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Opportunity for screenwriters

ARTS & CULTURE
By Lucas Wafula | July 18th 2015

The Writers Guild of America strike that lasted 100 days, from late 2007 to early 2008, cost Hollywood billions of dollars. That underlines the importance of writers in film productions. Oddly, we never think of a film as a written script that is eventually turned into motion pictures. Actually, many people think more about the actors than the script writers. The bottom line is, without script writers, there won’t be films, and this is where you come in, as a writer.

Last week, KTN launched a 24-hour channel for East Africa; such a welcome development. The question is how does it affect you as a writer? While attending a Creative Economy conference, Dr Bitange Ndemo opined that our local television stations do not have enough local content.

Certainly, this is true; just think of the number of local programmes that you watch on television – we are bombarded with Mexican Soap Operas. The reason for this is that there isn’t local content to our TV stations. Inasmuch as local television stations would like to air Kenyan programmes, there isn’t enough. Don’t you think this is an opportunity for you as a writer?

The truth is that not many publishing houses publish plays. So, why not turn that play into something that can be enjoyed by Kenyan television viewers? You will be surprised at how many people desire to watch Kenyan movies, soaps, comedy, and so forth; what they can relate to. What makes writing scripts on local issues more interesting is that, you write what you are familiar with. Even though, it is not just easy peasy; there are a few things you may want to consider as you embark on this adventure.

First, your work must be authentic. Have you ever heard of Kenyans talking of coffee in Brazil, when there is coffee in Kiambu? Well, it would be near comical, if not stupid, for anyone to write a Kenyan play set in the Antarctica! While writing for the Kenyan audience, focus on what affects people locally. Look around you for inspiration. Think of the adventures that turn tragic and how people survive hardships.

For instance, a story on how Kenyans survive famine or floods might turn out great inspiration. How about the human-animal conflict? However, as I have said before, focus on that which evokes emotions in people, not the facts. For example, famine and deaths due to famines are facts. However, it touches people if a woman slaughters the family dog and feeds her children to save them from death due to starvation.

Secondly, you must think of the quality of your script. This is no longer the skit you acted in school; this is content meant for National consumption. Your audience will expect you to have researched your topic well enough and to be able to handle it conclusively, with ease. If you are focusing in satirising corruption then you must ensure that the viewers see it. Those that are corrupt should laugh at themselves and then realise that what they are doping is wrong hence, change.

The language that you employ must be acceptable because it observes rules of grammar. However, it must have an aesthetic value to it. You must sprinkle your script with a few figures of speech and infuse local languages to ensure your audience identifies with it. Ask yourself what you identity will be. It could be that you are known for say, humour – ensure you do not disappoint your audience.

One of the qualities that even our local comedy is increasingly lacking is humour. How many times have you watched comedians and wondered when you are supposed to laugh. Life is tough for many people and they would like to unwind, laugh, have a good time, and breath of fresh air – encounter something new. If your work can achieve this then you have a huge following waiting for you out there. It takes time and hard work but eventually, it will be worth your while.

Your work should not only entertain but be useful to your audience. I keep on going back to our folktales any time I talk about this. After enjoying a fable or a trickster narrative, we are always asked, what the moral of the story is. At this level, however, it is not about the moral but what your work – themes – addresses.

For example, if you focus on famine, you will be exposing the plight of the victims and hopefully someone can come to their aid. If you focus on corruption, you will be telling your audience that this is a cancer we should all stand against. You audience must take home something from your work, which must be beautiful and at the same time, useful.

Finally, always remember quality sells and no one likes copycats – aspire to the best authentic writer and not a ‘brand-new-second-hand’. You must invest a bit in training in order to be better placed to play this role and you exploit this opportunity. Network and learn from those who went ahead of you.

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