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Doreen Mirembe on what it takes to bring her DamaLie to DStv’s Pearl Magic

Doreen Mirembe

Doreen Mirembe

DOREEN MIREMBE is the brains behind DamaLie, a local telenovela that has been running on Prime Magic Plus.

So popular was the show that DStv has given it a full season’s rerun as they await the premiere of season II later this year. Mirembe talked to The Observer at the cast home in Bwebajja.

How did you develop the concept of DamaLie?

Well, I’m a lover of African storytelling and things that are really relatable to us. While talking to so many people, you realise that the problems that affect us, affect you, your neighbour and even someone in another country. I have always wanted to tell a story of people who go abroad.

Even when they have no money at all, they still send you something; but then you hear stories that I sent this and that ... they told me they were constructing a house [but] when I got back home, there was nothing.

Or, I married a [girl], brought her to the USA, and she eloped. There are so many similar stories. So, DamaLie is a story about people who travel and come back to nothing. It can be someone in Kabale, sends money to Kampala and maybe the wife, the children or the sister misuse the money.

There was a story in the news about Kasoma, who left the UK; he was actually deported... He came back here and killed eight of his kids. So, I started asking myself why. It was because the wife had eloped with another man, half of the kids were not his. Such stories [inspired] DamaLie.

There is a rumour that this concept was developed by Ashraf Ssemwogerere?

When I was doing my research, I actually worked with Ashraf and we put a few things together and that is why in my credits you see I thank him, [but] it was not developed by him.

It is just that he has similar storylines about people who go abroad and come back to nothing. I had read something about his work; he has so many books so it’s pick here and there and then the concept. His input was just sprinkles on ice.

Followers of DamaLie wonder how you do it as the main actor, writer, producer, and director, all at once.

Hmm. My first love is acting. I have always been an actress. Wanting to produce and writing is due to the fact that we don’t have jobs in Uganda. The jobs for our industry are really minimal; so, you have to create them. If you don’t create them, no one is going to cast you.

No one is going to call you to produce for them because whoever is producing is producing for themselves, and is writing for themselves. So, I put it upon myself to go study writing, to understand production so that I’m fully aware of my environment. I know what a DOP [director of production] is doing, I know what the line producer is doing; so, I had to get to that level so that I understand what I’m doing.

So, you studied film?

Yes. I studied scriptwriting from Maisha Lab, and then I went to Mariam Ndagire Film and Performing Arts centre. I also do a lot of research. Now that I work with MultiChoice there are so many programs, they keep sending you modules that you have to work on, even teaching myself on YouTube.

Have you done other productions before DamaLie?

Yeah. My first film, A Dog Story, and then Nikita and Kafako for my production house, Amani.

The Observer would have wanted to see how you direct and then run over to act in DamaLie

I don’t direct. We have a team of directors. You can’t do everything. I don’t direct DamaLie but I created it. So, me, the director and the other team of producers, we know how we want a scene to look or should look like.

Why do you think DamaLie got such a good reception than all of your other productions?

Every show that we have made, or every movie that comes out receives a good reception. We think Ugandans don’t love our work, but they do. We just don’t give them enough or they don’t know where to find it. DStv came along and said that we’re going to take your content because we were making shows and no one was buying our content.

I will tell you I know of so many TV series that I have acted in but they never came out and [yet] someone really invested money but they were never out; not because we were bad actors, but because our people – the broadcasters we have – decided we shouldn’t come out.

They would rather get a foreign telenovela than pay Ugandans to give them content. Ugandans do love good content; that is why you see them on Netflix.

DStv coming on board has without a doubt uplifted the industry.  I know you won’t talk figures but...

...by the way it is not a lot of money. No one should lie to you. But it is something. Trust me, if DStv had not come, these guys [local TVs] were not going to buy anything and DStv had to be the sacrificial lamb.

But now I can be approached by any person the way they approach Nigerians because now they have tasted and they know maybe Uganda has a market and can actually produce because the sacrificial lamb has already paved the way. It is not a lot of money, but DStv has a channel and they are willing to come and buy what nobody else was willing to buy; however little it is, it is something.

What reasons do local broadcasters give you for not buying your content?

Some time back I approached a local broadcaster and they said, ‘the concept is good but why don’t you do it yourself? You do it, invest money in it and then bring it here. For us we’ll be waiting’. But they know how much it cost; and a normal person cannot afford it.

Besides, how sure am I that they will buy it? They have created their own micro companies within their stations. They cannot even pitch your story to the big boss. They say they find it cheaper to buy elsewhere than to buy from us.

Those who have approached us to buy want to pay Shs 800,000 per episode. But seriously, you expect me to have an episode, dress people, transport them, use my brains to create and then you pay Shs 800,000 per episode? And the person offering this is a Ugandan like you. He knows the economy... So, when you see someone like DStv take the risk, you appreciate that.

How would you rate current actors as opposed to the older generation?

In this era of phones, internet and stuff, Ugandans have tried to polish their craft and an actor will give you a good performance.

An actor will know how to brand themselves, come on set knowing what to do and, as a director, you don’t have to do so much. They understand what they are reading, can interpret a script and will go an extra mile to fit into the character.

What still needs fixing?

I think professionalism. Much as they have talent and can do research, your talent is nothing without character. Someone comes on set because you’re paying them a million- plus and they give you a performance of 10k; they will come late on set and all of you have to wait for that actor.

Then they will tell you how it rained and they can’t come. In other countries even if it rains, you still have to report. People need to take this as a job. You have people calling you: ‘I have my daughter who has just sat S.6, I want her to come and be there with you as she looks for a job.’

No, this is not a place for us to host the jobless or the desperate. Some of us left our original professions to do this because we love it. It is a profession as well.

What were you doing before film?

I’m a dental assistant. A dental hygienist is what I have been doing.

Rumour has it that you work on set with your husband.

That is not a rumour. My husband is a lawyer and I have legal battles every day. He’s the one who solves them. He’s always there to help on set and off set.

All Ugandan film producers seem to work with their spouses...

I believe the industry has so many conceptions, so many rumours, so many things we don’t understand. People will have their own narrative about the industry.

They say our industry is for prostitutes, for the uneducated ... at the end of the day you have to involve your children, your spouse because it puts food on the table. It pays my kids school fees most of the time. It works. So, why not involve your partner so that he can also see what you do?

Most times they are not as interested as my husband. He is also an artiste – a songwriter; he’s a musician with some music videos; so, he understands the arts industry.

Is it all worth it?

For the love of it. It is not a hustle for me. It is beautiful. I do it with love. When they say challenges, I see it as part of my job.

How are you related to Drucilla? You really look alike. Is she your daughter or sister?

Oh Nich [Aber Nicholetta Leonarda]? We just casted her. It is just perfect casting. That is how I do my things. People think we’re related but we’re not. We took time finding the right people and we did.

How many people did you work with on DamaLie?

Right now, we have 70 but they used to be 99 and we had to cut the crew because the money wasn’t there. You end up investing your own money which you don’t have.

On a typical day, what’s your budget average?

Just know it is a lot. You might spend Shs 4.3 million a day and you have not even hired expensive props like cars; just minimal movement, and I believe our show is low- budget. It is not on the high-end like you see productions like Sanyu, Beloved...those are really massive productions.

How long do you take in post- production for us to see on our sets what you have shot?

A day or two. Then I take a look at it, do corrections the same night and then it goes to the main editor, and we send to colour. Probably an episode can take three days to put together because we don’t shoot in sequence; we shoot out of sequence.


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