In broad strokes, the collective is a non-profit organisation with the overall objective of easing the burden of production and enable a lot more people to make a lot more good films. Filmmakers who join will have opportunities to learn and practice, as well as access to equipment, funds, and crew, which will be pooled in by others in the collective.
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Why I created the film collective
I picked the name Sisi Film Collective after asking for opinions, including a poll in the fediverse. People liked the sound of Sisi, which translates to ‘Us’ in Kiswahili, because it has a musical feel. Perhaps it makes you think of “Cissy”, or “Sissy” as in sister. So that’s the name. Nothing much more to say about it other than the organization needed a descriptive name.
But why did I create it? First, for bureaucratic reasons. My company, Dilstories, is a profit making organization. However, since 2017 I’ve run non-profit activities, mostly trainings with the support of The DOEN Foundation and more recently UNDP. This sometimes causes a headache when filing tax returns and so it made a lot of sense to establish a non-profit to continue these activities.
The big reason, though, is to help filmmakers grow, and easily produce work. I had a rough time when starting out and I want to make it easier for others. At first, I only wanted to be a writer, but struggled to get people to produce my work. So I forced myself into directing. I did well with What Happened in Room 13, and some people noticed me. I thought the jobs would flow in. Back then, around 2007, I worked in Kamuli with a development organization, earning a comfortable salary. Ellen, one of the biggest producers in Uganda at that time, encouraged me to quit that job, promising me employment as a director with her company. When I finally quit in 2008, I went to her office, but she said, “I have no job for you.” I was devastated. She was one of those who encouraged me to resign, now this? At that point, I decided to become a producer.
About fifteen years later, I’m running a fairly vibrant film production company with assets including film equipment and, arguably, Uganda’s first film studio (probably East Africa’s first). I find myself at the other side of the desk, the boss side, and filmmakers come to me; “I need a job.” Or they have ideas; “Please, produce this.” Some have scripts; “I have a script, are you buying?” I see my young and hungry self in their eyes, hoping for someone to open a door, any door. I’m not Mother Teresa, but I feel their pain, and don’t want them to cry the tears that I cried. I can open a door, a small one, but still a door.
I don’t have the energy to produce everyone’s story. I especially don’t have the heart for projects that are not comedies, or are not speculative fiction. But I still want to help. The solution? Start a collective and put in resources to make it easy for others filmmakers to collaborate, and produce their own stuff. Within this framework, I can help a lot more people produce a lot more work since I won’t be solely bearing the burden of production.
How will this collective sustain itself?
The only way this collective will grow and sustain itself is if filmmakers join and actively make stuff. Though a non-profit, it can venture into commercial projects on condition that profits are re-invested into the objectives of the organisation, which I discuss in the next section. Dilstories has stood on its own feet since 2011, and so surely this collective will generate enough income to survive on its own.
That said, Dilstories will offer its resources, equipment and studio, to members to ensure they have a starting point. And, I’ll offer my services. I think I’m a good writer, and I’ll gladly help anyone in the collective refine their scripts into something saleable. I’ll also offer producer mentorship. Hopefully, other experienced producers will join and pool in their own equipment, assets, and expertise, then the collective will truly take off.
I hope the collective will fund one project every year, either a feature film or a TV series. In the first year or so, I’ll have to provide these funds, and once the collective generates enough income of its own, the profits will be re-invested to finance future projects.
Why should anyone join this collective? What’s in it for a filmmaker??
Here are the objectives of the collective, and I hope they are enough to convince a filmmaker that this is worth their time.
Training is the most important. At a basic level, this is a classroom-workshop type, with beginners learning the ropes, or perhaps a filmmaker learns techniques in a new area. For example, an editor may want to learn cinematography. Training also means experienced filmmakers trying out new workflows, new techniques, new skills, since learning never ends. For example, a cinematographer might want to perfect their ability to light night scenes, or a director wants to get more experience working with actors. The only way they can do this is by making films, and the collective will make it possible to produce short films for learning purposes.
A second main objective is to enable producers to produce, and in the process creating jobs for crew. Producers will have access to equipment and studio facilities, as well as to experienced crew who are members of the collective. The idea is that the producer will pay for these services after selling their film. Thus the collective will make it possible to spread the risks of production over many people, rather than just one individual shouldering it all.
How can a filmmaker participate in this collective?
There are no hard rules. Filmmakers will give as much time as they can afford to. For example, a person may decide to participate in every project, another may participate in only a few projects, while yet another might say they can only offer so many days a week. In the end, it will depend on what the filmmaker wants to gain from the collective. We will probably have a rule of ‘help others to help you’. You can’t expect others to help you produce your film, yet you did not help them produce their film.
It’s tricky, I know, asking people to take risks for other’s dreams. In the initial phase, members will have to volunteer without expectations, but in the long run, it will be clearer what a filmmaker can gain upon the sales of a series, and hopefully we shall have crew working full time on the collective. With this in mind, I don’t see the collective rushing into big, commercial projects. The idea is to start with short films, which people can work on over the course of a day, or three at most, for us to develop a sense of community.
We have already piloted a project, a TV Series that we recently shot in Gulu, but this is because we have had a relationship with filmmakers in Gulu, since we have jointly had trainings since 2019. It is our pilot project, and its success, or failure, will inform on how to deal with future projects.
Membership. What are the membership options?
There are four types of membership. Associate Member is entry level, and may be students of film, hobbyists, amateur filmmakers, or anyone interested in a career in the film industry but do not yet have a credit in a professionally made film. These may include writers, stage directors, visual artists, and musicians. We define ‘professionally made’ as a film that has either screened at a festival, or been broadcast on TV, or shown in cinemas, or widely distributed in some way. Associate Members pay an annual fee of 50K UGX, and the advantage is access to trainings, learning opportunities, and networking.
Crew Members are those with a credit in a professionally made film. They’ll crew films produced within the collective. Producer Member are either writers, directors, or producers; people most likely to put together a project, and so will have access to equipment, crew, and studio facilities. Similar to Producer Member, is the Corporate Member, who are film production companies, or organisations invested in film and in the audiovisual industry.
Members will have to agree on a fee structure, with the minimum being 50K for Associate Member, and these fees will help cover the administrative costs of running the collective. For example, after members discuss to produce a film, they may need to file the minutes with URSB to make it legally binding, and there are charges and taxes to be paid in doing this.
What are the next steps?
From the meeting on 10th November, we agreed to form a steering committee to get things running. We have an application form already open, but formal registration will start in January 2024 after we have ironed out a few things about what it takes to be a member.
One filmmaker (Peter) emphasized there would need to be unity for the collective to succeed, and another (Andrew) asked about ensuring members are not used, or exploited. My initial thought is that for any member to have their project produced, they must have been active in the collective for a minimum of six months to avoid situation where people join for selfish reasons. It has to be a community, with a focus on community building rather than money making. As said above, the collective will also take cautious steps before taking on commercial projects. And, the collective may retain the rights of any commercial project produced under its umbrella so that members who give their labour or equipment expecting payment after sales are not taken advantage of.
On that note, not every film produced in the collective will benefit every member. Rather, only those who worked on a project will be the direct beneficiaries. In this sense, each film will be a subsidiary company and the crew will be the shareholders. For example, if the total budget of a film is one million, and the cinematographer is supposed to be paid 100K from the sales, then the cinematographer owns 10% of the project. Whether in perpetuity, or for a given period, will be up for the members to decide. Of course, the members will have to agree on the total budget and ensure the project runs within this budget.
These are the broad strokes about the collective. I’ll leave it to the members to shape and define what the organisation looks like, how it behaves and what it can offer its members. For now, if you are in Uganda and want to be a part of it, please fill this form. Or if you have any questions, then send an email to admin(at)sisifilmcollective(dot)org Or, if you want to apply to join, then please fill this form.
Now that you are here, I have a small favor to ask. I regularly make science fiction short films and I’m looking for your support. It’s very difficult to make it as a filmmaker in Africa, where there is virtually no market to encourage big film investments, and so any dollar you can spare will go a long way into changing things. Please pledge on patreon.com/dilstories You only pay after I make the film, and you can stop payments at anytime. For other options, like donating via mobile money or PayPal, please go here dilmandila.com/donate