Behind the camera: Rhoda Nabankema is one of those people you will not see on the TV set but she is one of the people responsible for those that appear on your screens. What is life like being a production assistant?
Rhoda Nabankema is a television production assistant at NTV Uganda. The 34-year-old attended St Noa Girls Secondary School, Greenlight High School and St Mary’s Senior Secondary School Kitende. However, it is her Diploma in Cosmetology from Pearl Institute of Cosmetology that is sustaining her today, 14 years after she graduated.
What exactly do you do in the TV studio?
I coordinate different tasks between the show producers and directors. I also apply make-up on studio guests, even those who come to studio already wearing make-up. I sometimes find challenges with convincing the male guests to wear make-up because they tend to think I want to turn them into women. Previously, I used to apply make-up on news anchors but I have since taught them how to do their own make-up. I still advise them, though, on what to wear.
What kind of make-up do you put on men?
I dust a little powder to remove the shine on them and make them look fresh. I also apply lip balm, although some think it is lipstick.
What inspired you to get into this profession?
My mother. She had always wanted to become a news anchor and she was even training with UTV. However, when she passed the interview and was called to start working, she could not because she had just had a baby. She could not handle the pressure of working on TV while taking care of a newborn. Just by hearing her talk about this opportunity, I wanted to make the anchors on TV look good.
I was also inspired by my late friend, Rosemary Nankabirwa. Whenever I applied her make-up, she would look so beautiful on screen. She knew what make-up and clothes suited her perfectly.
What clothes should not be worn on TV?
Since our backgrounds are blue, an anchor or studio guest cannot wear blue or white. Stripped and busy clothes — those with many flowers or words — do not work either. If a guest comes in wearing blue or white, we have coats that we can give them to cover their clothes.
What about the right makeup?
Studio make-up is quite different from the usual make-up. It has to be simple and precise and very light. When you wear heavy makeup, instead of viewers focusing on what you are saying, they will focus on how you look. Besides, the camera picks everything, so heavy make-up can really look bad.
How did you join a TV station?
It was through a tip off from a friend. She had applied earlier for a job and got it. After a few months, she told me there was a vacancy for a make-up artist and I applied. I have been working with NTV Uganda for 12 years and along the way, I was promoted to production assistant.
Did you work for any other station previously?
This is the only permanent job I have had. I had worked as a make-up artist with the Agenda Uganda team on a programme that run on WBS and NTV. I was also a make-up artist and worked on teams that shoot adverts.
Tell me about the rush hour just before a news bulletin.
I have to ensure that the producers have provided the running order (the order in which news stories are going to be read) to the anchors, and that the tickers (the news stories that continuously run at the bottom of the screen in small print) and lower thirds (the sentences above the tickers) are in place. I give the anchors the necessary support such as, getting the iPads, giving them the scripts, helping them get dressed, and fixing the microphones on them.
Seems like the same work every day. Do you ever get bored?
Not really. My work is busy and fast. When you are working, you cannot think about anything else. You are just focused. I come in at 10am and leave after 10pm or sometimes, after midnight. By then, I am too tired to think about anything else.
What other skills do you have?
I have training in filming and I can operate a heavy video camera.
What are the most important skills one needs to be a production assistant?
You need to be fast on your feet and have a lot of patience. You also need people skills. When you come out with the make-up kit, some guests are skeptical. You have to let them know what you are going to do and why it is necessary. Otherwise, they will not let you touch them.
Is there any guest you have worked on who stands out?
In my profession, confidentiality is key. I never reveal anything I feel about a client or studio guest.
How do you handle stressful situations?
The most challenging part about this job is that I have to leave late at night. I rarely have a social life. But I am happy because I know I am not the only hardworking person at this station. When I am stressed, I imagine what my workmates, especially the reporters, are going through all day.
What advice do you give aspiring production assistants?
They should be hardworking and flexible with their time. Friendliness is also key.