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As you probably know by now – though maybe I haven’t mentioned this before – as much as I love producing TV programming, I actually hate being on set – it all takes so long, setting up, testing sound, sorting out lights, re-takes blah blah blah.  And shooting with 5Ds means you can only shoot for 12 minutes before you reset … none of this is good for a person like me who needs to be constantly doing something (i only sit still when watching tv).  So I’ve been less than thrilled that because of the two major projects we’re working on, I had to step in for Freddy, my brother and creative director, on the Brothers for Life Zambia shoot.

 

Paul Da Prince, Slim, Kangwa Chileshe, Cactus Agony

We’re shooting the mid-campaign review documentary that tells the story of the issues the campaign addresses from the perspective of every day Zambians living these issues.  So I’ve sat through an interview with Owas Mwape – a local celebrity who gained notoriety for his domestic violence saga with his wife, that the BBC made public soon after the Chris Brown-RiRi bust up.  I went with the crew when Cactus interviewed Chibamba Kanyama, now DG of ZNBC and author and motivational speaker, who is passionate about the abuse of alcohol and raising young people, especially men, as productive being ins society.  Then I sat in on the breakfast with the brothers – Cactus Agony, Paul Da Prince, Kangwa Chileshe and Chibamba Kanyama as they met as a group about 11 months after they were brought together as the inaugural ambassadors.  It was all well and good, and somewhat interesting, but I would have preferred to be at my desk responding to emails, looking at the scripts for the drama series were working, looking at the style profiles for the cast and even editing the blogs for the Safe Love site.

 

Today when I was asked if I’d go to the Slim interview, I said no.  I had a thousand other things to do.  But I had to approve the questions before they could go.  Reading the questions and seeing that Slim was going to talk about prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV, I realised it could get a bit hairy and it was such a sensitive topic that I reluctantly said I’d go.

By far this was the most powerful and emotionally charged interview I’d done or seen.  To be honest, I’ve been doing this HIV work for so long, it wouldn’t be untrue to say that I’m a little jaded.  It all seemed the same type of story was told, and there were only two:  the poor person living with HIV in the third world (sorry developing country), who has overcome so much – by being HIV+, or the person living with hiv who has no story to their name other than they live with HIV.  Ok I’m being cynical, I do think that a lot of the stuff you see about people living with HIV has no depth to it, it’s almost like their whole life revolves around being HIV+, we de-humanise them in a way.  But Slim, Slim was different.

If you don’t know Slim, you might have seen him on MTV’s Me, Myself and HIV – a programme I conceived with my colleague at the Staying Alive campaign, though it didn’t turn out the way I’d envisioned, it did introduce Slim to the world.  And was the first time Slim came out as being HIV+, six years after he’d found out he was positive.  As much as I appreciate the work that documentary did, it didn’t do justice to Slim as a person – which sometimes the visual product can do, when you can’t interact or engage with the subject.  But I digress, the show told the story of a young man who was born HIV+, that would be Slim.  It also told the story of Slim, the music producer and singer.  The one correction I’d add to that story was Slim was not an upcoming producer, but actually was the producer behind Slap Dee’s first big hit – Gold digger.  I thought that was important to mention, but then again, I’m Zambian, so I know the value of that.  

Anyway, I digress!  The reason we did the interview was to go more in-depth into the story of Slim being a child living with HIV, I obviously can’t give too much detail on the interview – so you can watch the show! – but Slim did bring across the pain of being so young – 15 to be exact – and diagnosed with HIV.  And knowing the kind of stigma that was still around then, the loneliness of a secret of that magnitude.  It touched me so deep, yes me, the jaded one.  I guess because he made all of us in the room feel that emotion – I swear you could hear a pin drop in that moment (and I was with a bunch of guys too!).  

Again because of my years of doing this, and realising how easy it is to exploit a person living with HIV, to get that story that you want, the ‘human angle’ etc, how we can make the virus be more than the person, I asked him if it bothered him that this is the story people keep asking him about, about his HIV status and how it is to live with the virus.  ‘No’, he said.  ‘I believe this happened to me for a reason, and I know that by sharing my story I’m giving hope and encouragement to someone, someone who might be in that dark, lonely place that I once was in.’  Ok, it might not have been quite as profound as I re-phrased it, but it was his ability to think about the good he could be doing by sharing his story that touched me.

I don’t always think that people know the power their life stories – and we all have them – can do for other people, and when someone as young (he’s 23) could be so honest and so visionary about the impact they could have on someone else, well that’s just admirable.  For a lot of people it’s scary to open up and talk about something so life-changing like that, scary, embarrassing, humiliating, you name it – because most people put themselves first, instead of looking at the value in their story and it’s impact on others. Slim comes from a humble background, he’s still pushing his music career, but he’s taking his role as an HIV+ activist seriously to help other people, and simply by using his voice.  That’s powerful too.  You’re not going to see Slim starting an NGO, or giving up his music career to focus on telling his story, but you ask him about his life and he’ll tell you.  And that’s the other thing that I admire about him.  He’s doing what he loves the most – music – but he’s also willing to do his part in building our community by spreading the word about HIV.

My words can’t do justice to how I felt today, and what Slim sparked in me – which I can’t talk about yet – and I hope that we captured it on tape for you to see in the interview, but one thing is for sure, Paul Slim Banda is one of those people God sent to earth to inspire us.  (Now you know how moved I was because I’m not usually that corny or sappy!)

When the show is out, I’ll let you know!

I love what I do. I really do. The ability to use creativity and mass media to promote social issues is like having your cake and eating it too, well for me it is.

I like working on productions that involve using media, be it TV, print, digital and these days I’m kinda getting into radio (ok not really, but I can see potential in it) but I also like like being able to contribute to how people can positively develop themselves and their communities, whether that’s through HIV campaigns to educating people to vote.

In the last couple of months I’ve worked on two campaigns that I’m really proud of, one that I have worked on for the last 2 years – being the Shuga campaign for MTV – they’re on set filming right now in Kenya! And since I moved back to Zambia, I’ve been working – with the Media 365 team – on a campaign targeted at men which launched a couple of weeks ago. Very exciting stuff.

But doing all that doesn’t come without it’s challenges. I have new found respect for people who have more than one job – and do all of them well. Finding the energy and time to do a good job – because it is in my nature, I refuse to give less than 100% – that becomes really taxing on your soul and your spirit. I feel like I’ve been giving so much that sometimes I don’t know whether I’m coming on going.

That said when I see the pictures from the set, or the finished products from the Zambia campaign, I feel so excited and pumped and that keeps me going. There is nothing like seeing all your hardwork come together.

When it’s not a product you own, but you’re doing something on behalf of a paying client, that’s another challenge. You understand the medium you’re using, the client, not so much. So finding the middle ground between pleasing the client and delivering a really good product that resonates with the audience is always a challenge.

We sometimes joke in the office that we should have a wall of our favourite (and sometimes ridiculous things) clients say – to save them the embarrassment and to reduce our pain. Some of these are – and thankfully with these two clients I’ve worked with this year have not said any of the below (well I wouldn’t very well diss them on my blog anyway!):

Upon seeing the first version of a recorded TV product: ‘Can you make her say blah blah blah instead?’ erm… no because she didn’t say it, we’d have to re-shoot that.

‘So will they pick the question out of a box?’ in response to giving client the reference of who wants to be a millionaire for a quiz format programme

Actually, I’ll leave the rest just in case I do decide to have that wall just for the fun of it!

You never quite do what you really want to do when you’re not paying for the product and sometimes clients don’t want to take the necessary risks to enhance the product. And that’s the price you pay when you are the supplier and not the owner.

Another challenge I’ve found – but then this has always been in my career so far, but maybe more enhanced as I am constantly being pushed – is managing different personalities. It’s not always that you get to work with people who are on the same page with you or have the same personalities that you have. And really you wouldn’t want to – that’s the beauty of diversity, it allows you to learn more about yourself as well as grow as a person, as long as you’re willing to listen and be open to acknowledging your own flaws and faults.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you feel that people are constantly picking at your flaws so you need to know when to listen and do something about it, or when to realise that sometimes people project their own issues on to you, and keep your mouth shut instead of react.

Building an empire is hard, but who said anything worth anything was easy to get? (except maybe in the relationship sense!)