Solaire Munyana is a television producer and television production consultant of shows like ‘The Hostel’. She graciously took time out to tell us about her career and give advice for all who want to be in television.
EA: Please tell us your background
Solaire: I am a Ugandan television producer and television production consultant. As a child, I was enthralled by stories; whether it was from my older siblings’ crazy imagination (especially during power black outs!) or at school where English Composition & Reading were my favourite subjects. As I grew older, I gravitated towards Literature and discovered the great storytellers, Wole Soyinka, Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Chinua Achebe – I could go on! While at university, I studied Mass Communication – majoring in television and radio broadcast.
EA: How did you get into TV production?
Solaire: I had just completed my A’levels and had a long vacation ahead of me before university would start. My mother was not going to let me sit at home and watch TV all day, so she sent me to apply for an internship position at WBS TV station. The executive director, Elvis Sekyanzi, gave me a job and I started off as an intern. I worked with the different departments to learn about how a TV station operates i.e. production, news, marketing & sales, editing & graphics, transmission etc. After a brief stint covering Parliament and links presenting, I eventually settled into the production department which was a good fit. I worked on children programmes (Kids’ Corner & Teens’ Club). I got such a thrill from creating ideas and transforming them into programmes that went on air. After that, I was hooked. I was promoted to assistant producer soon after on recommendation from the Head of Production – Jacque Ssenyonndo, who was also my mentor.
EA: How early did you realise that this was what you wanted to do?
Solaire: I was 18 years old when one of my brothers, Paul, came to help me with my university course selection. I wanted to go for Law but he told me, given my well known aversion to read anything other than history or literature, that Mass Communication would be a better fit. I was reluctant at first but he did point out my love for books, entertainment & Oprah. If I wanted to be like Oprah – do Mass Communication! And so I did just that, majoring in television and radio broadcast.
EA: Are there any barriers you come across because you are a woman?
Solaire: To be honest, if there were any barriers I probably didn’t notice them or think it was because I was a woman. My first thought would always turn to what did my work say about me. My work has always spoken for me and ensured that I get to work. Growing up with older brothers made me naturally competitive and focused on proving myself to be just as good. My confidence and resilience has been a result of my family’s support and encouragement.
EA: In your opinion, what’s life like for women in Uganda?
Solaire: I believe that Uganda is one of the best places in the world to live in as a woman. There have been no limitations (in my experience); if anything, we grew up knowing that the sky’s the limit – provided that you put in the work. I mean, we saw Dr. Specioza Kazibwe become the 1st woman in Africa to be appointed Vice President of a country, Uganda – that was mind blowing. Closer to home, there was my mother who walked the talk. She would strive constantly to do her best in her professional career and expected the same of us. We grew up seeing women become quite formidable leaders in all areas like politics, health, education and the judiciary. And that is still happening.
EA: The show ‘Hostel’ was such a success. Any plans to make similar shows?
Solaire: Thank you! The Hostel was a phenomenon – there hadn’t been anything like it on the local Ugandan TV scene. It was Uganda’s 1st daily TV drama series and I am honored to have been a part of it as its producer. A lot of the series’ success was due to the visionary leadership of the executive producers, Conrad Nkutu & Martin Kintu. As well as its creators & writers, a dedicated crew and talented cast, and most importantly, the support of the audience in Uganda and Kenya (and the Africa region) that was positive & overwhelming.
To answer your question, I don’t believe in doing the same thing over and over again – I produced 3 and 1/2 seasons of The Hostel for 4 years. My temperament thirsts for something new but I never say never. Maybe in a few months I may venture back into creating & producing similar shows.
EA: What are you working on now?
Solaire: There is an urgent need to improve on the quality of our local TV content. It’s very evident that our audience is eager for local content but are not satisfied with the quality of our programmes. It’s disheartening to see our local TV stations take the cheaper and easier route by flooding their channels with foreign telenovelas or music request shows, though, on the other hand, this is understandable as production is quite expensive. What I am involved in right now is collaborating with fellow professionals to make the push for more quality local programmes and to get our local filmmakers’ content a platform to be seen. And of course I’m working on developing TV series concepts (docu-series and dramas) and mentoring production staff. I am working as a consultant for a local TV station too.
EA: Name 5 African women who inspire you.
Solaire: Joyce Rwakasiisi (Mom), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (author), Anne Kansiime (renown comedienne), Sharleen Samat (K24 TV) and the late Wangari Maathai (environmentalist)
EA: Message to girls and women wanting to work in your kind of business
Solaire: Media, especially TV & film, is probably the most exciting & rewarding field to work in. There truly is nothing like it. We need more women like you to join the industry and not just in front of the camera but behind it too – as directors, producers, camera operators, writers etc. It’s not all about the glamour and accolades – okay, a bit of it is. But if that’s what you focus on, you won’t last. Your passion, grit and love for what you do will carry you through the times you want to throw in the towel and give up. You’ve got a responsibility to show up and do your very best every single time. Remember your audience, the reason why you’re doing your job.