In July of 2020, the actor and film director Mathew Nabwiso embarked on his most ambitious creation yet.
With an expansive war chest from Multichoice, Nabwiso brought together old-timers and rookies in the Ugandan film industry to produce ‘Sanyu’, a TV show that’s become a must-watch in a number of homes across the continent.
It’s currently the most-watched TV show on Showmax, according to Joan Semannda, the communications manager at Multichoice Uganda.
The South African-headquartered entertainment company launched Showmax in August of 2015 as an online subscription video-on-demand service, months before Netflix hit the continent in Jan. 2016.
In the face of competition from big names like Amazon Prime, Iroko TV, YouTube and a number of eyeball-hungry platforms, Multichoice took a decision to ramp up its local content production.
Creatives like Nabwiso have benefited from this initiative.
Semanda declined to disclose their budget for local content, saying they’re a public company and it’d have an effect on the stock market if the figures were to be published.
Before closing the huge financial commitment from Multichoice, Nabwiso had taken lessons from the MultiChoice Talent Factory (MTF), an initiative rolled out to ground talented Africans in content creation and positioning.
Some alumni of the academy like Ugandans Daisy Masembe and Isiko Abubaker have gone on to win impressive deals with the New York Film Academy of Visual and Performing Arts (NYFA), and Jasco Broadcast Solutions respectively.
The shooting of ‘Sanyu’ takes place in a well-gated section of Mutungo, Kampala.
Nabwiso, while showing pressmen around the filming facility on Thursday, said they found it after months of searching in different parts of Kampala and Wakiso.
When you arrive in the compound, the storied house strikes you with a vintage design and next to it is a small swimming pool with a comical shape.
The owner also planted a mango tree that’s provided shed for shooting some of the romantic scenes.
The making of ‘Sanyu’ has attracted a team of 60, according to Mathew Nabwiso.
And they’ve been together for most of this Covid pandemic, as filming kicked off just four months from announcing the first case of the respiratory illness in Uganda.
With Covid-19 guidelines in place, it was challenging shooting some of the scenes. While about 70% of the filming is done from the Mutungo house, which also serves as accommodation when they’ve to film past curfew, there are scenes they have to shoot away from here.
One day, they were in Kiwatule recording a bar scene and police arrested them.
They had secured permission from authorities but police officers were only willing to see evidence after dragging them to a nearby police station.
But it was too late to complete the filming. Time had been lost.
Season One premiered in February of this year with 100 episodes and it’s been a success.
The generally spoken about factor for its success is that it’s been a well-bankrolled project.
But it’s also important to note that since Nabwiso appeared on ‘The Hostel’, arguably the most talked about locally-created TV series in the past 10 years, he’s learnt a lot that could have possibly prepared him for this task.
It’s on ‘The Hostel’ that Nabwiso met his wife, Eleanor, who’s also on the cast of ‘Sanyu’.
Nabwiso also convinced former co-actors in ‘The Hostel’ like Housen Mushema and Isaac Kuddzu to join the cast.
Then there’s Tracy Kababiito, formerly of ‘NTV The Beat’, who was debuting in the film industry; Sharon ‘O’ Nalukenge, who represented Uganda in Big Brother Africa Season Six; and Abbey Mukiibi Nkaaga, who’s featured in globally recognized movies like ‘The Last King of Scotland’ and ‘The Silent Army’.
In ‘Sanyu’, Nabwiso and crew are telling a story that most an African relates with.
Not necessarily all of it, but many different parts of it.
Picture this: a young girl from a humble background finds herself working for a wealthy, troubled family and starts dating a son of the family.
The outcomes of such an arrangement are what you’ve either seen happen or been told about.
Because of the success seen in Season One, Multichoice ordered for 260 episodes in Season Two, which will be premiering in a few months.
Joan Semanda noted that they’re committed to financing local content because there’s increased demand for it.
Netflix, one of MultiChoice’s biggest competitors, recently announced it had earmarked $15 billion to fund the making of African original content.