Hanigun Kwenya: A good TV director should be able to convey his vision through words

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • For a film director to excel, they should embody creativity, a meticulous attention to detail, a genuine passion for the art of filmmaking, and a thorough understanding of every stage of the filmmaking process; from lighting all the way to wardrobe.
  • Additionally, strong communication skills are essential to maintain consistent collaboration and understanding with the actors.
  • Communication plays a pivotal role; you should have the ability to convey your vision through words.
  • This is essential to ensure a unified understanding and to bring your creative vision to life on the screen.

If you are a lover of telenovelas, there is a higher chance that you have watched “Salem”, a TV series that depicts the story of inequality between the poor and the rich.

The TV series, which was recently nominated for ‘Best Original M-net Telenovela’ in the Africa Magic Viewers' Choice Awards 2023, is being directed by Hanigun Kwenya. While still an intern, Hanigun directed some scenes of “Kina”, another TV series. It involves a girl who has always suffered from feelings of abandonment and finds purpose in seeking the murderer of the man she believes to be her father.

What other films have you directed?
Before joining “Salem”, I directed the film Chini ya Paa commissioned by Showmax, and several short films. Among them was Daughter of War, selected to join the 'I am a Migrant' campaign and was screened in an interactive installation during the Interactive Cultural Day under the framework of the Global Migration Film Festival in Geneva. I'm also currently working on a documentary, “Limo on the Run”, funded by the Kenya Film Commission. Both “Salem” and “Limo on the Run” are being produced by Zebra Production Kenya.

What are the qualities of a great TV series director?
For a film director to excel, they should embody creativity, a meticulous attention to detail, a genuine passion for the art of filmmaking, and a thorough understanding of every stage of the filmmaking process; from lighting all the way to wardrobe. Additionally, strong communication skills are essential to maintain consistent collaboration and understanding with the actors. Communication plays a pivotal role; you should have the ability to convey your vision through words. This is essential to ensure a unified understanding and to bring your creative vision to life on the screen.

How did you learn the skills needed to direct a TV series?
Film has been my lifelong passion, a flame that ignited in me when I was just a child. It's the reason I embarked on a journey to study filmmaking at Multimedia University then later the Multichoice Talent Factory (MTF); a path I hoped would eventually lead me into the industry, where I could breathe life into my dreams.

At MTF, a nurturing ground for budding filmmakers to hone their craft and elevate their artistry, my initiation into the world of professional directing took place during my internship with “Kina”. I put my directing skills to the test for the very first time. After completing MTF training, I was awarded the opportunity to go to South Africa for an immersion in an M-net production and I was involved in directing scenes in the TV series; “The River” and “Gomora”.

Which film do you consider your greatest career achievement thus far, and what impact has the industry had on your life?
 I take pride in everything that I've been fortunate enough to direct. I have also come to appreciate more how far we have come as a film and TV industry. “Salem” has done a lot for me. I got to interact with some of the top people in the industry. From working with crew and actors— young actors, experienced crew and actors— knowing how to gauge with them, that would have taken some time for me to accomplish.

As a director, are you the one in charge of scouting for talents, or they are just brought to you?
It starts by sending out a casting call, where actors are able to be cast either through sending audition tapes via email and WhatsApp, or going physically for auditions. As a director, I know the kind of characters I'll need from reading and understanding the script; their personality, height, body size, age and character traits. Once you list all the characters with their biography, you send them to the casting director who assists you in selecting the actors to play a specific role.

 Are there situations in which a director might be compelled to replace a particular actor in a film project?
A director can decide to release an actor; but not for malicious reasons. I prefer the term 'release' rather than 'drop'. If an actor fails to perform either in delivery of lines or lack to carry through a performance then they risk being released. Mastery and understanding of script dialogue is key; I expect that by the time an actor accepts the project, they should be able to handle the lines as they are the ones performing and breathing life into the characters written in the script. Also circumstances can lead an actor to change their mind which in turn leads you to release them.

What happens behind the scenes before actors or crew members arrive on the set for a production?
When they arrive in the morning, they have breakfast then head to the wardrobe department to be prepared, style their hair, and apply character makeup. They receive a briefing on the day's call sheets and the planned running order from the AD (Assistant Director). They then transition into their characters, aligning themselves with whoever they are portraying in the scene, and revise their lines. Following that, they are brought to the set for blocking, where we transform what's on paper into a live performance, such as the actors movement. Also we work out the camera movement and final lighting positions through blocking.

Do you think Kenyans like local content?
Most Kenyans are gravitating towards Kenyan films and TV shows right now. I don't think we are where we want to be yet, but the appetite for local entertainment is growing. Some of the biggest names right now in our film/TV industry are being watched and supported by Kenyans.

Which key message can you give upcoming film directors or actors?
If you are a film/TV director then you should keep at it, learn to listen and communicate. No one will wake up and just choose a director randomly, they’ll have to see your potential and passion for the craft. Push harder, tell more stories to achieve what you want without giving up. I can't say much about actors, however, some common traits I have seen in some of the actors in Salem is that they listen, understand instructions and do their homework (read the script).