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Philippe Bresson: Top film director behind Changing Times, Single Kiasi

 Philippe Bresson [Facebook]

As a teenager, Philippe Bresson was what they call a 'geek'. He was deeply immersed in informing himself and getting educated about his future career, he says.

He had known from a young age what he wanted and had categorised it into plans A, B and C.

"Plan A was to become a music producer, plan B was to own an advertising company - so that meant I would shoot adverts and the like. Plan C was to go and become a successful footballer," he says.

He adds: "By 14 I already knew those were the three things, and I started working on them."

Fast forward to 2023 - he has been in the industry for 18 years as a renowned film director and producer, with a huge body of work under his belt.

From hit series like Single Kiasi, New Beginnnings, Changing Times, Mheshimiwa, as well as with a slew of adverts; Philippe has cemented his position as a formidable force in the industry.

It took passion and determination, because, as we learn, the film producer had to teach himself all that he knows- hence his seriously geeky teenage years.

"I literally taught myself. Maybe what I did not get, I had it inside me. I was built for it. It is God's gift. It was not easy because I had to learn the hard way. There was no YouTube which I could use to learn these things, using the software, editing and production," he says.

Speaking about the journey of educating himself, he adds: "I ended up becoming a bit of a geek, I had to crack software because I did not have the money to buy them, it was challenging, but I was so passionate."

There was a combination of factors that shaped Philippe into the successful producer and director that he is today. He says some ups and downs at home exposed him to both a privileged lifestyle and a rather average one, teaching him crucial lessons along the way.

"I had a taste of both worlds, we grew up rich and also poor. So I got to understand the life in Loresho, from Loresho we moved to Kilimani and then to Rongai," he says.

"Rongai was towards my teenage years. There, I met kids who were talking about serious things and it was a whole new experience. That really shaped my life- because they were very business-oriented and spoke about very important things. Whereas the ones in the other place (Kilimani), they were talking about X boxes and video games and those kinds of things."

Philippe's stepmother had been taken ill and needed major surgery and other treatments, and this forced his father to make financial sacrifices that would turn their life upside down.

"Dealing with that meant that he had to sell his house and downgrade," Philippe says, adding, "that period of my life helped me grow up and showed me new things. Because that's when I really started understanding who I was and what I wanted to do."

It was the beginning of a journey of research, practice and self-expression. He was a dreamer, always lost in his own little world, fantasizing about the time he would be a successful film director.

He says: "I was a creative before even being a creative was creative. I was piercing my ears, and braiding my hair, and my dad understood who I was and he would let me do these things. He would tell me, 'as long as you are not doing drugs and you're home on time, I will let you do all those things to express yourself.'"

And as he dived into chasing his passion in those early days, he would do whatever he needed to begin building his dream career.

"At around 14, I 'stole' my sister's money from the bedroom- we used to share a bedroom in Rongai. I did that to get myself a laptop, which was the first thing I needed in my journey as a producer," he says.

"I was like if I get a laptop, my career is going to pop. Weeks later I had to tell her 'hey I stole the money, I bought a laptop and I will pay you back one day.'"

And that's how a young Philippe began actively practising his craft. He began producing music for friends in the neighbourhood. As he started out, he sourced software from cybercafes and went home to practice on his new laptop.

"I was producing songs for the children in the neighbourhood at 17, 18 and 19. Back then, you needed to have a great music video so that it could be played on The Beat."

"Back then, YouTube haikuwa imeshika. So for music to get played on The Beat, you had to have a banging music video," he says.

And some of his early music videos made it to the popular music show, encouraging him to fully dive into the industry.

Philippe has a filmmaker cousin who would lend him cameras to shoot with.

"It was exciting to have some of my videos played on the show because The Beat was very selective in the quality of videos they would accept to play. It was music that I had produced and videos that I had shot," he says.

Now, Philippe is all grown, standing at a towering 6'2, still the same expressive person with long locs falling down to his shoulders. He runs his own production company, Insignia Productions.

He says he did not go to university because of the monetary challenges he faced, but that didn't stop him from achieving his dreams.

"I met a young lady called Jennifer Gatero who was at a film school, and she used to shoot documentaries. She would ask me to come along and help, so I would set up the shots for her. She always told me that I have an eye," he says.

"She was also a very talented writer, she had written Better Days at the age of 14 years. Because we were doing all these documentaries and stuff, we had started forming a company," he says.

As they worked together on the documentaries, Philippe met one Mwalimu Mati, a popular activist. Mati hired the young director to set up a news outlet.

Philippe says: "I called Jennifer and a few other people and put together a team of six. That is how we officially began film. Jennifer was my number two. She got a call from KTN, who wanted her to pitch for a show."

"At the time, KTN was looking to air more local shows. Jennifer told me she had a dope script, but lacked the resources to shoot at the time. So I told her because we were partners, I would put together a trailer for us."

That was the birth of the popular show Changing Times, which famously raised a generation of celebrated media personalities and actors, like Joey Muthengi, Brenda Wairimu, Ian Mugoya, Joy Kendi and more.

"When we founded insignia, we believed in quality and we wanted to be different. We were not just producers- I was also a director of photography at the time. We felt that we could really change the industry by providing high-quality audiovisuals," he says.

The producer describes the experience of creating Changing Times as exciting, noting that the quality of production was top-notch, paving the way for greater heights in the local film production industry.

"It was a college drama and we were competing with some big MNET shows. But the quality of the production was really good. We needed to have cash flow to keep it going, but we really thrived on just passion."

And the good-looking cast was no coincidence- rather it was a deliberate move made during casting.

"Looks were definitely a factor- you know, if we are writing about a hot boy, there is no way you are going to convince me that a not-good-looking guy is going to play a hot boy. It was very cultural, very cool. It is almost like what we are doing now with Single Kiasi," he says.

Philippe says he and Jeniffer Gatero parted ways amicably after Changing Times, and he has since had a new business partner.

The revamped Insignia team went on to do projects like Mheshimiwa, Prem and Comedy Club.

The producer says his catalogue currently consists of over ten hit shows locally, as well as adverts for organisations like Cartoon Network, Aljazeera, Google and Diamond Trust Bank.

He is currently working on the third season of Single Kiasi, and he explains that getting the show to have the stellar look and feel is a calculated effort by a team of creatives.

"It's about the look, how the characters will dress, how the world will exist, and that is why Single Kiasi looks the way it does. Many producers who do not do that, who just cast and shoot, make a crucial mistake. We consider what cameras, and lenses we want to shoot with, the music we want to use and the entire thing."

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