BEHIND THE CAMERAS: NTV Uganda is currently shooting a remake of the series “El Cuerpo del Deseo” popularly known as “Second Chance” after acquiring exclusive rights from Telemundo, an American Spanish- language terrestrial television network that produced the original one. Esther Oluka caught up with Phad Mutumba, the director of the Ugandan version of Second Chance to talk about his directing role, the characters and criticism the project has received.
Second Chance is a big project. How were you picked to direct this series?
There was a time I was in South Africa for a gig and I stumbled upon people talking about an upcoming re-creation series, Second Chance, and they were saying NTV Uganda was going to be behind the production. I thought it was a great idea. As it turns around, NTV contacted me saying they had a huge project coming up and they were looking for directors and part of the interview was shooting an episode. I shot episode one, and it was quite challenging. Three weeks later, I received an email congratulating me as well as adding that Telemundo loved my directing style and wanted me to proceed with shooting the rest of the scenes. I got this feedback in August, 2016 and the shooting started in October.
What is your experience directing the series so far?
As a director, I want to challenge myself and recreate something with a little bit of twist. That is why you see African elements in it. I try to minimise the sex scenes and as you have seen, there are just a few. Also, I make an effort to manipulate the camera angles to bring a certain illusion. The characters actually never kiss on set.
But there was a particular episode where the characters Angela and Tony kissed.
I can tell you that the lips did not touch. It was about playing around with the camera angles to make an illusion. As much as one wants to remain truthful to the original script, there are things the cast members will not do.
But the original cast members went to extremes. What is the point then of doing a remake if you are holding certain actions back?
As I mentioned earlier, it is because of our identity as Africans. There are things I know viewers would want to see on TV but that is foreign. Many of us relate and associate with some of these actors and actresses. For instance, Fagil is a known married man and you would not want to see him in certain intimate scenes.
Don’t you think this “holding back” is one of the reasons the show has been criticised?
Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) might censor the show if we decide to air explicit scenes, so, it is important for us to strike a balance. Then, there is Father Simon Lokodo, the Ethics minister whom we do not want coming after us.
Some viewers of the show say Anita Fabiola who acts as Angela is unfit for her role. What is your view on this?
Having previously worked with her on the Be My Date show and on another series called Studio 256, I believed in what she could deliver. I saw the backlash but knew it would all go away. I remember her coming to me one day crying over the criticism but I just advised her to turn a deaf ear. A few weeks down the road, she has not complained, meaning the hostility towards her has lessened.
You mean the attacks traumatised her that much?
Yes, they did. Any human being in her shoes, no matter how strong they are, would have had a similar breakdown.
Did you have a say on who gets cast for a particular role?
I did not have a say on who gets cast but I made recommendations. For instance, for the role of Mr Peter Byekwaso (Pedro), several people had been lined up but I felt we needed to try out more people. I stumbled on Fagil Mande’s number as I looked through my contacts. I requested to see him and when we met, I told him to come on set. He accepted and then he had to go through auditions.
I have heard other viewers say Salvador’s role should have gone to someone like Navio, who is tall and well-built just like the original Salvador.
What is different between Roger Mugisha and Navio?
Roger will bring that look, and as a director, I have the responsibility to create that image in order to make it believable. Salvador, who acted in the original Second Chance had a body to die for but unfortunately in Uganda, the men do not take care of themselves, which was an issue to me as a director as I could not easily get that guy with the physique I wanted to pull off the role.
This is then where we zeroed down to who could do it. There were many names suggested and Navio was one of them but when he was contacted, he seemed unavailable at the time. Roger showed a lot of enthusiasm and interest for the role and as a director, I was impressed by his readiness and commitment to work.
What happens in situations where a cast member wants to leave the show?
If someone walked up to me and said they are getting busy and want to leave, we shall have a replacement. But you will also realise that along the way, some of the characters will no longer be part of the show.
For how long will the series be running?
We will be on set for another 11 months. We shoot from Monday to Friday. Two episodes run every week on NTV. In total, the series has 143 episodes.
There is a huge difference between the original series and the remade episodes. The scenes are not exactly the same. Are you following the same script?
No, as much as it is a remake, we are not following the exact original script. The storyline is the same but we are doing some things differently as you have noticed. But to pull off a great production takes a village. I work with an assistant director, costume designer, camera crew, and script editor, among others.
What has been your biggest challenge directing this series so far?
Learning the cast members has been my biggest obstacle. As a director, when you know someone very well, it is easy to know how they will deliver as performers. Knowing their character traits also helps me tap into their soft spots to bring out desired emotions such as tears, which are not easily faked. Sometimes I have to sit and wait for even 30 minutes for them to bring out a feeling.
But I think by episode 20, I will have learnt their different personalities.
Is the pressure intense?
Not quite. It is rather pride that I feel. Think of it this way: Second Chance has been redone 127 times in different countries. Uganda is the first African country to shoot a remake. That is a big milestone for me as a director.
Your accent is foreign. Is it American?
I feel embarrassed when people ask if I am from around here. Well, yes, I am Ugandan. It is just that I have lived abroad for a big part of my life. I have lived in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Norway and Denmark. I had the opportunity to move a lot when I was young.
Tell us something about your family.
I have three children who live in Canada. I visit them quite often.
What do you think of Uganda’s film industry?
There are a few film schools here and our focus is often technical, for instance, camera and lighting. We do not have concrete stuff such as acting. I have been to Hollywood and they have got these very big film structures going on.
So what do you think needs to be done to boost our film industry?
It is all about education; the youth need to be trained. Since we do not have big infrastructure to support a fully-fledged interaction for interns, we can rely on workshops that can educate youth on film making.
Mutumba’s other projects:
•Shot a few scenes for the Africa Magic series, Tinsel
•Making the band, a pan African film shot in Canada
•Burn it up, a reality series that showed on NTV about people exercising to lose weight.
•NTV musical series, Studio 256.
•Talent XP where he was a lead judge alongside musicians Bebe Cool, Jackie Chandiru and Isaiah Katumwa. The show focused on looking for a cover band.
What some cast members say:
Douglas D. Sebamala
“I have worked with so many directors but Phad’s directing style is different. He will not scream at you or scold you but rather give you time to digest your role. His international experience also gives him a different perspective to film. He does not just think for Uganda while directing but he will handle scenes for international appeal because this series is going beyond Uganda.”
“He is refreshing, not every day do you find a director who wants to listen to your ideas and make it as comfortable for your character. He wants to make it believable as you want to and explore how the character reacts to situations like in all those hot scenes. I really think he is awesome.”
“He is one of the best people I have worked with on a project. He is a great team player.”
“Mutumba is a very understanding and down to earth director. He respects and loves us.”