15 November 2012

Uganda: Ssekito Makes Ugandan Movies Speak

A bored Shantos Ssekito was seated at home watching UBC's Open Up show when the host, Irene Kulabako, told viewers the programme had vacancies for technical crew. Then in his S.6 vacation and with no prior knowledge of how TV operates, an excited Ssekito dashed to UBC and told Kulabako he was the right guy to hire. Slightly bemused, she told him she wanted professionals. But after unyielding pleading, she gave the young man a shot.

"I was supposed to work as a production assistant but ended up in the sound department where I was instantly hooked," Ssekito recalls. "Everything there fascinated me - the equipment and how it worked. I instantly knew this was the area I wanted to work in for the rest of my life."

Twelve years down the road, Ssekito's fascination has grown into a prolific career. He is one of the few professional sound mixers in Uganda and arguably the best.

"I have so far done sound for over 20 local and international films plus a number of TV programmes," boasts the 33-year-old. "I don't know of any other Ugandan sound mixer with that record."

Some of his prominent credits include: Stone Cold, All Our Children, Beauty to Ashes and TV shows The Good Life and Inspire Africa. He also had a stint on the set of Hollywood hit The Last King of Scotland though he was not credited.

Sound mixing:

As a sound mixer, Ssekito is tasked with managing the audio part of a film. This involves separate recording of sound during shooting and later syncing it with the footage. It also involves creating soundtracks and selection of sound effects, though Ssekito admits he has not yet advanced to the latter.

"My role is to give the movie a voice and that's a difficult job to do because you are like the soul of the film," he says, "Can you imagine watching a movie without sound?"

A graduate of Procurement and Logistics from Kyambogo University, Ssekito is keen on making it big in the sound- making profession. He has since sought an education in the profession, having been to the Maisha Film Labs thrice as well as attaining a certificate from the acclaimed Mohammad Amin Film Institute in Nairobi, Kenya.

"I have largely educated myself through the internet," he says. "I have to keep updated with the latest technologies since that is what most of my international clients use."

And his expertise comes with a heavy price. He brags of earning about $150 -200 (about Shs 375,000-500,000) daily, depending on the project, way above what a typical Ugandan director gets in a week.

But Ssekito gives value worth his hefty pay, the reason he has caught the attention of acclaimed directors across the East African region. When I met him for this interview, he was preparing for the next day's flight to Nairobi where he is set to work on an upcoming TV series.


But like any other job, Ssekito decries some problems affecting Ugandan sound mixers. Top on the list is the poor pay which he partly blames on his colleagues, saying most of them do shoddy work.

Most Ugandan directors have not yet fully appreciated the role of sound mixers, he adds, plus modern sound equipment is too expensive. He is, nevertheless, optimistic the future is bright.

"It is upon us the players to get organized and tap the advantages that are coming with the fast growth of the Ugandan film industry."

Family man:

For now, Ssekito is grateful for what he has so far achieved from mixing sound, including living a "comfortable life and being able to pay my bills."

He credits Kulabako as his mentor and his wife and two sons as his inspiration.

"I am grateful to God for giving me a supportive family," he humbly says, intimating that his sons, aged just four and two, have already showed prospects of becoming future sound mixers. He thus spends most of his free time with them just so he can pass on the skill.

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