It’s always a nice day when you can introduce a hard grinding young talent who keeps working hard to hone their craft.
From Kisumu to Netflix: Inspiring story of rising filmmaker Andrew Ogonji
Andrew Ogonji's skills have seen him rise from a little-known director to working on The Witcher and Army of the Dead for Netflix
In this instance, meet a rising Kenyan visual effects (VFX) artist Andrew Ogonji, he is steadily and quietly working his way up the ladder in the film industry.
From the comfort of his home in Nairobi, Ogonji’s work has crossed borders to the United States and made it to Hollywood.
In a sit-down with this Pulse writer, he narrated how he was able to get his name inside the US film industry circles and on movie credits.
“I fell in love with acting when I was 10 years old, and at the time I was the class clown…Chris Rock was my favourite celebrity,” he recalled, adding that he directed and took part in school plays.
Ogonji studied media in Arusha, Tanzania
His passion for acting would then see him study media, music, and theatre in Arusha, Tanzania where he found very talented acts.
“The students I found there challenged me to improve my skills and I would take the school camera and shoot all day then edit all night,” the film director recalled. It helped him gain confidence in using the camera.
At this time, what started as a love for acting turned into a passion for being behind the camera, directing, and adding his own personal touch to films.
After graduating, the ambitious Ogonji then tried to get into the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts but it proved futile so he had to travel back home to Kisumu.
The words of his teacher kept ringing in his head, the same teacher would describe Andrew as the most likely to win an Academy Award (Oscar) among his students.
“Andrew is committed to acting and the creative process. He has demonstrated the ability to limitless experiments both in performing arts and creative media.
“In the future, given the right platform, Andrew will definitely impress as an actor. I wish you the best. I hope you realise soon enough that you can always use a different route to get to your destination,” an excerpt from the resounding assurance reads.
It is that last part of the affirmation which stuck in Ogonji’s head as he decided to enroll at USIU Africa which was at the time opening its media school.
In his first year at the university, Ogonji directed a short film which won an award. Another of his short films, which was shot from a camera hired at Sh2,000, was screened in one of the cinemas in Nairobi and the feeling of people watching and loving his content confirmed that he was on the right track.
Ogonji went on to improve his editing skills and even learned a few new visual effects tricks that would later help him land jobs with Netflix.
Andrew Ogonji is credited as a VFX artist on the film below
Two of his videos went viral on TikTok, garnering over 200,000 views and getting the attention of actor Nick Mutuma.
Back in Kisumu, the budding filmmaker linked up with a friend who wanted to try acting, and with a lot of time on their hands would try to perfect their skills every day.
Some of Andrew Ogonji's low career moments
Ogonji later got an offer to join a studio in Nairobi and his newfound buddy Austine Mboya made a sacrifice to travel to Nairobi with his director in search of greener pastures, which took longer to find than they had anticipated.
After a few months of living in the studio, they realised that managers were not interested in hiring them, but were taking advantage of their ambition as filmmakers.
“We left in the night from Kitengela to Town... I called a friend who agreed to host us for a while but he also kicked us out,” Andrew recalled some of the lowest moments of his life.
His father, who did not approve of Ogonji’s career of choice, helped pay for accommodation at a hostel for one month and discontinued after finding out his son was pursuing a film career in Nairobi.
This pushed the budding director to aggressively look for ways to make money and that is how he met and worked with comedian Eric Omondi on two adverts, as well as viral videos with skit comediennes Cartoon Comedian, and Mammito.
“Eric Omondi wanted us to work for him full time but we didn't agree on the terms,” Ogonji shared.
Confidence in his skills and hunger for more made Andrew hatch a new plan to reach out to as many filmmakers as he could by sending custom messages to as many contacts as he could get.
“I used IMDb, the world's most popular and authoritative source for movie, TV, and celebrity content to get contacts. I made a list of my favourite shows and I emailed the directors, producers, gaffers, and anyone who worked on the films even if they had been extras.
“I customised the email text and content to suit whoever I was sending to, whether it was the sound guys, I would ask for their opinion on the sound,” he narrated.
Fortunately, one of the recipients, Treyvon Townsend, an actor based in Atlanta, US reached out to Andrew and gave him some work.
“He gave me two months to do the visual effects project but I delivered it in seven days and he was blown away. He introduced me to other clients and that is how I started building my reputation as a visual effects artist,” he said.
Ogonji has been credited as a VFX specialist in projects such as The Witcher and Army of the Dead on Netflix, Hood Dragon Ball Super Series, and recently in Octopizzo’s new music video Go Hard.
His work was also presented in a competition organised by US superstar rapper Rick Ross, at a time when the rapper was looking to promote his fast-food business. The rapper owns about 20 Wingstop restaurants.
Andrew believes he is the best director in Africa.
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