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‘Pepeta’ Producer: I Quit Pro Football To Make Films and TV Shows

James Draka Kombo is a producer, director and retired footballer who has been working in the TV industry for 14 years. TV projects he has worked on include Sense 8, Sumu La Penzi, and Wash and Set.

James played for Kenyan Premier League side AFC Leopards for six years and has two national team caps. He is the producer of the limited series Pepeta.

What exactly does a producer do? What’s the difference between a producer and an executive producer? How hard is it to pitch to networks for TV shows?

A producer is the overall decision maker in a production. A producer’s roles include budgeting and sourcing for funding, coming up with story ideas, hiring writers to develop the story, and hiring production staff (both crew and cast). The difference between an executive producer and a producer is that an executive producer finances projects, while the producer executes them.

Pitching for shows depends on the quality of your story.  If you have a good, captivating story, then the pitch shouldn’t be a challenge. For example, I knew Pepeta was a strong story because it is based on actual events, so I was confident and passionate to go through the process, which took three years!

First, Showmax put out a call for content, so we submitted our story. Shortly after, we were invited to pitch. They loved the story so six months later we embarked on research and development. The scripting took seven months, after which we got into production. After auditions, we took the staff through an acting workshop that included acting classes, read throughs, stunt classes and football sessions. The pre-production stage involved location scouting, wardrobe fitting, makeup tests, script breakdowns and developing shoot.

Do you think there is a correlation between football and crime today? 

I believe so. Local footballers are not paid well. They have no health insurance or pension benefits. Yet their fans consider them superstars. If you compare the local professional footballers with their peers who play abroad, you can understand why Kenyan footballers face the pressure to live the good life. It is because of this reality that some players turn to crime. Pepeta is based on true events.

Why did you retire from football early? What do you think of Football Kenya Federation?

I stopped playing because of poor remuneration. To date my dues are yet to be settled in full, and, with the current leadership, I don’t expect this to change anytime soon. Football management in this country is bad. and I don’t see it improving soon unless we overhaul the entire federation. Even with the Fifa ban lifted, our football still has a long way to go. I would recommend an overhaul of the policies and structures of football management. Make it attractive to sponsors and investors. Foster involvement from the grass-root level, for instance, and improve the available infrastructure.

You’ve been in film for 14 years. What do you wish you knew when you started out?

Film needs patience, passion, and dedication. I wish someone mentioned this when I was starting out! I’ve been on film sets where we’ve worked for 24 hours straight, sometimes even more. My journey as a producer has been fulfilling, because I started from the bottom. I started as a set runner for Wash and Set back in 2008 when I was an intern at NTV, and rose through the ranks. It hasn’t been easy but I thank God and my family for their support. We need proper policies and frameworks in the local film industry to guide us because this can be a source of employment for very many people.

In your opinion, what makes a good show? How can you tell when an actor has that ‘it’ factor?

A story is what makes a great show. If you have a good story, the rest will fall into place. A strong actor will portray various traits – confidence, creativity in execution of the script, physical and emotional stamina, charisma, the ability to understand human behaviour, and intelligence. I am currently developing a biopic, a project that I have really wanted to do over the years.

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