Talented actor steals another show by establishing a production firm that is slowly (but surely) earning a name in the market
The film industry is big business. Top Hollywood names like Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman have minted millions of dollars in their acting careers. Nollywood celebrities like Omotola Jalade and Genevieve Nnaji have also earned a fortune from the industry. Locally, the Kenya Film Commission(KFC) is putting a lot of effort in order to grow the industry. Towards that end, last year, KFC provided grants for making local films. But we are not yet in the big league. We are not yet out of the woods. Our own Riverwood maybe slowly getting its act together, but it is still a small player in the lucrative film business compared to Hollywood and Nollywood. On average, Kenya makes less than ten films per year. That is a drop in the ocean compared to Nigeria which makes about five films daily. The West African country has grown its film industry by telling simple stories on issues affecting her people on a daily basis like love and revenge. The plots are simple but captivating. These stories are told in Nigerian Pidgin English, hence making them authentic and fresh. As a country though, we are not short of talented actors and actresses who are capable of putting us on the global map. Nick Mutuma is one of them.
Disciplined, meticulous, ambitious and highly focused, Nick has been in the creative industry for the last twelve years. He began his journey as an actor. He has taken part in several award winning television shows like Tabasamu on Citizen TV. But his big break came from the MTV’s Shuga show. “That was a very popular show that focused on the lives of young people…their self-discovery journey and unapologetic nature,” he says. The show explored issues that are considered taboo by the society (but which largely affect the lives of the youth) like unprotected sex as well as HIV and AIDS. It won several awards like the Africa Magic Viewers’ Award and the 2019 Africa Best TV series. “During that show, I realized that I have a passion for storytelling and I therefore decided to be part of the change in the Kenya film and television industry,” says Nick.
That is how Nick’s journey as an entrepreneur begun. Slowly, he started venturing into production by teaming up with other investors. But soon he realized that in order to have a major breakthrough as a producer, one should have the biggest stake in the investment. Additionally, one needs a lot of knowledge in production. Unfortunately at that time, his knowledge in production was limited. This puzzle was solved when Nick got an acting ticket to the United States of America (USA). “While in the US, I started exploring my passion in production and I got an internship in the field,” he says. “That is when I realized that there is no big difference between the production business in Kenya and the US – we also have the necessary skills sets and professionals locally,” he adds.
When he came back to Kenya, Nick established a production firm; namely Giraffe Africa Productions. It is based in Westlands – Nairobi and it has been in business for the last three years. “We pride ourselves in telling African stories in a way that dignifies Africa,” he quips. The firm specializes in film, documentary and TV commercials production. Last year, it produced a film – Sincerely Daisy. It was the first one in Kenya to be featured on Netflix. The idea to produce this film came from a TV reality show that was organized by Giraffe Africa and Star Times. It was written by Natasha Likimani and directed by Nick. Their objective was to have Sincerely Daisy premier in the local cinemas but they could not achieve that after the outbreak of Covid-19 in March 2020. But as luck would have it, Netlix was shopping for Kenyan film content at that time and the opportunity was taken by Sincerely Daisy. “The Netflix team loved the film’s trailer and the rest as they say is history,” notes Nick.
Sincerely Daisy is a coming of age story of a young Kenyan girl who is eager to explore the world after finishing high school. Seventy per cent of the script is in Kiswahili, hence giving this film a Kenyan flavour. “We are happy because our voices are on the international platform and the reception from our viewers has been good,” says Nick. That is the biggest achievement of Giraffe Africa Productions to date.
Giraffe Africa Productions as a business can be categorized as a small and medium enterprise (SME). The firm is still in its infancy stage but it has been able to put up a sterling performance at the marketplace. It has for instance been retained by a leading blue chip company to produce its branded content.
The firm gives employment opportunities to young Kenyans. “Most of our staff members are aged below twenty five years and we have created for them a platform through which their ideas are able to come to life,” says Nick. In that breath, Giraffe Africa has an internship programme with the Kenya School of Film. “We are interested in tapping talented young people who have the zeal, passion and drive to excel,” he avers.
Nick affirms that his three year journey as an entrepreneur has been very fulfilling. “I wear two hats in my business – production and directing,” he says. “I spent the first year pumping a lot of money into the business in order to set up a production suite and also build a solid relationship with my crew and prospective clients,” he adds. Most of the work in that year was pro bono. Indeed, Nick recalls spending a handsome amount of money to shoot and produce an hour feature film which he posted on You Tube in order to make an entry into the highly competitive market. “The film was a game changer in the market since it attracted over 1.8 million views on You Tube, “he avers. Having built a good reputation as a TV actor, playing in the production and directing space was a natural progression for the creative artist.
Although he has no formal training in production (apart from the internship in the US), Nick is at home with the business. Having been involved in major TV and film productions for many years, he has picked invaluable tips which come in handy while running his business. Additionally, ever since he was young, Nick affirms that he has been an avid consumer of high quality TV and digital content, hence enabling him to respond effectively to his clients’ needs.
An alumnus of the United States International University – Africa (USIU-Africa), Nick holds a bachelors degree in international business administration. “Despite having a background in business, I think as a creative artist,” he says adding that executing an idea is the most critical thing for him – money comes later. In order to penetrate the market, his firm would charge less than the competition in the initial stages. The fact that it was offering premium content to its clients further gave it an edge in the market. Gradually, the clients started developing confidence in the new firm and its business grew.
Giraffe Africa Productions business model hinges on: nurturing relationships, offering premium content and focusing on a few but high quality jobs. “We strive to make the final product excellent to the best of our ability,” Nick emphasizes. The firm retains a small team that is highly motivated and talented. “When shooting, we hire people on contract, but we retain the production team since that is nerve centre of our business,” he says. The said team regularly takes classes in order to hone its skills, besides keeping pace with the market trends so as to offer world class products. It has never disappointed.
Transitioning from acting to entrepreneurship has not been a walk in the park for Nick. “I have to sacrifice a lot of time and resources in order to make sure that the engine of my business is running smoothly,” he says. “I also have to make timely and critical decisions as an entrepreneur as opposed to my acting days when I would receive instructions from the team leaders,” he observes. In a bid to meet the tight deadlines of his job, Nick (together with his team) report to work in the wee hours of the morning and leave quite late most of the days. That calls for a lot of discipline and sacrifice.
As a film maker, Nick says that the biggest challenge in Kenya is how we tell our stories. A quick survey of the digital space for instance reveals that the demand for quality Kenyan film content is very high, but players in the industry are struggling to meet it. Nevertheless, he is glad that most film makers have now realized their previous mistakes. “We are now beginning to appreciate our culture and the need to tell our stories in our national language – Kiswahili,” he notes. “We also need to borrow a lot of content from our folk tales – the stories that were narrated to us by our parents while we were growing up in the villages,” he adds. Most importantly, according to Nick, film makers should be entrepreneurial as opposed to having big ideas, driven entirely by passion and which never see the light of day.
Scaling up the business has also been another hurdle for Nick. The outbreak of Covid-19 last year for instance jeopardized his plans since outdoor activities (like shooting) which play a pivotal role in making films were limited. In order to fill that gap, the firm focused on offering livestreaming services to its clients.
Nick advises young filmmakers to have their eyes on the ball, while appreciating that the business has its fair share of ups and downs. How they spend the money earned during the high seasons is therefore very important. “Diverting money to personal projects (like purchasing farms), instead of investing the same in the business may end up hurting its cash flow,” he observes. Additionally, he advises them not to be scared of the extra responsibilities – like building networks and hiring employees – which are shouldered by entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship is about taking audacious goals. One has to take major risks in order to realize big returns. It is not a game for the faint hearted. After three years in business, Nick has learnt those vital lessons. As part of his growth plans therefore, he is planning to put up a studio that will handle the entire production process of his firm. “In my dream studio, we shall be able to film and package the final product for the market under one roof,” he says.
The young entrepreneur is also planning to expand his business into our neighbouring countries like Tanzania and Uganda where Kiswahili is widely spoken. “Kiswahili has about seventy million speakers in the African continent and if we are able to make stories that cater for these people, then we shall be in big business,” he notes.
Typically, giraffes are able to see far compared to other wild animals because of their long necks. Going by its future plans, Giraffe Africa productions has borrowed a leaf from the tallest mammal … its namesake. Therefore, the future of the well-grounded production firm can only be better.
NICK AT A GLANCE
Typical day: Wakes up at 4.30 am, goes to the gym before taking breakfast with his family. He reports to work at 7.00 am and leaves at 6.00 pm. Occasionally, he spends more time in the office depending on his work load.
Favourite dish: Rice and chicken
Hobbies:Watching films and documentaries
Marital Status: Married with one child
Dream car: Mobius Two (Made in Kenya)
Best quote: progress over perfection
Best author: John Green