Cajetan Boy is a storyteller. His medium of choice is film though he started out writing for the stage. He’s an avid reader of science fiction and is currently working on a sci-fi novel that fingers crossed we’ll be reading or watching soon. He’s one of Kenya’s notable scriptwriters, a skill he passes on through his free online masterclass. He’s a producer, a director and an editor for both film and television. He’s written for Lies That Bind, Sumu la Penzi, Girlfriends, Changing Times, Mheshimiwa, Guy Centre, The Team, Wash and Set, Better Days and Makutano Junction. He’s also made his own films, among them Obohoz, Benta, Captain Nakara, All Girls Together, Backlash and By Any Means Necessary. He directed the short film On Your Marks that was written by Jackline Emali and that was the only Kenyan film to screen at the Miami Film Festival in 2017. He lectures and runs Et Cetera Productions with his wife.
How did you get into that? How did you start?
It’s hard to place a finger on anything specific because as they say, you’re the sum result of everything you have been through. I’ve done a lot of reading. As I was growing up, I had older siblings who used to read and I used to read their stuff. I’ve done a lot of reading. I’ve watched a lot of movies. When I left the educational system and went to get a job, I got a job and the job didn’t work out so I decided to go to college and study. I went and studied agricultural engineering but when I was leaving college, the government was no longer employing agricultural engineers. So I was jobless when I was graduating.
So I went back home. I stuck at home for a bit. Then at one time my brother sent me a message, there was a theatre troupe that was being formed, called Miujiza Players and they were looking for actors. So he was like, ‘hey, why don’t you apply for this?’ Now, in hindsight, I remembered when I was in high school I was the chairman of the drama club. I’d lost that connection. So I go into this group, it was called the Miujiza Players. We were doing HIV/AIDS awareness using plays, so we’d go to a place and perform short scripts, about 15 minutes. Then after that, we’d give people the facts because we were also trained on the facts. Then we’d give them a chance to ask questions, ‘Do mosquitoes spread AIDS?’ Miujiza Players was under the wings of Phoenix Players.
We did that for about a year and a half, then the late James Falkland came and told us, ‘hey, we’ve been doing these plays for too long.’ They’d actually placed a call in the press asking people to submit scripts but everything they got was below standards so that’s why he came to the people, us guys and said, ‘okay, is anybody interested in writing?’ I think there was two of us who were interested in writing. So I wrote my short stage play and took it to James Falkland. It was a HIV/AIDS story. So I wrote two or three more plays. Then James Falkland who was running Phoenix Players at the time tells me, ‘If you can write me a feature-length stage play, one set, a few characters and I like it, I’ll do it.’ So I wrote a play, it was called Benta and he said, ‘okay,’ and it got into production. It was done, it was successful.
I kept writing but I was getting frustrated. You take six to nine months to write a play, then it’s performed for 14 shows and that’s your whole run and it takes time before the show is done by anybody else. At the same time, some people were telling me that my scripts looked like they could make good movies. So I decided to adapt one of my plays into a movie. I adapted my first stage play, By Any Means Necessary, into a movie, my first movie. It was guesswork, prayer, and knowledge of a few things I’d heard and it didn’t go too bad.
Around the same time, I got into Maisha Film Lab where I started learning the craft of writing for the screen. Lupita Nyong’o who was an intern at Maisha that year acted in the film I produced during the lab. I asked and she said yes. It’s a short film called Roho. The movie was optioned by an Indian producer and adapted for the Indian market. That was fun. I went into more Maisha labs and eventually became a trainer. I then got into teaching, now I run my own production company and offer an online writing class.
Is there any project you’re especially proud of?
I’d say I am proud of every project in different ways and for different reasons. By Any Means Necessary was my first movie and everybody told me that I couldn’t do it. I made By Any Means Necessary. I did not direct it but I was the producer. It’s very close to me in that respect. Benta, I was an assistant director and a producer. It’s very close to me because it was my first stage play. It’s also the movie that kind of had some funding, what you’d call crowdfunding.
All Girls Together is special to me because I wrote the script then outsourced it to this young group of girls who wanted to be producers. So Janet Kirina, Nice Githinji, and Janet Madiangi were the producers of All Girls Together. Strata is the first feature film that I directed myself. They’re all special to me for various reasons including Obohoz, the short films I’ve done and also the NGO work. There are some I feel are still awesome, some I wish I could rewrite and re-shoot. It’s a tough question because it’s a little like asking a parent, ‘Who’s your favourite child?’
What are you currently working on?
Currently, I’m working on, one, being the chairman of Kenya Scriptwriter’s Guild. I think people take writers and writing for granted and I believe that is why Kenya is not where it should be in terms of film and TV. We’ve got the technical stuff, we’ve got the actors, we’ve got the locations but somehow we have the flattest stories ever. So I want to build the guild in that respect.
Two, everybody agrees, although they don’t practice it that story comes first. Yet they’re not willing to practice it. I’m hoping to get people to practice it a bit more and realizing that film is a collaborative effort, not only in terms of your cameraman and sound guy but starting from the story level. It’s actually what’s taking all my time and all my effort. It’s a bit of a task to get things moving, to try and get people used to the habit of writing. People don’t write as a habit in this country, people write because they are commissioned which I think in a way affects writing.
The second thing I’m working on is collaborations. I’m a strong believer in collaborations. I keep telling people, Hollywood has the money but how many Hollywood movies do you watch with one credit? You would be hard-pressed to find a Hollywood film with one credit. I want to push this through the guild and also through my private company, Et Cetera Productions. In the past two years, I’ve focused more on training because we need the critical mass of people who believe in film.
Where’s the industry right now and where could it be? What’s possible?
I think this industry has great potential, it’s just that there’s a shortage of passion in the sense that people will not do anything unless there’s a bucket of money involved. With the technology we have, there’s no excuse not to shoot anything.
What’s the dream? What’s the end-game for Cajetan?
Oh my end game has just begun! I’m working on my science fiction novel and it’s a massive book. I’m probably in my seventh year of working on it. It’s massive both in size and content. I have a big issue with racial pride, black pride so that features heavily. The grand plan is I’m going to finish the book. I’m going to make the movie. I’m going to make the TV series. Then the universe of my book is going to be a franchise.
What would your advice be to someone who’s just stepping out into film?
There’s a maxim used in writing, show don’t tell, which also applies in film. I think it applies to everything. Show don’t tell. The worst thing you do is better than the best thing you do not do. So people, if you want to do something, go out there and start doing it.
Once you start doing it, start learning about it. Shoot something, put it on YouTube get feedback and repeat. If you’re interested, look for someone to teach you how to do it better. Just go out and do it. There are people who say, Film is Serious Business and that is the exact reason why in Kenya film doesn’t move. Walt Disney said, ‘We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make movies.’
What does Cajetan do when he’s not making movies?
I do very few things. I read. I write. I work out. I spend time with my kids. I make movies. Fortunately, sometimes they all overlap. Same way they say hip-hop is a way of life, filmmaking is a way of life. I don’t stop making movies or thinking about making movies.
On Your Marks – Official Trailer