Penned down by Michelle Donde in 2019, the story of House of Secrets did not see the light of day until 2021. With the help of director Stephanie Mumbi, the duo teamed up with Alfred Chidiebere Obi, who played the role of assistant director, and schemed on how to bring the film to life.
To start off, they took up the responsibility of casting. A poster was made and emails came flooding in. After narrowing it down to about thirty prospectives, auditions were held - an intricate process considering the number of talented people that showed up. By the end of the day, they were almost certain who would play which role - and after days of perusing through the audition footage and taking down notes, the chosen cast was cemented. Alfred, Steph and Michelle met with the cast members over coffee to discuss the way forward. Due to COVID restrictions and safety, rehearsals were conducted via Zoom meetings.
Location scouting followed. Finding the perfect locations that would represent the story with the most accuracy was paramount. The house, our main location that would be the Shayo residence, was quite important. A friend to the team, Phoebe Apondi, graciously allowed us to use her home. Taking photos of each location helped us visualize how we would frame our shots.
With a meticulous scriptwriter that was also doubling as a Director of Photography, Michelle Donde made a storyboard where she drew every single frame that would appear in the film. Shots taken during the recce made storyboarding that much easier. This would make for faster and more efficient production. It was also drawn with the edit in mind - a guide for Brandon Wema, the Digital Imaging Technician, to use as he edited, in order to make the story pan out exactly as it had been envisioned from the start.
The production was blessed with a stellar main actress, Kanini Edith, that amped the realism of the story in each scene. Her ability to quickly snap into character blew the team away. She played the role of Lucy and did a great job portraying the inner turmoil that the character was facing. Every single actor’s performance was brilliant; Peter Oruka nailed the role of the sinister accomplice, Reinhard Bonke was a relentless detective and Pauline Sifuna played an amazing conniving employee.
With limited funds and a tight deadline, an M-Changa account was opened with the goal of raising enough finances to pay for equipment hire, catering and location hire, amongst other costs. Funds were only collected for a few days but the goodwill from friends, family and fellow crew members went a long way.
As most productions with small budgets go, the film didn’t look exactly how it was pictured from the beginning. Locations had to be changed, props had to be foregone, complex shots had to be compromised for simpler ones that didn’t require extra equipment. Nevertheless, the team pulled together to make it a success.
The very last day of production had its own challenges with the team working against time to finish shooting and wrap up before the curfew time of 8pm that was imposed in Kenya at that time due to the pandemic.
Since the entire post-production team hadn’t been properly established by the end of the production phase, it was an interesting experience of sourcing different crew members to complete the film. To name a few; sound engineer, Victor Muia, mixed and mastered the sound, colourist, Emmanuel Ochieng, graded it to perfection and Alan Munyao created the thrilling title design.
The end of 2021 ended on a sweet note, with the film garnering four nominations for the Kalasha Awards; Best Sound Designer, Best Feature by a Student, Best Lead Actress in a film and Best Director. House of Secrets ended up winning three awards from these categories.
With so many heights left to scale still, this platform is hoping to be a stepping stone to more brilliant films that can be easily accessible to our audience - to entertain, educate and lead the way for change.