INTERVIEWER: Jonathan Bii
“It’s that constant learning experience which hiring managers need to be more conversant with, especially with our generation where growth in an organization will keep the creatives as opposed to them not feeling challenged in the workplace and not learning anything new…”
About the Interviewee
My name is Calisto Lemashon Ololngojine,Fulbright Fellow, MFA. I am a creative producer in film, television and transmedia. I have a deep passion in empowering communities through use of content and media platforms. I believe that for change to take place the community has to be involved and mobilized. My purpose in life, at this time, is to be the best father to my son and build a viable content production infrastructure in Africa to influence the development of a new wave of African film grammar. My mission is to be a change agent or at least try to foster change in people and organizations I work with.
HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: On your Linkedin profile, I found a quote you took from Robin Williams in the Dead Poets Society, you wrote, “Carpe diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” What does this quote mean to you and why?
Calisto Lemashon: Growing up I had a few great influences my family being one and then there was the Film by Peter Weir and starring Robin Williams from the Dead Poets Society. It’s one of those films I watched a couple of times well into my adult life. One of the main reasons I quoted it, is that it is practical in my life. I never saw myself as ordinary but extraordinary, I would always have an alternative view which involved asking a lot of questions. It’s that curiosity of constantly seeking and questioning, especially on authority or systems which had been in place for long. Seizing the day like in the Dead poet’s society is my own act of rebellion, my own sense of do something different and evaluate yourself later based on that new idea or concept. I believe that we only fall forward never backwards. So I seize the day and make it my own and if I fail I learn from it.
HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Strangely enough, a lot of people do not have a clue what a Film Producer does; could you please tell us what you technically do?
Calisto Lemashon: A producer wears many hats especially in the film industry as well as TV. They are the backbone of the whole idea; from concept, production to screening and distribution. A film producer is a networking guru as they find financing and ensure the production stays within the approved budget. A producer identifies the idea or story they would want to produce into a film and they find the money. They then acquire the rights; if it not an original concept and attach a director or writer. Before that they try and get as many people who can fund the idea on board. If all goes well the idea moves to the writing phase (script), to casting, to picture then all the way to post production, festivals and distribution. The producer plays the role of a manager as well as a creative. They hire everyone on the set, even if it’s not directly and are responsible for the last edit which you watch when you go to a cinema; called the Producers Cut.
There are various levels to producers so I’m a creative producer, but I also have expertise in being a line producer as well as various other production roles within a filming set such as 1st and 2nd Assistant Director and Production manager. The role of the producer however slightly changes in a television setting as the producer plays a core role in the creative process.
HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: You are a Fulbright fellow, a very proud accomplishment, and a graduate student of Creative Arts + Science and Creative Producing at Columbia College-Chicago, how did you get into the program and how can other aspiring film makers get involved?
Calisto Lemashon: Fulbright is such an incredible program and family to be a part of. I feel honored to have got selected as it opened me up to understanding more of how the world works especially in cultural relations. Fulbright has a high number of individuals who have impacted the world greatly including heads of state, 82 Pulitzer winners and up to 57 Nobel Prize winners. My story was interesting in that I applied twice to get in the Fulbright program. The 1st time I wasn’t as successful, I didn’t give up and I did make it the 2nd time. Part of the programs value is that of paring you with an institution which would build your skills further. Columbia College Chicago is one of a few institutions offering an MFA in Creative production. I feel like most of the filmmakers especially in Africa and other developing countries have the unique challenge of understanding what role they should play in film or television. My advice would be to first identify what you want to do, is it Producing, Directing, writing for the screen or even being a cinematographer? All of the roles I have mentioned are core for any film production and one must know what their talents and passions lie before progressing to do any program. If you don’t have a passion for something even if you can do it well then it won’t be fulfilling. Filmmaking is a hard career it looks easy but the work which goes into that 90 minutes is years of work so you better be passionate about that and Columbia College Chicago program helps shape you through so many practical and hands-on situations in film that you will eventually ‘Live what you love’.
HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: A film you help produced in 2014 won the 48HourFilm Project Nairobi. What lessons did you gain from that experience and what tips can you give to young budding film producers?
Calisto Lemashon: Now That You Are Here’ was one of two productions I was a part of with the talented director Barbara Karuana. It didn’t get through to Cannes but it was a great learning experience at the time on a lot of different things. Such initiatives like 48hour film festival remain relevant especially for upcoming filmmakers as it is an opportunity to showcase your skills and in the film industry the more you can prove that you can do a certain genre of film then the better your chances of securing funding and distribution. In my own experience in filmmaking from Undergrad in Moi University to 48hour Film projects to working in the television industry is that you have to believe in your idea and believe that you are doing the right thing. Filmmaking is just one of the few arts where you can make a social commentary in any angle you choose. I would want more upcoming artists and filmmakers to pay attention to the kind of messages they are sending to those watching. Great filmmakers in Africa such as Ousmane Sembene and Souleymane Cisse and should be motivating more filmmakers in the continent and how to make stories that are relevant to changing mindsets and catalyze some form of reform.
HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Producing is the drudgery of film, none of the glitz, what keeps you going?
Calisto Lemashon: One famous quote in film is that “A producer is not just a bookkeeper, or a banker, or a background. He makes the picture. If the film is a failure, I am responsible. If it is a success, then it is the joint contribution of the actors, director, writers, set designers, musicians and script girl — everybody except the producer. This is a fact of life; I do not complain.” Dino De Laurentiis
Production in film is hard work it’s a lot of sleepless nights it is budgets, sets, talents and crews. It’s managing all of these different bodies of talent to make something which is noble in the creative’s eyes. It’s hard work and it’s gruesome but it’s worth it at the end of the day when you see the credits roll or when you sign that distribution deal with a major company. I think one thing that keeps me going is the fact that I am very interested in seeing more of black representation in Hollywood; I want to see more of our stories being told. The new films coming out like Black Panther gives more motivation to keep going because it’s a different portrayal of our stories and we need our youth and kids growing up to see that our bodies are more valuable than our current positions. That for me is what keeps me going. I want to change a whole generation through film and teaching film skills.
HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Having had experience working in a large media station in Kenya, Nation Media Group, what do you think are the best recruiting practices for media and other creative industries?
Calisto Lemashon: Working for a big corporate is hard especially in the creative industry as you find best practices which you are expected to fit into. Working with Nation Media remains a thrilling experience because TV doesn’t have a dull moment. A lot is always going on if not editorial, in the production department. I got a chance to try out many things in a controlled environment. I’m really grateful to my first boss Sharleen Samat for believing in me. I remember I had gone for an internship interview and I went with three scripts, two short films and one feature film. I was then working as an event producer straight out of undergrad with PHAT! Productions run by Mike Strano while also planning to go back to school. Nation Media asked me to join the group, not as an intern but as a Production Assistant; at the time they were re-launching the breakfast show (Am Live NTV). And I’m forever grateful to the people I worked with from Kobi Kihara, Sheila Mwanyigha , Debarl Inea and my bosses Justus Tharao and Linus Kaikai. I think one thing is that for NTV they let you do your own thing, try it out if it works it works good, if it doesn’t, try another route.
In my opinion, I think that more HR policies need to have a stronger sense of hiring based on passion as opposed to just papers. I found it more fulfilling working with people who loved television or film as opposed to those just doing it for the pay or because they went to school for it. In Columbia College Chicago many of these factors are magnified. You find that passion drives careers as opposed to just having a degree but not having the love for it. I think you can always see these when hiring creatives. I’m back in school because I want to learn more and make better films and content and it’s that constant learning experience which hiring managers need to be more conversant with, especially with our generation where growth in an organization will keep the creatives as opposed to them not feeling challenged in the workplace and not learning anything new.
HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Do you have a mentor? Is mentorship especially in the creative industries important? How can a budding artiste go about accessing one?
Calisto Lemashon: Wow I don’t think I have a mentor. I have people I look up to and read a lot about and follow their moves in the film industry like Steve McQueen, Barry Jenkins, Tom Tykwer, Ava DuVarnay and Ng’endo Mukii. I have others in academics like Prof Emily Choge who has been a great source of inspiration and guidance in my own life and professionally. My parents remain one of my core mentors in the support they give me; which is important as they have shaped me more than I would like to admit. I think my difference is that I wanted to try different things and I didn’t have the right information on mentorship. I didn’t think I needed one, but the older I get the more I realize that having a mentor is core in career development I think you’ll progress faster if you have a mentor than if your figuring things out on your own.
I would also add that try your hand at smaller companies they have a deeper sense of family and a learning opportunity as you can handle more roles and learn what not to do. These would also mean that you might have to reconsider how much your starting pay should be, my first job wasn’t paying much but the experience and networking skills I learnt are priceless to this day and I would advise anybody graduating or looking for a job in a new industry to start with the small organizations you might be lucky and find your mentor in the same places.
So if you look up to somebody as a mentor send them that email, direct message or tweet them just get it out, what’s the worst that could happen?
HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: What are you currently working on and can you give us hints on the project?
Calisto Lemashon: I’m working on four projects. I have two in post-production: a documentary on the cultural role of leadership and religion in the Maasai community in East Africa and the second is a short film about a man struggling with grief. I’m currently working on two short films: one, about two brothers in Chicago and another is an experimental film which will be tackling a social justice case. I’m hoping to develop the documentary into a series from more of research perspective and it’s something I’m really excited about.
HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Lastly, a question we ask all our guests, what is the next step for you?
Calisto Lemashon: That’s a hard question; I think my short term goal is do as much in the Film industry in Chicago and hopefully other parts of the world, while also trying to create more content from Africa especially on a historical perspective. I hopefully will create a video archive on certain topics in different parts on African history in the coming future as well as giving a platform for more creatives to tell their own stories. So I guess the next step for me is that of building and solidifying networks and growth opportunities that are available while changing how people view their world.