Kenya is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and currently makes around $1bn a year from tourism.
In terms of specific advice on filming in Kenya, the first port of call should be the Kenya Film Commission (KFC). Launched in 2006, the KFC - with support from the Kenya Tourism Board - acts as a bridge between foreign producers and relevant government ministries, negotiating reductions and waivers in licensing and location fees. It also acts as the focal point for enquiries about local crew and equipment availability. KFC can also advise on the possibility of free/reduced price flights through Kenya Airways and hotels/transport discounts.
Kenyan capital Nairobi is the heart of the Kenyan production industry and also acts as a hub for the East African region. In terms of regional competition, Kenya is slightly more expensive than South Africa and doesn’t have the benefit of tax breaks.
Anyone considering filming there should check out the latest advice from their foreign office before committing themselves.
Reese Witherspoon’s film The Good Lie tells the story of an American woman who takes in a Sudanese refugee. Most of it is filmed in the US and South Africa, with the latter doubling for a refugee camp in Northern Kenya. However some sequences were shot in Kenya and serviced by Blue Sky Films.
The need for authenticity sometimes works in Kenya’s favour. For example, Goodcop recently filmed a commercial for South African telecoms firm MTN that focused on the way coffee gets from the farm to the mug. This involved filming just outside Nairobi. Kenya was also recently used as a double for Ghana in a commercial for Windhoek Lager featuring Didier Drogba.
In 2013, the KFC signed a memorandum of understanding with South Africa’s Film & Video Foundation to encourage more production collaboration between Kenya and South Africa.
The KFC says: “Special passes for international filming crew are issued by the Department of Immigration. The special passes or work permits are available for 15,000 Kenyan Shillings (US$170). Application requirements need to be forwarded to the Department by the film agent who is facilitating the international film production.”
This local film agent is also required to secure a filming licence from the Department of Film Services (DFS). The cost of this licence varies depending on the production and number of shoot days involved. Processing a film licence can take anywhere around three days.
Location permits are typically issued by local authorities. Because there are no fixed fees, this is another situation where an experienced local production partner is invaluable. Shooting in Nairobi is possible but requires planning, according to Emerge Film Solutions.“Shooting in the Nairobi business district or on city streets requires an additional permit.
"Shutting city streets requires at least two weeks to permit. Additional clearances may be required by NEMA (Environment), CID (National Security) and other agencies should you wish to film in sensitive areas etc.”
As referenced above, Kenya is a spectacular country offering a wide array of location types. Close to capital city Nairobi there are national parks and wildlife reserves, mountains, desert, savannah, lakes, farms and colonial houses. Within the city itself there is a mix of locations including a business district, industrial neighborhoods and poor slums.
Further out from Nairobi are volcanoes, rainforests, waterfalls, beaches as well as more mountains/savannah/deserts. Locations of particular interest include Mount Kenya National Park and the port city of Mombasa, though it’s worth pointing out that Mombasa has been a key target for attacks by regional terrorist groups.
In term of climate, Kenya sits on the equator so is invariably warm to hot. March and April are the main rainy months though it can also be extremely wet in October and November. This needs to be considered, because some roads are not paved and are slow-going when the wet weather arrives.
The key to a successful shoot in Kenya is to work via one of the country’s local production services companies, which are typically based in Nairobi.
For lighting, grip, generator and crews, you could also try Film Studios Kenya in Nairobi.
It’s worth noting that some companies work across the entire sub-Saharan African region. Cape Town-based Moonlighting can facilitate productions across East Africa (including Kenya).
In terms of casting, Kenya is an international hub, which means it is possible to find a diverse range of nationalities/looks.