Imagine you were back in the early 1900s when the film industry was a newborn. People were learning and experimenting with the new technology of moving pictures.
Craftsmen were excited about discovering new ways of creating art with this powerful and amazing new technology. You would think that could never be recreated in today’s high tech world but you would be mistaken.
May I introduce you to Wakaliwood. A remarkable filmmaker by the name of Isaac Nabwana from Ramon Film Productions has created the Ugandan film industry, almost single handily without having any of the filmmaking knowledge or updated filmmaking technology.
As we get to study the giants that came before us like Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, and Akira Kurosawa, Isaac only had his imagination and his undeniable passion for telling stories.
Isaac is easily one of the most passionate filmmakers I’ve ever met. With all the opportunities and technology we in the United States take for granted, he created an entire film industry with basically string and tape.
May I introduce you to Wakaliwood
I saw this amazing documentary on VICE about Isaac and Wakaliwood and was blown away. I had to have him on the Indie Film Hustle podcast. Take a look below.
Isaac and his team have created over 40 feature films in the past 8 years, with their most popular and successful film being “Who Killed Captain Alex.” Their passion oozes out of their films in a way you couldn’t manufacture even if you tried.
Speaking to Isaac I discovered that some of his favorite films he had never even seen. How’s that possible you ask? Well his brothers would go to the movie screening room in the village, they then would rush back home and weave the tale of what they just saw for their little brother.
His favorite film is the 80’s classic action film “Commando” starring the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger. When you watch Isaac’s films you see a strong influence of 80’s action films, Chuck Norris and Chinese kung fu films.
The Ugandan Quentin Tarantino
Isaac Nabwana is an extremely brave filmmaker. He decided to become an artist in an environment that doesn’t exactly make it easy for an artist to make a living. He supports his family with his art and understood early on that this was a business. Something Indie Film Hustle preaches daily. His stories of marketing his films on the streets and bazaars of Uganda are hilarious and the definition of an indie film hustler.
He coined the term “Wakaliwood” in hopes of generating attention from the world filmmaking community, and it’s working.
He recently held a Kickstarter campaign asking for $160, the entire budget of one of his feature films, and ended up with over exceeded its target by more than 8,000%, bringing in more than $13,000.
Ramon Films Productions focuses on the action genre and bases the storylines of the films about life in Uganda, with an entertaining twist. This is what has made Isaac’s films so popular in Uganda and has made him a local celebrity.
An Ugandan Movie Theater
Ugandan cinemas, or video halls, typically have two television screens: one for a football game (with the sound turned off) and the other for the feature presentation. In lieu of subtitles, the VJ (Video Joker) provides the necessary exposition so the audience can better understand the movie. The joke was that VJ’s didn’t know the story either and just made it up – and a comedy act was born.
A “Video Joker” is a live narrator that can best be described as a cross between an enthusiastic cheerleader, stand-up comedian, and slum tour guide. Uniquely Ugandan, the first VJs appeared in Kampala in the early 80s.
How to make Ugandan film gear
Uganda is an emerging film industry. Professional film equipment is extremely hard to come by, but in the Ugandan villages, anything is possible.
Bisaso Dauda is Wakaliwood’s prop master (and one of their leading actors). A mechanic, Dauda uses scrap metal to build their heavy weapons and camera gear including dollies, cranes, and even our 16′ jib that works amazingly well for being built from spare car parts.
Watch these two videos on the behind the scenes on how they make their props and film gear.
Ugandan Post Production and Visual Effects
Isaac builds his computers from whatever used and scrap parts he can conjure up. His computer systems last two or three months at best, eventually falling victim to heat, dust, and power surges.
He taught himself Adobe Premiere 1.5 and Adobe After Effects by reading the help files. There was no internet in his village when he started on his filmmaking journey, so no youtube tutorials for him.
Isaac’s special effects have earned him the reputation in Uganda of being a powerful witch doctor – even by the local Police, who still do not understand how he can make a bullet come flying out of a wooden gun.
Making things even tougher, there’s no film distributors in Uganda. Wakaliwood must sell and market their films themselves, selling door-to-door in around the slums of Kampala, with the occasional road trip to larger towns when money is available.
When a film is ready for distribution Isaac and his family burn, label, and package the DVDs at home when electricity is available. Copies are sold for 2500 UGX (about 90 cents US). Half goes to the actors who do the selling (yes the actors are the sales force), the remaining goes back to Wakaliwood.
Expenses are as follows:
- Blank DVD 500 UGX
- Electricity 100 UGX
- Label 100 UGX
- Artwork 80 UGX
- Packaging 40 UGX
This leaves approximately 400 UGX (14 cents US) for Isaac, his family, and Wakaliwood. The number is even lower when costs for transport and spoilage are factored in (DVDs that won’t play, or are damaged due to power fluctuations when burning).
Wakaliwood actors face many challenges when attempting to sell their films. First, most Ugandans don’t even know Uganda even makes movies. The first hurdle is to convince a potential buyer to take a chance on something they don’t think is possible.
The second hurdle is the cost. A pirated copy of US action movies – Furious 7 or Jurassic World, for example – can cost as little as 500 UGX. So why would someone pay 2500 UGX for a Ugandan action film?
Because of the rampant piracy in Uganda, Wakaliwood has roughly 6 days to make money on each new release, as by that time the film has been copied and selling in Kampala for much less than Wakaliwood can afford.
Isaac receives phone calls every week from fans of Who Killed Captain Alex from all over the world. He has no idea how they were able to watch the film.
Alan Ssali Hofmanis: The Supa Fan
Now if that was not enough of a story I’ve got a twist for you. Half a world away, in a bar in New York City, Alan Ssali Hofmanis is watching the trailer for “Who Killed Captain Alex” on a friend’s iPhone.
He’s in awe of what Isaac and his team are doing in Wakaliwood. Without having any contacts in Uganda or even knowing how to contact Isaac he purchases a one-way plane ticket to Kampala, Uganda’s capital, for $1,450.
Alan had saved $16,000 for a wedding and honeymoon, had almost twice that in available credit card limits, and had stockpiled a ton of frequent-flier miles and vacation time from his film festival programming job.
He did find Isaac and soon became a fixture at the studio. Since then he became a Ugandan action movie star. I can’t make this stuff up.
Adopted by the Nkima (monkey) clan and given the name Ssali, Alan sold everything he had and moved into Wakaliwood. He is now a partner in Ramon Film Productions and is helping to bring their films to the international market place.
The Inspiring Podcast
On this podcast we get a true understanding of what the definition of “passion” is. Alan Hofmanis and Isaac Nabwana open up on how they make a Wakaliwood action film, how Isaac taught himself every aspect of the filmmaking process and what he would like to see Ramon Films Production and Wakaliwood become on the world stage.
I always hear excuses why indie filmmakers don’t pull the trigger on making their independent film. Like not enough money, I don’t know any screenwriters, don’t have the camera I want, can’t get name actors, don’t understand post production, can’t find people to help and the list goes on and on. I hope this podcast lights a fire under the asses of every indie filmmaker that listens to it.
Isaac Nabwana understands his audience and how to market to them. He figured out his niche and exploited it. He has built a sustainable business as an artist in a world that has no RED Cameras, accessible hard drives, computer gear, VOD, IMAX, Netflix, iTunes or RedBox.
He isn’t caught up on what the latest camera is, should I shoot 4K or what version of AVID am I editing this on. Isaac just wants to tell stories that mean something to him and his fans. Is there really anything purer an artist can do?
He sells home-made DVDs of his films on the streets of Uganda. If Isaac can create an entire film industry with MiniDV cameras, editing on Adobe Premiere 1.5 and building all his grip equipment, dollies, tripods and jib arms from used car parts and lawnmowers imagine what you can do.
Be prepared to be inspired.
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