Why producer opted to stage drive-in premiere for ‘Uradi’

A scene from the Kenyan movie ‘Uradi’ produced by Kikwetu Productions. The movie premiered on September 25,2020.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Uradi, by Kikwetu Productions, is a tale of love concurring terror, crime and illegal dealings in Nairobi’s fast life and also radicalisation among the youth.
  • It stars seasoned actors such as Mwaura Bilal, Shiks Kapienga, Mannaseh Nyagah and Peter Kawa, among others.

The effects of coronavirus have been felt in every industry, but the way it shut down film and television production was particularly abrupt.

Countless productions, from big budget to independent, have been on hold around the globe. The content channels have also been upended and cinemas closed over the past six months.

Normality, however, is gradually resuming; production has restarted in some countries and the industry has adopted remote-work protocols where possible.

In the meantime, those in film production are also thinking hard about what comes next.

But the virus has also created uncertainty, and the biggest short-term risk seems to be consumers’ decreasing confidence in physical venues.

In a number of countries around the world, drive-in theatres are having a renaissance as coronavirus social distancing restrictions make them a safe place to go to the movies.

Love and terror

It is no different here in Kenya, seeing as the film Uradi was in a first-of-its-kind premiered at a drive-in setting at the Galleria Mall last weekend.

Uradi, by Kikwetu Productions, is a tale of love concurring terror, crime and illegal dealings in Nairobi’s fast life and also radicalisation among the youth.

It stars seasoned actors such as Mwaura Bilal, Shiks Kapienga, Mannaseh Nyagah and Peter Kawa, among others.

The show premiered on Friday, September 25, and had six subsequent screenings on Saturday and Sunday. The premiere featured a red carpet, free popcorn and drink, and a meet-and-greet session that was attended by the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs, Joe Mucheru, and the former Kenya Film Commission chief executive Peter Mutie.

“When our client, Kikwetu, approached us, we knew we couldn’t wait for the cinemas to open. We just had to show the film to Kenyans. Because of the global pandemic, we thought we should still give people an opportunity to celebrate together in a controlled environment, and while adhering to the government’s directives,” said Mwaniki Mageria, a movie producer and distributor.

Mwaniki and his partner, Mwendwa Mutua, run 747 Distribution, which has been involved in film distribution since 2012. Film distribution is the commercial process that makes a feature film available to the general public. It usually also includes determining a marketing strategy.

He says: “The idea is to get as many people to see the movies that have been released. Streaming services have largely reduced our role than when there were DVDs and CDs because film producers now opt to distribute the films by themselves to different platforms.”

That is why Uradi’s premiere was a passionate project for him.

“As 747 Productions, we have decided to invest our time and resources into promoting and distributing Kenyan content.”

Earlier this year, Galleria had hosted a Fathers’ Day drive-in experience which inspired Mwaniki and his team after being approached by Kikwetu Productions.

The biggest challenge after initial talks and budgeting at the venue, however, was that it was too expensive. Mwaniki then approached Kenya Film Commission chief executive Timothy Owase, who so graciously covered the costs of the screens and the venue.

His company then took over décor, media and advertising and corporate sponsorships, and the premiere was planned in exactly a month.

Social media marketing

“It was a simple idea yet so difficult to implement because Kenyans are not really accustomed to drive-ins. Social media marketing was the most expensive part for us,” recalls Mwaniki.

Of course, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, the drive-in experience has had to change.

For ticketing prices, the team had to look at how many cars the grounds could accommodate. Normally, the maximum capacity at the Galleria Drive-In is 140 cars.

“We worked with 40 cars, also keeping in mind that the film’s owner had to get their money back. Nonetheless, movie premiers don’t bring in any profits. It is more of a marketing tool.”

They also decided to have three consequent screening shows over the next two days — 12pm, 3pm and 6pm.

Premiere tickets cost Sh5,000 per car while screening tickets were Sh3,000 per car. And because the beauty of a premiere is mostly on the red carpet, Mwaniki ensured that it was made possible - where people could have their photos taken while socially distanced as they went back into their cars for the screening.

“Even after all that, we didn’t break even. We thought we’d have the 40 cars for every show, but we got 70 cars in total for the entire weekend shows,” he said.

He added: “We received complaints that the ticket prices were too high. In hindsight, we wish we had ticket prices per person, but we’ll definitely discuss how they can be lowered.”

Movie premieres

Comparatively, Mwaniki says it was easier to stage movie premieres before the pandemic because many times, they would use complementary tickets to get people to attend.

“I think people have to get warmed up to the idea of drive-ins before taking it up - which they will.”

Because of the financial input KFC has dedicated to the film industry, Mwaniki, who has been in the film industry for years, believes that there is definitely going to be a lot more Kenyan movies produced.

He also believes that county focus in movie screenings, as well as getting corporates to advertise around them for viability and sustainability, is the way to go for the industry to grow.

“We have decided to redefine the history of the film industry in Kenya by starting these drive-in shows in malls where Kenyans can watch local Kenyan films from the comfort of their cars,” said Mr Owase in a different interview.

“With the launch of the drive-in cinema, the Kenya Film Commission heralds a new era of entertainment experience like no other in modern history in the region. This is an exciting time for us and all movie lovers, as we gear to support the local film industry,” he added.

Mwaniki concluded: “More cinemas need to be opened in the country. Moreover, these cinemas need to be showing more local content. I’m glad that most of the Kenyan cinemas have agreed to screen Uradi once they are back open, and are planning to do so with more local films - provided they keep being produced.”

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