Over 10 years we help companies reach their financial and branding goals. Maxbizz is a values-driven consulting agency dedicated.




411 University St, Seattle


The art of making cash-minting films – Business Daily

Eugene Mbugua, entrepreneur and founder of Documentary and Reality Television Limited, during the interview at his Kilimani office on September 1, 2022. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG
Eugene Mbugua is not just the name but the mystique, intensity and forcefulness that comes with it. The producer of Kyallo Kulture is arguably one of the most successful filmmakers in the country, with nearly every Kenyan TV production in the last 10 years bearing his fingerprints.
Mr Mbugua was an early starter, having thrown his hat into the ring after high school a just 17. He sold his first film a month before his graduation from United States International University where he studied television production. On the eve of his graduation day, the show premiered on K24 TV.
‘‘Had that not happened, I was going to quit the industry entirely and focus on other businesses. I was able to sustain the business despite the headaches. By the time I was on my fourth TV show, I realised it was the thing for me.’’
In recent months, Mr Mbugua has made excursions in Africa, meeting artistes and business partners. Signing deals is now a big part of his career. To him, going regional and continental means multiplying both the audience and revenue.
‘‘Those pushing for integration in East Africa, for instance, have to be very clear about how art will be involved. We are making progress.’’
He adds: ‘‘It is easy sometimes to imagine that someone came from nowhere. But I have been in the film industry for nearly fifteen years. Deal-making has happened gradually.’’
He says consistency, staying power in the industry and being able to sustain a project are what build market trust and credibility. That and a strong product that catches the attention of the market.
For him, that product was Young Rich, his first TV production where he profiled young Kenyan millionaires. Out of this production emerged business partnerships and friends.
‘‘It has been exciting watching these entrepreneurs, some who have become billionaires and others have gone international.’’ Still, businesses for some collapsed ‘‘and others went to jail.’’ His desire is to revive some of the stories in the future.
Most of his ideas are driven by timeliness. ‘‘If the Kyallo sisters are the hottest thing in town I will make a show about them.’’
He is hesitant to talk about The Real Housewives of Nairobi, a reality TV he will executive produce. Instead, he admits that the best kind of art builds on the old. ‘‘Nostalgia is a powerful tool in art. For me, it is a mixture of old and new stuff.’’
Eugene Mbugua, entrepreneur and founder of Documentary and Reality Television Limited, during the interview at his Kilimani office on September 1, 2022. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG
More than 40 productions later, Mr Mbugua, 32, is happy where he is. ‘‘The portfolio has grown quite tremendously. We have changed our management style and we are now governed by a board because we are taking more investments.’’
On things he feels he has done right, innovation ‘‘which means constantly giving the market new material’’ tops the list. ‘‘It is easy for a production company to be known for one production. Many film companies in Kenya are set up that way. They do one production and once the contract is over, the company collapses.’’
He adds: ‘‘We have a target of giving the market between three and four TV shows every year. I am not content with that either. There is more that we could put out there for our audience.’’
Then there are systems. From only 10 employees five years ago, his company’s payroll has bulged to 50, complete with administrative structures. His approach to TV, he says, is strictly business rather than entertainment.
‘‘Our film market is too small to have separation of roles. Often, as a filmmaker, if you do not bother to learn about the business element no one will do it on your behalf.’’
He explains: ‘‘There is no art without commerce. My project could be the most beautiful film but until it starts generating revenue, it is of no use to anyone, not even to the artist who needs a livelihood. As a filmmaker, you need money to hire crew, to pay for cameras and somewhere to live.’’
He says small creative companies often have a high turnover, as young talent comes and leaves soon after. ‘‘They get better-paying jobs elsewhere, find new interests or leave the industry altogether. In the absence of systems (for talent retention) you have so many holes that do not allow you to continue.’’
For Mr Mbugua, having a board has not only complemented his talent but built accountability in the business as well. ‘‘There is only so much I as the founder knows. There is need to bring more experienced people to help me unlock the next level.’’
On the growth of reality TV in Kenya, he admits that there has been an evolution of ‘‘this niche area’’ noting that the advertiser-funded model was declining owing to competition from digital avenues.
‘‘We are all fighting for the same money as a vlogger who is making content from their phone.’’ Part of the reason for this, he argues, is strict gatekeeping in TV.
‘‘To make a star before, an artist needed to go through a production company. Assuming a TV station liked my show, they would buy it. This process determined who became a star and who did not. Today, someone just needs to make something funny and publish it online and they are a star.’’
He says there is more content now being made for digital spaces rather than traditional media, which is now chasing new media. ‘‘Streaming is also coming up very strongly. Some of the biggest spenders in the country at the moment are Netflix and Showmax. These changes are both scary and interesting at the same time.’’
When asked about his routine, he mumbles something to the effect that his has been a solitary life. ‘‘There is something about solitude that motivates you to delve deeper into things. The struggle is a bigger motivator than comfort. Artists, academics, and entrepreneurs are solitary professionals.’’
He is also talking about his family relations, a subject that makes him somewhat edgy. ‘‘I lost my mother when I was young,’’ he says guardedly.
On his life hacks, he says there are none, other than waking up early and being disciplined for the last 10 years. He is up by 3:45am to respond to messages from his manager and team before heading to the gym by 4:30am where he trains for an hour. He is in the office at 6am to read before beginning his day.
‘‘I leave the office at 4pm to do different things. I could have coffee with a friend or go home to play with my dogs.’’ These are a nine-year-old Maltese Terrier and a two-year-old. ‘‘I love my dogs. They are my family. I live alone with them.’’
He joined a golf club six years ago, where he dedicates an hour every Friday morning ‘‘to hit the balls.’’ He says: ‘‘I am very unpopular with golfers because every time I turn down every invitation to play a round. I genuinely do not have four hours to play golf because of work engagement.’’
He says he is constantly picking up new adventures on the way. One of them is playing the saxophone, which he has been learning for three weeks now. ‘‘I love to camp, so occasionally I will drive out of town.’’ He also owns a club in Nairobi’s city centre that hosts music and karaoke nights. ‘‘I party hard by virtue of being in the business.’’
Some films take a short time to produce while others take up to five years. This depends with market readiness for a show, timing and circumstances, he says. He adds that some ideas are too grand to find funding for.
‘‘For every one TV show that runs, there are usually about 10 that have been rejected. I have a folder on my computer labelled the graveyard. These are projects we wrote, shot pilots for and spent money on but which [could not take off]. It is not luck. It is work.’’
For the local market to come out of the woods, he says reliance on sponsorship must stop. ‘‘Most TV stations decided what TV shows to buy based on what the advertisers [deem proper]. Yet the audience simply needs to be entertained. We need to get to a point where a consumer is able to pay money for content. This would free artistes to concentrate on making art.’’
He says this will take time, but adds that that people buy tickets and ‘‘fill up theatres’’ to watch productions is an encouraging sign.
So, why does he do what he does? ‘’Initially, it was to escape poverty,’’ he says matter-of-factly. ‘‘I grew up very disadvantaged. I did not want to be poor in my life.’’ With money coming in, that fear has faded to give way to new responsibilities.
‘‘I have my board, shareholders, team members and staff. I have 100 families that look up to me for their livelihoods. They have given their time to my pursuit. I have immense pressure to not let them down.’’
There is also a quest for winning. ‘‘Sometimes you want to see just how far you can push things. When you have made 10 shows, you want to see if you can make 100 bigger shows.’’
To upcoming filmmakers, he says: ‘‘Start doing the work and get the bad things out of the way as quickly as you can. Put your content out for the world to see so that you can start to have engagements. If you published a short film on YouTube and got 100,000 views, you know you are on to something.’’
[email protected]



Joseph Muongi

Financial.co.ke was founded by Mr. Joseph Muongi Kamau. He holds a Master of Science in Finance, Bachelors of Science in Actuarial Science and a Certificate of proficiencty in insurance. He's also the lead financial consultant.