Sound Chat #16 - Richard Ngugi (Production Sound Mixer)

I have a chat with Richard Ngugi, location sound mixer in Kenya and try to get a better sense of how sound in Kenya has grown and developed thanks to technology and an interconnected world.

Hi Richard, when did you get started in sound?

I started January 2005 - so about 10 years ago. I got into a TV series called "Makutano Junction" as a trainee sound man. My mentor was Derek Oliver Smith, an old British retired Sound Recordist. The program was designed to train crews for Kenya. Initially, I was to go in as a props assistant!! But I'm glad that didn't happen. So for the next 3 months, I alternated between booming and mixing on an SQN. That was my induction into the film industry. A year later, Derek gifted me a basic sound Kit - 2x416's, 1 blimp, sqn 4s series II, boom pole, return cable and some XLR's. My friends and I wanted to do a film and didn't have any kit. So that was the beginning for me. After that, I stepped into the world of freelance audio and haven't looked back.

10 years ago, location audio was mostly non existent. I think there was only 1 practicing recordist who depends on foreign bookings all the time. Location sound is now only beginning to be taken with the seriousness it deserves.

Now, we have maybe at most 4 serious Recordists who you can depend on to deliver what a UK/US recordist can do.

What is the most common content being produced in Kenya?

Main content being produced here is TV series. We are just getting into digital migration and so many TV stations are dishing out low budgets for TV coz they all want to fill their time.

The best work is obviously from overseas bookings. Try to leverage with UK/US rates. Try to deliver same kit packages. For example, this year I have done about 4 jobs that required TC, double system audio etc. I also used the lectro camera hops for the first time! That has never been a requirement on local jobs. So you can see just how far we are.

I used the Denecke synch box and ACL 203 for the first time as well.

So, the more foreign jobs one can get, the better the growth and learning curve.

How is the industry growing in Kenya and what are the main challenges?

There are many newbies coming in, but the skill levels are quite low. Poor training, mainly self taught or taught by the weaker recordists.

Low rates for local work since newbies don't understand how to charge and greedy producers own all the kit.

I haven't done a TV series in a year and a half. The budgets are really bad and sound with kit can get about 100-150$ per day.

We are way ahead of Uganda and Tanzania in all aspects of production, and especially in location sound.

Are the budgets and quality of shows changing in TV?

There are a few big donor funded series in East Africa. Great budgets and great quality. It's about trying to grow yourself so that you can get into those kind of jobs.

We have lots of TV content. But the quality is compromised all along the production process because of bad budgets. However, the better quality content is beginning to attract better budgets since the TV stations want what is good and what they can sell to advertisement agencies. So, maybe budgets will keep going up.

I want to thank Richard for his contribution and also include some data analysis from the Kenya Film Commission:

The industry also employed 4,103 people on permanent basis in 2009, which increased by 25% from 2005.

The total wage earnings in the industry also increased from 2,098.4 million in 2005 to 2,955.6 million in 2009/2010 – an increase of 40.8%.

The total number of establishments in the industry also increased by 85% from 222 in 2005 to 411 in 2009.

The international impact of the industry in Western countries especially, can be assessed by the increase in the issuance of special permits for film and documentary producers, which rose from 2350 in 2010 to 3180 in 2011.