Donald Mugisha is the founder member of Yes! That’s Us, a collective of artists and industry professionals. He studies Mass Communication at Kampala University but attributes his ‘real life’ education to the making of hundreds of music videos for the East African music scene. Mugisha went on to direct a documentary about the method and reach of these music videos which garnered numerous awards and accolades both locally and internationals and helped turn his attention to filmmaking.
Mugisha grew up on a farm in Western Uganda and watched a lot of kung-fu movies growing up, as he matured be discovered the work of Rossellini, Truffaut, Fernando Meirelles, adopting their neo-realist style as his own.
He describes his first introduction to filmmaking was as a child when his father bought a small VHS video camera which he started experimenting with. At university he met a range of ‘frustrated’ artists from a cross section of disciplines
“I met these other guys, some of whom were working in banks, others in offices, basically all nine-to-fivers. But they were also frustrated artists - some were illustrators and writers. So we got together to work on a range of projects, specifically on music videos. From around 2000 to 2004 we designed and developed a specific model of approaching the production of music videos.”
“At the time there wasn’t much equipment we could use, so we had to shoot fast, and the concepts had to be really simple – one or two locations, we had to shoot outdoors and use natural light. We’d shoot for one or two days, edit it within five days, then package it and just put it out there. I would say the music videos were our film school. We kept switching roles as well, so if one day you were editing, the next day you’d be the cameraman or DP. After a while we started doing some short experimental films” (Mugisha, 2010)
From here started his love affair with digital. What attracted him initially was obviously the affordability and access of the medium but he soon discovered that it also lends itself to a rough and ready style in the mold of the great cinema vérité school.
“It is affordable and simple: just take a camera and start shooting. It has brought a new style: one that is critical and realistic, and that has a specific tempo. It is not only because of the costs that I prefer digital filming: it is also because of the mobile and versatile style it allows.” (Mugisha, 2010)
Donald also observed how the music videos that he made where virally marketed by their target audience. He realise how this same model could be used to make and get fiction films seen in Uganda.
“The music industry in Uganda doesn’t have any real structure, what you might imagine as a conventional structure. But it’s huge, and makes a lot of money. The way it works as an artist is that you go to a studio and record a song. When you’re done with this, you put it on a CD and take it to what we call computer points – there’s over five or six hundred of these, all over the place.”
“Customers come and choose the songs they want to be burnt onto a CD – so they make their own compilations. Obviously this should be illegal, and of course technically it is – it’s piracy. But this is how musicians benefit: if you upload your song and video onto a computer at 10am, by the end of the day it has scattered all over the country. And if it’s a good song people will demand a follow-up, and will want to see the artist perform.”
“So the promoters will come to you as a musician and book you for shows, and you’ll start to make money from live performances. So similarly in film, you have to design your own model – our model was to shoot fast, shoot cheap, make it as high quality as our resources allowed, get it out to a domestic audience by any means, and if enough people see it and like it we’ll hopefully be able to finance the next one.” (Mugisha, 2010)