Top 10 Lessons From A
Newbie Filmmaker (In Africa)

By Guest Blogger: S'ambrosia Wasike

November 2014

When my husband and I first started Wasike Creations, a small Kenyan based business specializing in promos and short docs for missionaries, we were very careful to keep track of the lessons we’ve learned throughout the process.  Nearly six months later, here are the top ten tips we’ve come away with thus far:

S'ambrosia Wasike filming in Kenya

Top Ten Lessons Learned

  1. When budgeting for equipment, remember to include backups for memory cards, extra batteries, and hard drives. We learned this the hard way on one shoot with our H4 Zoom memory card. Thankfully our client had a backup, but it was embarrassing not to have one on hand.

  2. Visit your site beforehand to gain inspiration for cutaways and locations for interviews. It will save you a lot of time the day of the shoot and make the whole process run a lot smoother.

  3. If you want to ensure that you don’t leave any of your gear behind, make a checklist and go over it before you leave your home base as well as before you leave your site.  

  4. Let your subjects know that you’re using their story ultimately for their benefit, not yours. We often film kids that are used to having people exploit their stories for money, so they can be wary of strangers with cameras. To get the best out of them, we have to build a rapport with them well before the cameras come out.

  5. Never limit your clients or interviewees. If they want to offer resources, take it all. You never know when you’ll need it. I once thought I knew exactly what I needed for post-production, so when a client suggested additional material, I refused only to have to ask her for it later.

  6. We have a saying here in Kenya: “this is Africa (TIA)”.  When the electricity cuts out in the middle of an interview, TIA. When the subject says he’ll be on set by 10am but doesn’t show up until 2pm, TIA. When heavy rains prevent outdoor filming for weeks at a time, TIA. Shoots don’t always go as expected, so it’s best to provide a flexible itinerary and brief everyone involved so they’re aware of the plan.

  7. For outdoor shots, if you want to use natural light, know the best times of day to shoot. The intensity of the hot Kenyan sun necessitates that we shoot between 7-10:30am and 3-6pm. Be sure to stay on top of the weather too. Our very first shoot occurred on a sunny but cloudy day, and we had to stop filming every time clouds covered the sun to prevent our shots from going dark.

  8. If you have an indoor shoot and you don’t want to use lights (or you’re in the midst of a TIA moment and there’s no electricity), be sure to have prime lenses, f 1.8 going down. They are very good with low light.

  9. Come up with a regiment for reviewing the final product. Allocate the first runthrough to review adherence to the script or cohesiveness of idea/purpose, the second to color, the third to transitions, etc. Instead of reviewing the video as a whole, focus solely on specific categories to produce a strong final cut.

  10. Watch all the documentaries you can. Find aesthetics you like and mimic them or make them your own. My husband and I watch documentaries together and write down effects we like and look for tutorials. Between jobs we practice using them, and once we’ve gotten them down, we utilize them.

We are just now breaking into this industry and have a lot to learn, but we hope that what we shared is a benefit to our fellow “noob” filmmakers out there. Enjoy the journey. We definitely are!

About The Author (s)

Ray and S'ambrosia Wasike are an AmeriKenyan couple based in Kitale, Kenya. Aside from pursuing film making endeavors, they also have begun a non-profit organization called The Joshua Blueprint which focuses on training vulnerable children in the arts.

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