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Pro Tisa : The Genius Ironsmith Disrupting the Kenyan Film Industry

Paul Kihuha in his workshop with Eric Omondi in this undated file photo. Image Courtesy.

Throughout the 1990s-2000s, the film business in Kenya remained largely stagnant in comparison to such lucrative industries as Nollywood, which was just entering its golden age. Several factors contributed to this stagnation, but the biggest issue was lack of film equipment. Back then, filmmakers had no option but to import their filmmaking equipment from manufacturers abroad.

Foreign filmmakers companies dominated the film landscape simply because they had better access. A system of uneasy patronage to these powers developed, holding the film industry captive.  The artists who were held captive by this system suffered for it, having to tolerate humiliation and profiling right in their home country.

But there is no denying that the business is picking up. Last year saw a record number of Kenyan productions on Netflix. This number can only go up this year. The rising commercial viability of film has been brought about by the individual efforts of various stakeholders. Not the government, or aid-givers, but ordinary Kenyans who are pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

Meet Pro Tisa

Take the man I am interviewing today for example. His name is Paul Kihuha and he traces his iron-working roots to pre-colonial agikuyu ironsmiths. But he is better known as Pro Tisa. After finding his work on Facebook, I track him down to his home in Uthiru and sit down for a chat on a cool Sunday morning.

The first thing I learn about Paul is that he is a deeply spiritual man. “I don’t go to church – and I don’t make my children go either.” He tells me as music from a nearby church wafts through the air. He is what you might call Mugikuyu Karinga – untouched by the Christian dogma. Yet I find that he is still governed by the same underlying principles of Consequalism, Fatality, and Duality that I believe in.  He talks openly about his spiritual convictions throughout the interview. His ideas on force and fuel – effort and the energy it takes to exert that effort – as well as cause and effect – every action has a consequence –, expressed through spiritual lenses, are quite illuminating.

As I sip from a steaming mug, Pro Tisa shows me his impressive film portfolio. “I am involved in nearly all the film productions taking place in Kenya today.” He states matter-of-factly. He is not exaggerating. As a producer of film equipment, his work is helping thousands of filmmakers do their work without having to break the bank.

Even today, he is engaged to do a film shoot with one of the biggest entertainers in Kenya. They will be in constant communication throughout the morning interview.

If you want to do well in life, just find a way to add value- Pro Tisa. Click To Tweet
Filmmaking

The most impressive thing about Pro Tisa is how he has leveraged his ironworking talent to create a booming filmmaking business. At his home workshop, he beats, shapes, rivets, and welds metal together to create filmmaking equipment.  The film equipment range from cranes, grips, and many more.

So where did it all start? “I wanted to make a rap video.” He narrates. The video-shooting equipment turned out to be outrageously expensive, so he decided to make his own. After word got out of his accomplishment, people started coming to him.

Today, Pro Tisa is a major supplier of filmmaking equipment in Kenya. Working with filmmakers has been good for his equipment-making business. “I have taken lots of suggestions from directors when making my equipment. You start with your idea, but over time people give you more insights on what works and where you can improve.” This, he says, is what has made Pro Tisa equipment so popular. His clients can always count on him to provide the equipment needed for difficult shots.

“My mantra is I can do anything I want.” He states matter-of-factly. “Because wanting to do something is 90% of the work it takes to do it.”

Pro Tisa Creations

He doesn’t just believe this, he lives it way as well. Through his namesake Pro Tisa Creation, he has been creating content of his own and posting it on YouTube. He also runs a talent incubation program which helps young artists to break into the industry. His work as a director has helped bring much upcoming talent from the grassroots even as he empowers others to do the same.

Through Pro Tisa Creations, he has moved beyond film equipment to providing locations (several TV shows, songs, commercials), casting, equipment hire, and even producing (writing and directing) his own content. He promises that there’s more on the pipeline.

Dig your tunnel

So what has enabled Pro Tisa to rise to the top of the film business from such an unlikely beginning? Even if 90% of it is in the wanting, surely you cannot do it without the other 10%. As the interview draws to a close, I ask for his advice on making it in the film business.

He answers my question with a question of his own. “How much have you dug?”

Pro Tisa looks at work, even in the film business, as digging. Everyone has his/her own hoe and spade. Every person has to do their own digging. And even though people cannot see what you are doing, they can always see the amount of soil you have dug up. The bigger your pile, the more the work you will have done, the better you will have become, the more people will want to work with you.

In the film business, the level of your work also determines your peers. The fact that he can work with big stars like Eric Omondi shows how much Pro Tisa has done.  He has already reached their depth. He adds value to their work.

“If you want to do well in life, just find a way to add value. And then keep doing that.” And with those sage words, I bring the interview to a close. Somehow, I am feeling a lot more optimistic about the future of the filmmaking business in Kenya.

Also read: From Hawker to Film Producer, Appie Matere on Working Your Way to the Top

Peter Gatuna

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One response to “Pro Tisa : The Genius Ironsmith Disrupting the Kenyan Film Industry”

  1. […] after reading the Film and Stage Plays Act 222, I feel positively impressed with Kenyan filmmakers. I am quite inspired by the spirit of the Kenyan filmmaker. I am sure lawyers have to jump through […]

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