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How to hack it in the filmmaking industry: Lessons from Phil Director & Abel Mutua

Abel Mutua and Phil Director, the founders of Phil-It Productions, have successfully transformed filmmaking into a profitable venture.

Abel Mutua and Phil Director

In the dynamic world of filmmaking, the line between creativity and business is often blurred. However, visionary individuals have successfully bridged this gap, transforming filmmaking into a thriving business.

Among these trailblazers are Abel Mutua and Philip Karanja 'Phil Director', whose innovative approaches and entrepreneurial mindset have reshaped the landscape of the Kenyan film industry.

Mutua, a reputable actor, scriptwriter & storyteller, joined forces with Phil Director, an accomplished filmmaker & director, to embark on a mission to elevate the local film industry. Presently in their 16th year and still going.

Their collaboration has not only resulted in groundbreaking productions but has also revolutionized the way Kenyan films are created, marketed, and monetized.

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Their journey, however, has not been without its challenges.

As former actors on the popular TV show 'Tahidi High,' Abel and Phil faced their fair share of obstacles while rising in the industry. They initially met at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, where they began their acting careers.

Starting out as cast members on 'Tahidi High,' which aired on Citizen TV in 2007, Abel and Phil later transitioned to the production side of the show.

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Initially earning a modest payment of Sh500 per episode, their dedication and talent led to a significant increase in their salary to Sh20,000 per episode over the course of five years.

They further went behind the scenes and joined in the technical and creative production of the show.

They also expanded their roles to other shows like 'Mother-in-law' before eventually leaving to establish their own company.

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In 2014, Abel and Phil founded Phil It Productions, focusing on artistic excellence and commercial viability. Their notable production, 'The Real Househelps of Kawangware,' aired on KTN, with Abel handling the scripting and Phil taking charge of directing.

They also worked on the show 'Hapa Kule News,' which also aired on KTN. Although they did not own the entire show, as it was a collaboration with Protel Studios, they contributed their creative talents and while Protel Studios held the Intellectual Property rights.

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However, the duo decided to part ways with the show and transitioned into working on projects under their company.

They embarked on shooting pilots for shows, which they pitched to broadcasters with the intention of securing airtime on TV.

However, their journey to success was not without setbacks. During their search for broadcasters to air their shows, they encountered financial losses.

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The costs of producing pilot shows ranged from Sh300,000 to Sh500,000, and despite their efforts, most of their pitches were rejected, resulting in losses of over Sh1 million for four different pilot concepts.

Fortunately, their comedy-drama series 'Sue Na Johnnie' was eventually picked up and premiered on Showmax in 2017. Despite the popularity of the show, they faced significant debts and losses amounting to Sh3 million.

Recognizing their lack of business acumen and poor money management skills, they learned valuable lessons from their experiences of overpaying individuals.

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Abel and Phil took a step back to rebuild their company. They sought the guidance of a business consultant, who helped them develop a solid business model.

Additionally, they created a distribution platform that allowed them to release their films without relying solely on broadcasters.

Their efforts paid off as they rebounded and began generating profits. Their films, such as 'Grand Little Lie' and 'Click Click Bang,' achieved remarkable success, earning revenues of over Sh4 million and nearly Sh10 million respectively.

Furthermore, Abel and Phil have expanded their presence on YouTube. Phil runs a show called 'Becoming CEO,' while Abel has cultivated a niche in storytelling on his YouTube channel.

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Phil believes that fans are willing to financially support high-quality local content. According to him, this serves as the primary motivation to ensure a win-win situation for both fans, who can enjoy good content, and creators, who can earn a livelihood.

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