Ugandan filmmaker Hosea Jjemba narrates Hollywood experience

The US State Department sponsored two Ugandans, Hosea Jjemba and Frank Mugerwa to attend Hollywood In Focus, a film mentorship course where they visited the biggest studios in Hollywood and got firsthand lessons from the industry movers. Hosea Jjemba shares his lessons on how to transform Uganda’s movie industry from ‘Level None.’

The author of the story at Sony Pictures Plaza.

‘We got you.’ Three magic words. For a long time, my most important three words used to stir great feelings had been the usual – ‘I love you’. We got you – is the actual American way of saying we have you covered. We will take care of everything, just be.
My friend Lisa from the American Embassy is hard to read. Besides, her emails all come with disclaimers and claimers at the bottom; things like, “this email is unclassified.” I don’t know what it means but I can tell you what I know; all my American friends are good at connecting.

When an email suggesting I should apply for a Hollywood exchange program came in May, I always read such emails and moved on. I have urgent things to do besides the program was to be held ‘This Summer’. Without bragging, in Uganda we have summer all year around. For me to panic and start running around because there’s going to be a nice film training program in the few days the US will have the sun… excuse me.

When a second email came from another source about the same program, the sun didn’t matter anymore. I have tried to survive on TV, film and loans for the last 10 years. My strategy is to keep the first two and drop loans as quick as I can. That’s why I have been busy building skills, a network, company, and once in a while pointing to a TV set or film screen when my name passes, often too fast, in the black and white words at the end of a good film. But that too is irregular.

Here, in this email. I saw a chance to make it regular. With the skyrocketing numbers of unemployment, I have always wondered why we don’t have a film industry. In the US, over 500 people are employed happily on a product that only lasts 1 hour and 20 minutes. Three months of hard labour only produce a 90 minutes product! That means, if you are interested in ‘what happened next’, we need another 500 people and three months to produce another 90 minutes. Do some math if you decide to watch all the episodes of a TV series season in one day… (I know some people like that). The oil industry can’t even compete in terms of employment.

Film and television is big business. I knew this before these two emails. Nollywood is close but the Tanzania Bongo Film Industry just across Lake Victoria is astonishing and way closer. We should be next. In a chance to attend the Hollywood program, I saw an opportunity to go see the business models. And also understand what it takes.
I applied and got the full scholarship. Hooray right? No! I had to pay for my own ticket and meals. For the last couple of months, the US Cultural Office at the American Embassy has got me and a number of filmmakers, to hold meetings and also work out a plan that can see Uganda produce film stories.

The fellows also included Frank Mugerwa, behind Jah Live Films (fifth from right).
The fellows also included Frank Mugerwa, behind Jah Live Films (fifth from right).

So, when I told them about my full scholarship, I thought they were going to send me a matching band… Instead all I got was an email with a three letter sentence – ‘we got you’ – and a longer disclaimer about how this email is unclassified and should you be receiving it by mistake please delete…blah blah. Never have I been confused in my adult life. But at least now I know what the words mean.

The US Department of State covered what they call…wait for it; an all-expense paid trip for me and my friend Francis Mugerwa,- I know, no one calls him that. Frank Jah Live, google him – to go and attend anAdult Intensive Film training program at Relativity School, home of the famous Relativity Media Studios. This is the Hooray part, thank you.

Hosea Jjemba at Columbia Pictures.
Hosea Jjemba at Columbia Pictures.

Hollywood firsthand
For the last three weeks, our brains have gone from a gaping stance to actual headaches of understanding how big and profitable the film industry is. The diverse approach, the calculated moves to impress and the well-oiled machinery of storytelling that has made Hollywood be well…Hollywood.

From visits to the Sony Picture Studios, Warner Brothers, the Disney Concert hall, the history, the successes and the downfalls all in one tour; these fellows mastered the art of storytelling and made zillions of dollars too.

The Adult Intensive Program at the Relativity School is… intensive. Being mentored by Film Industry professionals, not lecturers, these guys have shoots to go to after class, so you can’t be late. Some come in crawling with notes from the latest TV series they are working on, ‘you can’t take pictures of this…It’s not yet released’ was a common phrase. The school has sound stages of many films and TV series…you stagger upon Mad Men office props, Grey’s Anatomy wall sets, but most importantly the course recognises the cultural differences.

Hosea at the Grammy Awards museum.
Hosea at the Grammy Awards museum.

With them learning a bit about what the industry is like in our countries, if any, respective mentors advise on how you can design your own business models. The goal is to balance the art of storytelling while keeping a focused eye on the business. Show business, we call it. The Industry Week, where we met writers, executive directors, casting directors, film directors and film equipment manufacturers all sum it up on how the knowledge gap has been reduced. Eyes scanning Africa are felt in many of these meetings. Ours is to have several platforms in place or else the ones in the know – South Africans, will keep whisking every production down south.

We are back. Still shell shocked but with skills and lots of film industry knowledge, a bit of stuffed tummies and new shoes.
If any of you wants some insights on how Uganda’s film industry should shift from level none to a full blown industry, fully paying and supporting families and a definite income and revenue for Uganda’s economy? Holler – ‘we got you’.


The programme

Every year emerging filmmakers from every corner of the world work side-by-side with top film executives in the Hollywood film industry in the United States. Not only do these emerging film leaders gain valuable business and management skills through the program, but also they construct strategic plans with their mentors. While their action plans specifically address different needs, they share the goal of creating film industry opportunities for audiences back in their home communities.

This year The US State Department sponsored two filmmakers Hosea Jemba and Francis Mugerwa to attend Hollywood in Focus – an adult intensive summer mentorship course. The film course at Relativity School, home of Relativity Studios is a hands-on approach to learn the film industry’s new technics and business models that has turned Hollywood into a billion dollar Industry.