Today on Pearls And Heels we feature Hellen Masido. Hellen Masido is a multi-disciplinary artist who uses a wide variety of media to express herself. Stories are her first love and she tells them through film, photography, theatre and writing. She has been blogging for more than six years on her personal blog as well as on Storyzetu.com which she runs with three other ninjas.
In theatre, she is a stage manager and in the recent past, she managed the Jalada Mobile Festival. She is currently the stage manager for Too Early For Birds, whose first edition was highly acclaimed and whose upcoming the second edition is highly anticipated.
Having previously worked with Film Kenya to help organize the Campus Film Symposium, she is now a co-founder of Tuwatch Sinema, a movement aimed putting the spotlight on Kenyan cinema. During her free time, she enjoys crafting, reading books, watching movies and sleeping. Cats are her favourite animals.
- Describe your typical day.
It typically depends on what production phase I am at. My production phases are such that I throw myself into a project to its completion or break, and then retire into self-induced solitude to rest as well as plan my next projects.
A typical day in my production phase includes late nights (and consequent late mornings), lots of reading and guzzling as much material about the project as possible; and if it is a film production, early mornings on set and late nights are pretty much typical.
During my post-production phases, late mornings, days spent in pajamas, and lots of alone time writing and watching films are what describe my typical day.
2. What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a pilot up until high school when I learnt I needed to get through Physics and Geography- both of which I couldn’t stand since Form 1. Then I wanted to be a Psychiatrist and then a Fine Artist when I learnt one could make a career out of it. However, sometime in Form 4 while making university choices, I stumbled upon the course “Theatre Arts and Film Technology”. I researched on it and found out it holds all my artistic passions especially writing. And so in Form 4, I finally wanted to become a Screenwriter and Film Director.
3. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I would stop second-guessing myself and just make a movie! I would also have learnt earlier how to edit video like a pro so that I could have edited films I have shot but have stalled or remained raw footage.
- What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?
Creativity. You need to constantly come up with innovative ways of doing things because sometimes things don’t go as planned and yet at the end of the day the project must be birthed in the best way possible.
Mastery – In other words know your shit. Know what you’re supposed to do and give it your best. Both theatre and film are very collaborative. Like a machine, each department works to bring to life a common dream. Each of those parts needs to be in tip-top shape to bring the common dream as close to 100% as is humanly possible.
Reliability. To be an expert is a great skill but no matter how good you are at your job, no one on a film set or a theatre production wants to gamble with a flaky person who will be a no-show at the eleventh hour. As I mentioned before, theatre and film are both very collaborative; a single unstable element can hurt the whole project in very major ways. You may not like saying no when people ask for your help, but if you truly cannot show up for something, tell people in advance so they can look for plan B. However, any time you say yes to a project, show up each time you’re needed.
- As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
Nairobi for a filmmaker and artist is awesome, especially for networking and interacting with like-minded people. The art scene in Nairobi is very vibrant and there are many places for a multi-skilled artist to fit in and get work. As an indie filmmaker sometimes you have to call in favours for personal projects, and things like shooting equipment are readily available even when you have little to no money to hire.
In terms of shooting films, however, Nairobi can be a pain, especially the town area. Licenses are expensive and one would rather skip shooting in town because of the harassment by kanjo and the bureaucracy involved. I have more readily taken photos in Mombasa town with no fear of harassment and I wish this were the case in Nairobi.
- What motivates you?
Mostly anger at how things are especially concerning views that lead to the suppression and/or abuse of women, and members of the LGBTI community as well as the demonization of liberal ways of thinking where religion is concerned.
The absence of stories in certain spheres also motivates me a lot to seek them out because I am a very curious person. I also believe if people knew more views concerning what affects humanity, they would learn to be more tolerant of others and perhaps encourage an open-mindedness we direly need.
7. How do you define success?
Success is being able to influence actions or thoughts, in ways that also enrich you.
- Who has been your greatest inspiration?
That’s like asking my favourite book or movie- I really cannot choose just one. As a Kenyan filmmaker, it would definitely be the late Ashina Kibibi; as a feminist, the likes of Beyonce, Amber Rose and Emma Watson all in different ways, and as a liberal writer, it would definitely be the band Taste This whose book Boys Like Her is one of the most radical pieces of literature I have ever read. It greatly influences how I express myself in writing and photography.
- What is your favourite aspect of your job?
Creating great moments that are immortal and also the fact that no project is ever the same as the other. New challenges breed new excitement.
- What would you say are the key elements to being successful?
- Commitment and following through with what you set to achieve.
- Passion- I cannot stress this enough. Film and Theatre are lots of fun but damn hard work.
- A strong will.
- A voice- expression defines your being especially in the arts.
- What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
If you can, by all means, enrol in a good film school. You can honestly learn from the internet and books, what they teach in film school, but the discipline of class work and film assignments that must be done will keep you grounded in your craft in ways the internet cannot.
Not only that but the people you meet in film school are a ready cast and crew for whatever projects you’d like to experiment on. And I don’t know if it’s a KU thing but during premieres, you’ll undoubtedly see people from your school show up to watch your movie. Such support systems are crucial!
Film school or not, though, just get out and shoot a movie. Use your camera phone, or those loathsome digital cameras, or a good DSLR if you can get one- just shoot a movie. Know that your first movies will suck in many ways and you’ll probably cringe watching them five years later, but they are necessary stepping stones. The more movies you make, the more you realize your mistakes and the better you become.
Be willing to work for free at times, especially when just starting out. Be curious.
- What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?
Being one of the founders of Tuwatch Sinema has been very satisfying. Tuwatch Sinema is an event that has been screening purely Kenyan films, once every month and has been running for more than a year now.
Because Kenyan films are few online, in a place like YouTube they tend to easily get drowned in the sea of more watched movies from around the world. With Tuwatch Sinema, we hope to give Kenyan filmmakers (including ourselves) a sort of front-page headline to show what stories we’re making.
- What makes you happy?
Good food, cats being silly, very fast internet, black lemon tea on a cold day, watching repeats of Rick and Morty or New Girl.
Also, projects well done and archived to be looked back at, in pride.
- What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
Crafting, photography, travel, watching films, attending events, reading, browsing Pinterest and the web generally
- Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?
I really can’t tell. I live one year at a time.
If you would like to interact with Hellen you can find her on Twitter at @hellenmasido, Instagram, and Facebook. You can also check out the website Tuwatch Sinema and her personal blog.
Pearls And Heels: Tessy Aura