When British Council opened applications for the nAnA grant in 2018, I had shortly made a connection with a couple of friends through a friend. They work for Watch Africa in Wales, and being that I work for Tuwatch Sinema in Kenya, it seemed a perfect chance to co-apply for the grant. We were in the same field (film) and we were based in two different countries (a plus), both of which the grant covered. The Watch Africa peeps had yet another link from the Zanzibar International Film Festival in Tanzania, and as the three countries, we applied for nAnA.
We did not get it.
And it honestly did not sting much because when you apply for grants, you don’t really hook your whole life on getting one. There are thousands other equally deserving people applying after all.
The Wales lead had however, with the same stories and synopses, applied for yet another grant awarded by British Council Wales and Wales for Africa . And that application was successful! While the total amounted to half what nAnA would have been, it was still such a huge win! The stories could be shot after all!
We called the project Safari Tatu (Three Journeys) and the linking factor was that each of us was to shoot a ‘coming of age’ story. Stories about young women naturally took precedence (duuuuh) and after several consultations, we decided that each of the stories would have a football angle, and that it was to happen in a coastal town.
Timelines were set and voila!
When 2018 ended, my circumstances meant I could no longer live in Nairobi even though I still had a few projects I could follow up on. 2019 was set to be a pretty uncertain year for me, so you can imagine my relief at the fact that being that the Safari Tatu story is set in a coastal town. Being the writer, it was first of all very ideal that I research and begin scripting while on the ground in such a town. Meaning I was to be out of Nairobi anyway so there was no need to feel lost after all.
Secondly, Kilifi happens to be one such coastal town and my sister lives there. I happen to be an awesome sis and aunty so ‘No’ was not an option 😜. And not only that, but there exists in Kilifi, an organization that uses football to empower girls. I was basically covered on all ends especially where football research and initial location scouting was concerned!
Of course chaos finds a way even into the best laid plans.
When I first started the script, the story I wanted to tell refused to fit into a short film of 15 minutes or less. After a few consultations with a friend who’s taking a producer role, we decided to make it a feature. Even with the reservations that the grant would not be enough to cover a feature length football story, I still gave it a go, trying not to think about production while the story was so young.
Two months in I had done about 5 drafts of the script without ever having completed a full draft, though I came close. That fifth draft was the story 3/4 way through when I finally made the call, that truly, there was no way the grant would cover the script as I was writing it. And by writing it blindly, I was basically wasting time creating something that would later screw us.
After a few heated discussions with the rest of the Tuwatch Sinema team, we agreed I would shrink the script to about 20 minutes, and it felt like a load had been lifted off of me! 20 minutes felt like a really sweet spot with the budget we had.
Only, when I got down to the story I had begun, it was a whole other headache deciding what to leave, and what darlings to kill. Once again I got to 3/4 of the first short rewrite and just stopped. The story felt bland to me. Mark you, this was Tuesday, a day to the deadline to send out a complete first draft to the rest of the team. A deadline I had touted myself by the way!
I didn’t like the story as it was at all! So that Wednesday I ignored the problem and stayed silent about the script.
I took a walk on Thursday afternoon, from Mnarani, across Kilifi bridge, all the way to Vidazini beach, taking photos and videos along the way, since I was to share location photos as well. More importantly however,I needed that walk to think, and think I did. When I finally sat at Vidazini , watching a group of boys play football, I drew up a whole other outline of the short version, that I liked much better than what was already written, but still didn’t LOVE. The ocean offered a hint of an answer I did not really want to consider because it seemed too off the mark. So I went home. On a boda because my feet already hated me, and my mind was honestly tired of turning the story around.
I think I spent much of that evening avoiding any writing, and settled instead, for binge watching One Piece. It certainly helped a bit, but I was still very restless because suddenly, I wasn’t sure what the hell kind of story I wanted to tell!
The next day I looked back on a totally different football story whose synopsis I had written soon as I’d come from meeting the Tuwatch Sinema team in Nairobi. While this story’s protagonist had a lot in common with the feature length one, she now had a major prop born of a recent desire of mine; a bicycle I badly wanted, that I had actually planned for. I truly had the money to buy one but I knew it was a bad idea to do so because I would shortly be needed in Nairobi for two, and that money could better serve as upkeep.
I had laughed at that story afterwards, because it was so obviously born of a tantrum, which is why I had stashed it.
On this day however, as I re-read the story, I actually quite liked it. The bicycle formed the crux of it, and having gotten over my disappointment at not getting one myself, the bike was for the character a silly, fun and somewhat endearing thing. I like silly fun things so that story quickly wiggled itself alongside the two other ways the story could go.
Friday was a very unsure day. So unsure I almost didn’t book the bus to Nairobi though I knew I had to be there by the weekend. Part of me wanted to stay put until I forced myself into deciding what story to write, and then actually finish writing it before leaving. A pal suggested I could do just that from the moment I landed in Nairobi, because I was going back and forth too much and I really did need to be in Nairobi! So I went and booked the freaking ticket.
I intended to spend the 7 hours on the road deciding what story to work on, and in the end, still torn, I decided I would write all three stories. Fuck it! And I finally managed to sleep after the stop at Mtito Andei.
Soon after resting that Saturday, I started on the script in the evening and managed to write 6 pages of it. I had a meeting the very next day with the team and I foolishly thought I’d wiggle my way out of talking about the script because I really hate to talk about stories in progress.
They’d have none of it. I evaded several times with promises that I had managed 6 pages in a night already, and that they really needed wait only one more day for a complete draft; still they would have none of it.
So I told the story, raw as it came, and they liked it! I hadn’t been aware how crucial this was for me, but the relief I felt then gave me a huge drive to finish the first draft.
I completed it at around 1 am the following night.
The script was 27 pages long and I knew it would be much longer because I had deliberately made the last scene short, just so I could finish the draft and hand it out. (I knew edits would be in order) And I was right. I’m currently at edit 3 and the story has clocked 40 pages.
The team told me to quit obsessing over the page number, and truthfully, there is nothing major I can cut out from the script that wouldn’t hurt the story. The locations are much less than the feature length so at least I am sure the budget will do on that end. The headache we all cannot escape is the fact that a football team already means 11 people. A game means 22 cast members already and there will be a match!
I have also been told to quit thinking about production headaches and let the producer handle it. And that is a head space I need to be in very soon because the director’s hat is so far turning out to be no hat at all. It’s a freaking VR helmet!