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Vincent Mbaya | Kenya | Be Proactive & Assertive!

Updated: Nov 7, 2022

Cinematographer | Director | Filmmaker

My name is Vincent Mbaya, a cinematographer/director based in Nairobi Kenya. My filmmaking journey was born on the stage, as an actor while in high school. Having been a very shy individual, I purposely wanted to challenge myself and put myself in a scenario that would continually push me out of my shell. The stage was my solution, putting myself in front of hundreds of eyes was what I needed to get rid of my social fears. It is said life makes perfect sense in retrospect, and I see that everyday. After high school I joined The Professional Players in Nairobi, hosted at the Phoenix Theatre, this is where I learnt skills and habits that guided me to this day. Arts need self-discipline, a tough work ethic, respect for others and what they bring and a spirit of collaboration, these were instilled hard at the Phoenix Theatre, allowing my self confidence to grow even more. The stage transitioned me into TV acting, that then landed me a small role on “Tomb Raider, Cradle of Life’. This was it; this is where this journey had been leading up to. At the time I was in University, studying something completely unrelated.

While on the set of Tomb Raider, I was exposed to and had time to watch a full onset Hollywood production at play, how the various wheels and cogs turned, it is while watching an action scene unfold that I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I sat there in the middle of conversation with Djimon Hounsou, watching the grips, stunts, wardrobe, make-up, art department, special effects department, armorers, lights, camera, sound all completely engrossed in their various tasks. The assistant director suddenly yelled some instructions, everyone vanished off the set, he called a few more instructions and the director called action! Suddenly there was an outburst of dialogue, gunshots, helicopters, stunt actors rappelling down ropes, yelling, screaming and explosions all in a well choreographed dance of chaos. There was then a loud cut! From the director, a few words with his assistant, who then shouted ‘reset!’ and everything happened all over again. I turned to Mr Djimon and calmly said, ‘I think I have just realized what I want to do with my life.’ It was so clear! From then on, it's like a bug had bit me, my mathematics lecture lost meaning, my mind and soul were consumed by my experience and eventually the bug won, as I switched to filmmaking.

With a lack of film schools at the time in Nairobi, it was a tough journey, I searched for every workshop or training program I could find. I ended up training in documentary filmmaking as my foundation, I worked for free on sets for about a year before landing on a work and train program with The Mediae company, that took me from a set runner, to production assistant, to camera trainee to camera operator, up to lighting, then cinematographer and ultimately director over a course of 8 years. I am immensely grateful to Mr. David Campbell for this.

From here I moved on as a freelancer, working on various commercials and TV shows as cinematographer on "Tales from the bus larder” and adventure cooking show for Fox, ‘The fearless chef’ for Nat Geo through QBF Factual, a Nairobi based production house. As director, I have worked on ‘Lions Den’, a franchise of Shark Tank, The Great Kenyan Bake Off, among others. I have also ventured into drama, as head director for Netflix’s first Kenyan branded series Country Queen, I am currently working on another first, Showmax’s first fully Kenyan original Pepeta.

What were the biggest initial hurdles and how did you overcome them?

My greatest initial hurdle was the lack of formal film training, this meant that I took a long time learning on the job and working my way up the ladder. The greatest reasons being, I had to prove myself at every step of the way, show why I was ready for the step up. It took a lot of dedication and immersing myself into research, study and understanding, asking questions and just wanting to learn more and more. I never waited for anyone to tell me, I took the lead. While at MEDIAE, in order to get into the camera department, I offered to use a small camera that was lying in the gear store to shoot behind the scenes content, having noticed that they did not have any at the time. I tapped into my documentary filmmaking to do this. I showed my work to the Director of Photography, asking for tips and pointers, it is this dedication that made him ask the Producer to allow me to join the camera department.

Your advice to an upcoming youth or talents locally and internationally?

My advice to young people is simply ‘send yourself’ (if I was to use a Kenyan slang expression), be proactive, assertive. Do not wait, no one is coming to help you, take initiative, show dedication, you may be doing things that you feel are beneath your dream, while in the lighting department I was tasked in cleaning cables, I did it with the dedication of an artist, while in the cameras department, I was tasked with cleaning the camera gear, that is how I learnt everything there was to know about the cameras, the menus, changing lenses, I got to a point where I could troubleshoot, if there was a problem. It is in these seemingly menial tasks that you interact with others, what they do and how they do it; eventually it becomes a wealth of knowledge when you are in a position of leadership.

Filmmaking is a very collaborative process, so finally be open to others and their ideas.

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