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I could fly solo but I enjoy teamwork – Marvin Musoke

Marvin Musoke

LENSMAN: He professionally trained as an animator at the SAE institute in South Africa but soon after returning home, he realised animation would not do in Uganda, so he ventured into film. Today Marvin Musoke is a big name at Swangz Avenue and has some notable works to his name.   Trevor Taremwa spoke to him about his art and the film industry at large.

Let’s talk film-making in lockdown. Did you shoot anything during lockdown?

I shot two visuals; Spice Diana’s “Kwata Wano” and Meesach Semakula’s “Onkuba”. All these were shot under new and unfamiliar circumstances.

Before shooting ‘Kwata Wano’, we had a heated debate with Spice Diana. I had too much convincing to do and I must say, it was the most I had to convince an artiste. Spice had suggestions which I was uncomfortable directing and the concept she had in mind would be complex to execute during lockdown and it was not within my artistic preferences. So, I left it open.

Eventually, she and her manager contacted the team and were willing to pull off the original concept. I wanted to be more daring as well as achieve a sexiness that is subtle since the song was talking about the body. I wanted the concept to be contemporary and not the usual tired concepts that the game is constipated with. When you listen to that song, it feels urban. In fact, I also wanted the video to stir conversation like any good art should.

Sadly, I got bashed by some bloggers because they did not understand the concept. Sometimes we pull off concepts that are futuristic. When I am shooting, my philosophy is that the work stays on for generations to come.

Someone you have collaborated with, once said that it costs close to an arm and leg to get you on a project. Is it so?

That must be Roja (Laughs)… I do not think I am expensive. The craft itself is. The purpose of a music video is to elevate one’s brand. The Nigerians have mastered this. To do this, you need a beautiful craft that will set you and your brand apart from others. We are quick to forget that this is a global market. Everyone is watching the other.

We can watch what the Nigerians are doing at the click of a button and so can they. The consumers too are watching and they compare the quality of our work to that on the global scale. So how are we going to convince them to consume our art if it is lacking.

Speaking of Roja, your collaboration on “Sunday” alongside Slick Stuart and Toniks is believed to be your best work so far. You think so too?

I regard it as my magnum opus. The concept glorifies the African woman in a whole different perspective as it celebrates black beauty in more abstract presentations. When you see the Black queen in gold in all her glory being literally worshipped by a group of male dancers as they go around her, this is what we are trying to achieve. We collaborated with the talented Sam DNA who designed the costumes and, of course, the makeup was done by Olga to create the work of art you see on the models.

While preparing for this interview, I read an interview where Meji Alabi shared his experience directing the Nigerian scenes from Beyonce’s Black is King short Disney film, shooting WizKid and Skepta in London as well as the visuals for Chronixx’s Likes. These are monstrous projects elevating West African film to global heights. Why do you think Ugandans aren’t getting a piece of such cake?

I would not consider Meji a Nigerian director. He grew up foreign with a Nigerian descent. That elevates his craft by virtue of his exposure, resources and connections. I would rather give more respect to Clarence. Both, however, are extremely talented and creative people, though I think Meji gets better opportunities than any other African director. However, that is no excuse for us.

As film makers, we all have the basics. It all zeroes down to the opportunities that come your way. I happened to go down to the New York Film School last year for a refresher course and I was sharing concepts and knowledge many of these foreign students never had. The film industry here is under-facilitated compared to those in America.

In Hollywood, certain scenes require that special ridges or equipment is built from scratch. And usually we look up to such guys for new solutions and innovations just like any other sector. Even our doctors are waiting for a coronavirus vaccine from the outside world but with equal facilitation, I could pull off a video for anybody living.

You worked with Swangz Avenue on the film, Rolex. What was your experience like shooting the film?

The film was written and directed by Benon. My role was to edit and colour grade the film and it was interesting. The film taught us about greed. My favourite scene was the part where the guy ate the rolex and died. Greed killed all those people yet they could have walked away happily, had they chosen to share.

Shooting Rolex made me realise that film for a fact is not easy at all. If music videos alone are not a walk in the park, then imagine how tasking a feature film is. You have to nail the picture, the script, the plot and that’s before you go into logistics. Rolex is 15 minutes yet it took about three days to shoot.


Going solo…

Before Swangz, I had stints as an independent director. The beauty with Swangz is that I get to work with a team with a structure. To me, team work is everything. If I am to ever fly the coup, the time will come but for now, I still have a boatload to learn from Swangz and the opportunities are immense.

Directors you look up to…

I do not look up to anyone in particular. I usually derive inspiration and it is from other spheres of art besides film making. I look at photography, painters or even stylists. And I always probe further to find where they derived their inspiration to pull off that particular piece.

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