13 December 2019
Philippe Bresson on creating and producing Kenya’s biggest TV shows
Philippe Bresson enjoys creating chaos and controversy; at least inside the world of television where he’s created and produced hit TV shows like New Beginnings where a coma patient wakes up after five years to find his wife married to his best friend. Or the two-time Kalasha winner My Two Wives where a man is forced by an old tradition to inherit his brother’s widow. Or Socialites that follows the highs and lows of sponsor life in Nairobi.
“Normal is boring, controversy with a mix of good storytelling makes great television.”Philippe Bresson
Bresson who has been in the industry for thirteen years had his first breakthrough at only twenty years old when he shot and directed Changing Times (2010), an award-winning drama series that also kicked off the careers of actors like Brenda Wairimu (Selina).
Under his production company Insignia Productions, Bresson has produced and even directed more than ten films and TV shows in the last ten years, becoming one of the most sought-after filmmakers in Kenya.
Based on your three biggest shows – New Beginnings, My Two Wives and Socialites, who would you say is the most interesting character you’ve ever created? Lexi on New Beginnings is so complex and dysfunctional, and Diana Nderitu owned that role. Toni on My Two Wives is amazing too. Diana Mulwa is very different from that character and I was sceptical whether she could pull off that role as we’d imagined it but she came in and gave an award-winning performance.
For a female-centred show like Socialites, how did you ensure that you captured the female experiences as authentic as possible? We do a lot of research before we dive into a project. For this particular show, we had a long list of socialites’ lifestyle and behaviour habits we had to study.
Have you ever based any of your shows or characters on your life experiences? Not really but I base some stories on other people’s experiences. I like to study, watch and listen to people because that’s how you learn a lot of things about people.
As we come to the end of this era, what has been your biggest achievement of the decade as a filmmaker? Changing Times. This was a revolutionary project for me. I was 20 years old shooting and directing it at the same time. We were competing with Changes which was a show with a big production budget but if you watched the two shows, you would not know that there was a huge difference in budget. Changing Times was an A level show in terms of quality, and we were just kids when we made it together with the great Jennifer Gatero who was the show’s creator and writer.
What is the biggest challenge of running a major production company like Insignia Productions, and in an industry like ours? We don’t get paid as much as we are supposed to. So, we have to work extra hours and get really creative to remain competitive. Another problem with the film and TV industry in Kenya is that we don’t support talent. We would rather take a chance on non-experienced filmmakers and actors rather than support the best that we’ve got.
How does it feel to be among the filmmakers at the forefront of the film industry in Kenya? I’ve been at the forefront for 13 years. I love what I do and I’m now focussing on creating new independent material.
Looking at the industry now, and where it was when you started 13 years ago, would you say it’s competitive enough for filmmakers? Yes, we are going in the right direction, there’s a lot of new filmmakers creating great projects. We also have filmmakers and actors who are creating content on social media, ten years ago this wasn’t possible. You don’t need TV to be relevant as a creative anymore.
Find New Beginnings, Socialites and My Two Wives streaming on Showmax, including other titles produced by Bresson like the comedy series Arnold and Bundi and Maisha Magic East original films Inherited, Joni and Accidental Kidnapping.