PETER KAWA: On film making in Kenya

Kindly introduce yourself to us

As of last year, I started to proudly introduce myself as a multi award winning actor after scooping two Best Actor awards within a span of two months. I am a film/ stage director and producer, a father and husband. I have 15 years of experience in the arts industry.

So Bw. Kawa, how did you get to be the award-winning actor you are today? Was the journey easy?

Nothing in this arts sector is easy. Actors face rejection so many times especially during auditions, but one needs to have grit and mettle. I have been in more than a dozen productions and been commended for my performances but everyone has always wondered why I have never won an award for it.

This was until I realised most of the films and programmes I had been participating in were on international platforms, so the local audience didn’t know much about me. Things started taking a different tune when I deliberately started working on local productions and even better, some of the previous shows were bought by local stations as second copyright. That is how the accolades started coming in.

So, what was the inspiration behind Spearhead Entertainment? And what services do you offer?

I wanted to have control of my own storytelling devices. I realised many productions were bent on creating content that didn’t really grow the local arts sector. Spearhead came to solve just that.

Our first major product was a TV show called Sanaa Talks which majored on conversations around the arts in Kenya. We sought to have conversations that improve the state of our engagements before we claim to be part of a growing industry. Since then we have co-produced a couple of short films, and a feature film that will premiere in October, 2019.

Part of the services we offer is film production, casting talent management and online curation of art products through Sanaa Post.

Any recent project you have been involved in? And which, can you say, has been your favourite film you have featured thus far?

Lost In Time is a feature film that I just wrapped. It marks my feature directorial debut. It is my darling at the moment. As an actor, the role that has always tagged at my heart strings is Oscar on a local show called Sumu La Penzi. This role opened doors for me in the industry.

Most of the links to my works can be found in my profile.

Mwangaza Magazine | Mwangaza Magazine

Why do you think the Kenyan film industry is still lagging behind in terms of viewership as compared to our Tanzanian and Nigerian counterparts?

Tanzania and Nigeria, in my view, have an undying loyalty to what is truly theirs. However bad it may be. This gave room for practice and improvement of their skills and products.

Unfortunately, the Kenyan audience is very unforgiving, meaning producers tend to shy away from engaging in the craft until they get the right resources to do anything, so there is limited productions being churned out in the market in the end as compared to our counterparts.

I am an aspiring actress. What advice would you give some of us who don’t know exactly where to start? Do you have platforms for new talent?

Attend as many auditions as possible. Read widely and equip yourself adequately as you continue working on landing your big break. Don’t give up. Invest in a bio, showreel (monologues), professional headshots etc. They set you above the rest.

Consider signing up on Sanaa Post for free to showcase your works. Trust me, it has good traffic by industry practitioners hence visibility.

Who do you look up to in the comedy industry?

Interesting enough, I have always enjoyed watching a local artist called Nice Wanjeri of the famous Auntie Boss show.

Some of us have scripts that are gathering dust. How can we get our stories to be made into movies?

Many of the writers I have met are always afraid of copyright theft, so they prefer to horde their works so they never get to see the light of day. I say, copyright the work and be courageous enough to partner with a production house or friends who have the same passion but with different skill sets and shoot.

Also, pitch to any writers’ guilds you know that can help scout for potential producers.

Can a Kenyan actor make a living from acting alone? Or, they need to have a side hustle?

Unfortunately no. For now, many of us are doing multiple gigs to ensure bills are paid. That does not mean there are those that don’t make a living off acting alone. One day, this will be a thing of the past. THen we can hopefully see the end of people asking us, “Apart from acting, what else do you do?”

This arts business is unlike many mainstream whitecollar jobs. We have no pension, retirement plans set aside for us and in many cases no medical care plans that depend on deductions. Meaning, one has to be disciplined enough to start saving way in advance for a rainy day. And this is done by investing heavily where possible.

Mwangaza Magazine | Mwangaza Magazine Peter Kawa poses with an award

What challenges do you face currently as an actor/director?

Many producers assume with my experience, I am expensive and that has led to me missing out on many opportunities.

As a director, you also never get to comfortably pull off your vision because of budget constraints. We look forward to the time our government and corporate firms will invest in the film sector.

So what next for Peter Kawa in the coming years?

Through Sanaa Post, I want to fully venture into creative entrepreneurship and talent management especially as of next year. Acting might just end up as a side hustle. I am already in business and the Sanaa Post platform is undergoing some renovations to add the best features yet.

So, what is your parting shot, Bw. Peter?

Many people are giving up on the trade, and rightfully so. Times are getting hard. But good things always come those that wait, and not just wait, but keep at it, however hard matters get.

Many friends we started out with gave up on the way. Right now they see the little success I have achieved then they want back in. The bad thing is, it is like they have to start afresh to get the audience attention. Stick in there and one day, it shall pay dividends. Invest, don’t be reckless. Fame is sweet. Be responsible

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