- How does it feel to have your work seen in one of the world’s largest publications (especially on the cover)? And how were you involved in the shoot? Did you produce/design it and Vogue brought in their own photographers?
My name is Toni Kamau and I’m a producer and cofounder at On Screen Productions. On Screen productions is a line production and content production company based in Kenya. Apart from creating compelling character driven factual content for brands, NGOs and TV stations, we also facilitate foreign crew productions in Kenya. Our role on this project was Kenyan production services. We cast locations and extras, sourced local art materials and props, booked hotels, getting local crew and coordinating logistics. The key creative team was from vogue USA (Fashion editor Tonne Goodman) and the photographer was Mario Testino – one of the world’s leading high fashion designers. He has photographed Princess Diana, discovered Kate Moss and is really amazing at his job.
We loved watching him in action. He was a natural, and very charming and charismatic. He didn’t have any airs, despite being one of the most highly paid photographers in the world, and he knew how to get the right reactions out of the local school children, boda boda drivers and Lupita herself. We were basically in awe of him most of the time. We filmed on location in Kisumu so it was a bit challenging sourcing some simple things like catering, portable toilets and transport for the shoot, as there arent too many high end shoots that take place there.
- What does this mean for Kenya, both on a local and global stage, in terms of the creative industry?
This isnt the first high end photography or film shoot in Kenya. Lots of international teams work here. Sense8, the Netflix series was recently produced here, with Ginger ink as the local production company.
It’s amazing to get to work on these kind of projects as it helps in terms of raising standards and creating long lasting networks. The vogue team was impressed by the local teams professionalism across the board.
What I noted was that a lot of these high end fashion shoots are done in Zanzibar because of how well maintained public beaches and streets are. But we have better local capacity here.
What we need is better support from the government, in terms of streamlining licensing and work permits. You need several permits from different places to be able to carry out a shoot. And the KFCB seems keen on censoring the creative industry, which hampers growth and investment. I attended a meeting recently with creative industry stakeholders and KFCB where they were proposing the licensing, regulation and classification of the entire creative industry under one body. That will discourage foreign production companies from filming here and will also discourage corporates and brands from filming adverts and sponsoring TV Shows, so we cannot let that happen.
- How long has it taken you to get here and where do you see this taking you in the future?
We founded On Screen together with Sonia Maingi and Christine Kinyanjui almost seven years ago. We had very little money, but we really wanted to tell our own stories our own way. It’s been hard, building trust and relationships, but we have done a number of TV Shows for Zuku, including a documentary series across East Africa, created content for Al Jazeera, BBC World, CCTV Africa and working on corporate videos for Safaricom and M-Pesa Foundation, to name a few. Currently we are working on an exciting new show with Eric Omondi, so in prep right now. We love what we do, telling stories and get really involved and passionate when we take on new projects, whether corporate or creative. And we are about to work on an exciting TV series on youth sub cultures in Africa. Nairobi is the best base to tell the story of diversity and coolness and just general awesomess of youth in Kenya! I strongly believe that Stories, of all sort, have the ability to connect people from such diverse backgrounds, and many times we see ourselves in stories from places we have never even heard of. That’s magical, so happy to be part of creating a little magic in people’s everyday lives.
- What do you think about the Kenyan education policies around the arts? We at UP believe that without art as part of the national curriculum, the future of this country is compromised and only a certain “class” will be the creatives. What are your thoughts?
Art is a mirror in society. Painting, narrative fiction, music, film, photographs, documentary, are all stories that we tell as artists to the wider society. We see ourselves in these stories and know who we are, see where we have done well and envision where we can improve. Some people argue that we need to first develop infrastructure and the sciences and engineering fields before investing in the arts, but if a young girl doesn’t hear the story about an inspiring female like Wangari Maathai, how will she know that it is possible to be a change agent? Superpowers like the USA are great because of the stories they tell themselves. The narrative of David and Goliath (the underdog beating all odds to succeed), the great old American dream where you can rise from rags to riches as long as you work hard – they tell themselves these stories over and over again and that’s why Americans have a really strong sense of self belief s a collective. And we eat up their stories, through TV series, music and we talk like them, think a McDonalds burger is the best thing since sliced bread, and that Bey is the queen – it’s all cultural imperialism, which helps them further their economic and political agenda globally.
We passed the digital age a long time ago – now we are in the story age, and the person or collective with the best story wins pitches, wins arguments and wins at life. We need to ensure children engage in the arts as it teaches them to be better story tellers, and also people who can think creatively.Creative thinking is imperative for survival. When we lived in caves you needed to run faster than the lion hunting, now you need to think on your feet, provide creative solutions. Are we teaching our kids that in Kenyan schools? No, and we need to.
- Give us a snapshot of your best and worst moments on this shoot.
My worst moment was not carrying my shea butter to set so my natural hair was so brittle and dry throughout the shoot. The best moment was getting a lovely written thank you note from Lupita at the end of the shoot. She’s a sweetheart and has a lovely team of people working with her, as do we at On Screen.