Award winning writer, Damaris Irungu Ochieng, gives a lecture to scriptwriting students
Caption: Damaris Irungu Ochieng’ is currently one of the most sought-after scriptwriters on the continent, having scripted shows like Makutano Junction, Jastorina, Kona, Mali, Pray and Prey, Nyumba 10, Knowzone, Kiberan ShakesPeare, Sopie, Die Husband For and Run Honeymooners.
By Dr. Rachael Diang’a
Film Production and Directing students had a unique opportunity to learn from an award-winning scriptwriter and script editor on Wednesday, April 7, 2021, when the Department of Cinematic Arts organized a virtual scriptwriting mentorship session with Damaris Irungu Ochieng’ for its Scriptwriting concentration students. Scriptwriting is one of the four concentrations in USIU-Africa’s BA Film Production and Directing program. The other three are Directing, Editing and Cinematography.
Damaris Irungu Ochieng’ is currently one of the most sought-after scriptwriters on the continent, having written Emmy Award-winning scripts, emerged a finalist at the Durban International Film Festival Film lab, among so many other prestigious engagements in the global film market. She has written/edited scripts for so many successful films screened on DSTV, Showmax and a wide array of other local and international platforms. Locally, she is more known for scripting: Makutano Junction, Jastorina, Kona, Mali, Pray and Prey, Nyumba 10, Knowzone, Kiberan ShakesPeare, Sopie, Die Husband For and Run Honeymooners.
With an expansive writing experience in writing for film, TV, comic books, fictional and nonfictional books, Damaris was the best speaker selected to motivate and mentor our young writers this semester. She interacted with the enthusiastic students on all aspects of scripting, giving them hope about an area in film making that has received less attention in the creative industry. “I really enjoyed the information shared. We’ve gotten to see such an exciting side of the film industry, especially learning how it works for scriptwriters,” admits Gracia Olesa, Film Production and Directing Major, who attended the session.
The students were guided through tips on how to make meaningful career income from scriptwriting. As doctors, engineers, accountants and all other professionals make money from their skills and knowledge, Damaris emphasized that the time was nigh for not just creatives in general, but specifically screenwriters in Africa to make money from their art.
“Although all screen media start with a script, scriptwriting is the most misunderstood job in film sectors in developing countries. Similarly, a lot of upcoming filmmakers tend to shy away from scripting, preferring areas that come with faster fame like acting and directing and even producing and cinematography, which have a sizeable amount of control. Scriptwriters get less attention during festivals and awards ceremonies because their work is not shown in its original (written) form in the pomp and glamour that characterize the cinematic industry,” she said.
“In a finished audio-visual product, it’s difficult to quickly single out the input of a writer since the director’s visualization of the script kind of takes over and the dividing line between the director’s and the writer’s work gets blurred in the eyes of many,” she noted.
This confusion notwithstanding, the students who attended the session were shown how much control and flexibility writing accords them, especially in certain delicate situations such as where one has to create a healthy balance between family and work, or when having multiple jobs.
The students were further guided on a variety of areas of interest including how to how to generate and develop stunning story ideas into saleable scripts. Writing can be a lonely journey and often times in this process of turning ideas into final scripts questions of doubt may cross a writer’s mind.
“As an aspiring writer, this session has been very informative and very insightful and some of the questions I have been asking and the problems I have encountered as a writer have been answered,” says Christian Khaemba, (Junior, BA Film Production & Directing, Scripting concentration).
This is the essence of inviting industry professionals to mentor our students since not everything can be taught and mastered within the confines of the classroom. Some issues get clarified along the way as our students seamlessly transition into the film industry.
Jonathan Chola, a BA in Film Production & Direction Freshman is elated by this approach to learning. He says, “When someone who is in the industry comes and talks to you, it’s like you get to see the future in a sense. You get to learn from someone else’s experiences which is the best way to learn; because when time comes and you have to face a similar situation, you know what to look out for.”
As is common with mentorship, Mrs. Irungu Ochieng’ did not leave the students without some crucial tips on how to make it in the writing business since writing is currently gaining currency in Kenya.
Jemima Gichuru, a BA in Film Production & Direction Senior in the Scripting concentration was impressed by Mrs. Irungu Ochieng’s willingness to share some tips to succeeding in scriptwriting, noting that it was interesting to hear from her how the industry works and to know that more and more people are into scriptwriting. Some of the tips were shared to navigate the industry as an up and coming scriptwriter included:
1. Never get comfortable where you are;
2. Always be hungry to learn new things;
3. Continue investing in and developing yourself;
4. Be willing to start with a lower job than you think you should;
5. Flex your muscle beyond your comfort zone;
6. We are all multi-talented,
7. Stand and be counted as part of the Africa Rising narrative, we need it.
USIU-Africa’s Cinematic programs stand out for their close interaction with the industry and in the Spring Semester, over ten industry professionals have given guest lectures in the classes. These have been drawn from Kenya, USA, Uganda, and Nigeria among other countries. The idea is to expose our students as much as possible to a variety of cinematic cultures from all over the world.