How Jennifer Gatero keeps you glued to the screen
When I look back, I am proud that I did not let the various setbacks I was getting dim my vision.
From the start, I knew that I wanted to create films that highlight topical issues, and I have been very consistent in doing so.
Notably, my last two works are self-funded — I wrote, directed and pitched the final product to potential TV stations.
This is a huge risk because film production takes in a lot of money and by self-funding, there is no guarantee that you will get back your money.
When she turned 18 almost two decades ago, Jennifer Gatero’s wish list was brief. All she desired was to see the short play Better Days, which she had written the previous year while in Form Three, on TV. Young and without any connections, she moved from one local media house to another, all the while keeping the burning passion to herself.
“I have written proposals that ultimately got rejected, and I have been told that my scripts are too complex for the ‘mass’ market. My journey has been about knocking on closed doors,” she says.
In 2002, a few months after various attempts to meet production managers, Better Days was accepted by a local TV station and 26 episodes of the same produced. This was just a year after completing her secondary school education. “I was so happy that I thought I would do this in the long run. My mother, who passed on three years ago, was impressed and happy for me but that is not the career path she had in mind for me. She enrolled me for a business course at a local university but I dropped out before the end of the first semester. She was so angry that for about six months, she did not engage me in any sizeable conversation. She, however, agreed to pay my tuition fees for a short film course at the now defunct Mohamed Amin Foundation,” she says.
Disheartened by the many rejections she had received from the local producers, she decided to instead look for a job after college. For close to two years, she worked as a journalist. “I needed to pay my bills as I had moved out of my mother’s house but to be honest, I was far from being fulfilled. One day in 2004 after working for four months in the communication department for a local organisation, I called it quits to focus on film because I knew that employment would always get in the way of my career. But, it was tough, very tough,” she says. For starters, Jennifer went into a film partnership. However, she and the partner were so cash-strapped that they could not afford to buy snacks when people came in for auditions. She narrates that the ‘this is too complicated’ responses kept streaming into her e-mail. To make matters worse, they did not even have equipment of their own. Not once but more than 10 times did she consider getting back into employment. However, each time she thought of making a job application, something dissuaded her.
“While in that period of unemployment and trying to establish myself in the field, I would reach out to human resource managers of different organisations through their websites or walk into their offices and talk about my work as a script writer, director and producer. One time, I walked into a particular’s HR office and she could not hold back astonishment. There I was, a young woman in her early twenties who had been persistent on meeting her. By the end of that meeting, I had a job to produce a documentary,” she says and adds,
“In 2013, Jennifer, went separate ways with her partner. She then founded Avant films, a company that focuses on documentaries, corporate videos and TV shows. So far, she has scripted and directed several films and drama series including Changing Times, Granted and This is Life. Her new drama series, Best Friends Forever, premiered on NTV this week. In her house are a number of awards that she has bagged along the journey.
“When I look back, I am proud that I did not let the various setbacks I was getting dim my vision. From the start, I knew that I wanted to create films that highlight topical issues, and I have been very consistent in doing so. Notably, my last two works are self-funded — I wrote, directed and pitched the final product to potential TV stations. This is a huge risk because film production takes in a lot of money and by self-funding, there is no guarantee that you will get back your money. I have, however, learnt that as an entrepreneur, you have to take calculated risks. To add, the fact that most local production managers want simplistic films partly fostered this move. My work is raw,” she offers.
Jennifer ‘s work is centred on love. “I love, love,” she says and adds that her greatest inspiration is her mother. It was from her that she picked the business acumen and the need to be self- confident.
“One of the greatest lessons I have picked is that tough times do not last. I learnt this the hard way and now if something does not work out, I move on without much regrets or worry. Whenever I hit a writer’s block, I feed my soul through travelling and thankfully, I have a great support system,” she offers.