“Never reduce your big idea to accommodate somebody’s small thoughts about it,” says Quincy Wandera, founder and co-owner of film production and casting company, iDeas Inc Studios.
When Quincy, 40, formed his company in 2011, he wanted to start a mobile film venture, screening classic movies like Sleepless in Seattle and Sound of Music in open grounds. After a year of consistent losses, he shelved the plan and reverted to his original specialty as a TV producer.
Eight years later, Quincy is one of the first Kenyan filmmakers to have a show picked up by a leading international company that focuses on digital content streaming.
He speaks with Hustle about his journey.
You co-own Ideas Inc Studios, who is the other owner?
Maggie Kiundi, a casting director who has worked on many big commercials and productions, including Hollywood films. I partnered with her in 2013. The first time I worked with Maggie, we were putting together a music show, similar to Tusker Project Fame or Pop Idol but we had added our own unique twist.
The show was picked up by Pepsi and we were at the point of getting the budget of $6 million (Sh600 million) approved. But Pepsi changed directors and a number of projects were benched. Ours was one of them.
How do you deal with the disappointments just before a big break?
Working in this industry you must learn to adjust, quickly. When I first broke away from my full-time job as a producer at a local TV station, I believed my idea for screening movies would work.
It was meant to be the Blankets and Wine for movies.
I plugged about Sh500,000 into the venture and ran up a loss of about Sh100,000 a month for a whole year. There was the temptation to keep going and see if we could turn things around, but a smarter voice told me to walk away. You need that instinct in TV.
Were you clear about what you would do next?
I reverted to writing and created a show that I walked around to a few broadcasters. Though they loved it, it was too expensive, and they all declined.
I was tempted to change the story and make it more affordable but thought better of that and decided to shelve it, in hopes that someday somebody would pick it up.
For the next year, 2012, I focused on smaller shows, selling one of them, Food Heaven to KTN. It was a show about the different ways food is cooked in Nairobi. We visited low and high-income homes, covering their meals and recipes. The show was a hit and lasted 52 episodes, each with a budget of Sh300,000.
We were also commissioned to do 60 episodes of other shows with an average budget of Sh200,000. iDeas Inc was working but I still had that dream of getting my big series funded. That is when I met Maggie. She is the one who told me not to settle for the small ideas; if I wanted to go big, I should go big. The best way to accomplish that would be to get access to players in the international space.
Did you have a plan?
She did. As a casting agent she had worked on blockbuster productions such as The Constant Gardener, Tomb Raider and The First Grader. Maggie’s idea was to leverage this access in our favour.
We did casting jobs together between 2013 – 2016. Our charges were $1,000 (Sh100,000) a day for Nairobi-based jobs, $1,500 (Sh150,000) outside of Nairobi and $2,500 (Sh250,000) for international jobs.
What was your biggest casting contract?
We had a number, working with clients like Samsung and Tusker. We were also part of a five-month project with nine nationalities shot in multiple locations including Amboseli.
In 2016, we were part of another six-month contract during which I informally pitched my show to some of the executives who flew in for the shoot. They told me to put something official together and send them an email.
Was this the same idea you had tried to pitch to local production houses?
Yes. By this time, I had written one season of 13 episodes. For this particular pitch, I was advised to give an arc for at least four seasons. I decided to take time out to work on the rest of the seasons. One year later, I was done.
Were you working alone?
No, I brought two writers on board: Serah Mwihaki and John Kararahe. We would brainstorm then I’d sit and write the episodes. I also read many books and watched films and series to learn what they had done right or wrong.
When we were ready, I sent the synopsis and episodic breakdown to the international production firm. They wrote back asking us to travel to Amsterdam for a pitch.
Was there a cost implication?
Yes. We had to pay our own way but honestly, this was nothing compared to what we stood to gain. Maggie and I spent a total of Sh350,000 which included our tickets, visa, accommodation and meals for a week.
What was the pitching experience like?
Nerve wracking. On the first day, we took them through the first season. We were told they’d only call us back for day two if they liked what they heard.
In the cab on the way back to the hotel, we got a call that they wanted to see us again.
I think this is when panic set in, because we were so close now. We went to a restaurant and thrashed out everything.
Day two was more intense because of the details we had to give. The one question that turned things around was when we were asked how the fourth season ends, and because we were prepared, we knew the answer.
They said yes to the show.
When do you start shooting?
Our scripts, cast and crew are ready, the budget has been approved, so once we complete a few other details on the financing, we will be good to go.
Your show will be accessible to over 136 million viewers. How does that feel?
Humbling, because I don’t consider myself a particularly big player in this space. Few people know my name but now my show will be screened around the world.
To make things even better, the company is paying us by international market rates; the budget is extremely good.
I stuck to my guns with my big story and big idea, it took eight years, but eventually, someone saw its worth and picked it up. Now, that’s opened avenues for me to pitch to other global film companies. It was a painful wait, but it’s paying off.