TERRY OMBAKA: How to build a career in the acting industry

Career Feature

Kindly introduce yourself to us.

My name is Terry Ombaka. I am a Kenyan actress (screen,stage and voice), budding director and currently studying screenwriting. Currently, I act on Maria series as Naomi and as Mama Lavenda on The Real Househelps of Kawangware.

So Mdm Terry, what made you take this career path?

Ever since I was young, I knew I had a talent to tell stories. I wrote my first story at the age of 10 and loved to watch movies too. After school, it was by mere coincidence and I picked it up from there. I love what I do. It is my happy place.

How long have you been in the game?

It’s been more than 10 years, but I took a 5 year break and chose another career path. Along the way, I just couldn’t live a lie and made that very hard decision to follow my heart, but of course with more wisdom.

What made you leave the game? Has that changed after you’re back?

Back then, there were very few opportunities unlike now. Well, bills had to be paid, family needed to know what your plan in life is among many others. I was in Uganda and I worked in an office but it really bothered me that I wasn’t part of the growth in our industry. I used to hide from work to do film stuff then one day I knew I couldn’t do that anymore. I had to make a choice. It was a slow transition but it had to happen one day. Yes, a lot has changed and the growth is amazing. Nowadays, there are so many avenues to learn and grow as an actor.

So what goes into building a career in the acting industry? How does one get to be where you are today?

We call our craft a labour of love. If you don’t love doing this, don’t even waste your time because you will not be able to withstand the many dissapointments. It takes time, tears and a very strong will. You need patience, discipline and lots of networking, perfecting your talent and skills everytime you get a chance.

What are some factors to consider, if any, before taking a role in a play?

Ideally, the story. I like well told stories that challenge me as an actor. Will I grow as an actor? That is ideal. Apart from the above, I also look at the value. Value here being remuneration. Is it paying? I am a full time artist so if I take up a job it has to be worthwhile.

mwangaza | Mwangaza

Are there volunteer jobs in the acting industry?

Yes, very many. If you would like to do them, make sure you place yourself in strategic places: join actors’ groups on social media, follow popular producers and directors, attend workshops and film related events. Take contacts, ask to be an apprentice or work for free.

What is your advice for someone who wishes to venture into the industry?

Network. Build your talent. What are you doing to be better? Do monologues from movies, record and send to any legit director, friends who are actors and ask them to critique the recording. Attend acting workshops and look out for extra roles posts. When they say action, do it like your favourite actor is watching.

Also attend auditions. Many upcoming actors want the easy route. It is not there. You have to work. Be ready to do small roles. Be disciplined and humble. No one wants a rude slay king or queen on their set. Keep time.

Local shows like Maria and The Real Househelps of Kawangware have witnessed an upsurge in audience viewership. Can you say that the Kenyan audience is embracing local content? What can you attribute this to?

Yes. More people are embracing local content. I can attribute this to the technology era as there are more affordable options to watch local content and the high standards set by our predecessors. There is also more creativity as well. Stories are told in a way that an average Kenyan can relate to.

How can the Kenyan audience promote local content?

By watching, buying and following their pages and supporting their local artists and crew. We are still trying to get the average Kenyan to go watch local films in the cinema. It is hard but we keep pushing. If we support our own, we will not have boring foreign shows. That is why Nollywood is as big as it is through supporting their own. If we put value to our local shows, investors will be sure to get their return on investment. Let’s love our actors, support our shows.That way, we attract more investors.

Is the government doing good to the industry?

Making film is hard and expensive in Kenya. Ican boldly say KFCB is not doing what it’s supposed to do .For instance, if today I’m to shoot a short film of 5minutes, I will need about Kshs. 15000 just for licences. I have not paid any crew, cast, for location or equipment. It is even more expensive for Tv series and feature films as they incur daily licences. This is stifling creativity massively.

According to you, can the Kenyan industry, compete with the likes of Hollywood? What steps do we need to reach there?

Yes, we can. Kenyans are very intelligent and creative. We have the best actors, producers, directors and crew. What we need is;

  • Proper funding.

  • Removal of cartels that won’t let creatives work independently in story telling. Story is King. Once scriptwriters are used to being told ‘This can’t be bought by Kenyans, write this other one’, we are doing badly. This is a long shot but I hope someday it happens.

We also need better laws for the industry. The government takes a lot from Kenyan filmmakers in terms of taxes and licences but give back very little. Actually none. We need to see these government bodies offering exchange programmes to the countries where they tour, offer equipment or workshops among others. We need more value.

The industry stakeholders from the actor to the producer need to align themselves and have proper guilds and associations that represent them. The reason why sometimes substandard content finds its way to our screens is because we don’t have proper structure. Without structure, there cannot be standards.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

I see myself acting in or directing an epic Kenyan series for the international market.

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