In the vibrant city of Nairobi, where dreams and aspirations intermingle with the bustling pace of life, two young men set out on a path that would eventually lead them to establish one of Kenya’s most successful film production companies – Phil-It Productions.
Philip Karanja and Abel Mutua, once extras on the popular TV show Tahidi High, proved that with unwavering determination and a vision, success could be within reach.
The duo’s journey began with a dream to make it big in the film industry.
Thet started as actors, receiving a meager payment of Sh500 per episode on Tahidi High, but their passion for storytelling went beyond the screen.
“When we joined Tahidi High in 2007, we were extras, the show had begun a year earlier. Citizen TV at the time was relatively new, hence wasn’t making money, so earning Sh500 was a big deal for us. Progressively, when we became part of the main acts, the pay rose to Sh3,000 per episode. By the time I was leaving the show in 2011, we were earning Sh20,000 per episode.”
Philip, with a keen interest in directing, seized every opportunity to learn the intricacies of film production while acting on the show.
His aspirations took a new turn when he watched an action film that left him mesmerized by a particular shot. This pivotal moment solidified his desire to become a film director.
The year was 2007 when Philip and Abel joined the cast of Tahidi High as extras.
Driven by ambition, they both began to pursue roles behind the cameras. A year later, an opportunity arose, and Philip became Tahidi High’s production assistant.
This experience ignited his passion for directing, and he continued to work his way up the ladder, eventually leaving the show in 2014 as both a cast member and director.
The turning point in their careers came when they collaborated on the pilot of the comical series “The Real Househelps of Kawangware.”
The show gained immense popularity and catapulted talented actors like Timothy ‘Njugush’ Kimani and Steven ‘DJ Shiti’ Oduor into the limelight.
Despite this success, Phil-It Productions faced numerous challenges, struggling to secure new projects and facing financial hardships.
“2016 was one of our most difficult years, we were shooting a lot of pilot shows for pitches that we weren’t guaranteed would get us a nod. Shooting a single pilot would cost us between Sh300,000 and Sh500,000. Most of our pitches were turned down by every broadcaster in this country and we lost over Sh1 million for around four different pilot concepts,” recalls Phil.
Undeterred by setbacks, Philip and Abel remained resilient and committed to their dream of owning a successful production company.
They continued to finance pilot projects, investing their own money and individual proceeds from “The Real Househelps of Kawangware.” Their perseverance eventually paid off when their show “Sue Na Johnnie” got picked up and premiered on Showmax in 2017.
However, this success came at a cost. Phil-It Productions found themselves in a heap of debt, amounting to Sh3 million. Mismanagement of funds and overpayment to cast and crew members proved to be costly lessons for the budding filmmakers. But, instead of being disheartened, they saw this as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Determined to make their mark in the industry, Philip and Abel sought help from a business strategy consultant, Stanley Gichobi, who helped them transform their company’s approach to profitability.
Gichobi and his team of experts crafted a robust business model that focused on the B2C (Business to Consumer) approach.
They launched their own distribution platform, philittv.com, offering Kenyan content directly to consumers, breaking the traditional mold of selling to broadcasters.
Their first film, “Grand Little Lie,” was released in October 2021 and proved to be a resounding success, surpassing expectations and breaking even on the production costs.
The launch of “Click Click Bang” further solidified their position as pioneers in the Kenyan film industry.
Within a short span, they managed to make a gross income of Sh9 million from their own platform, with subscribers willing to pay more than the set price, demonstrating the demand for Kenyan content.
With their success, Philip and Abel expanded their vision beyond their own productions. They aspired to make philittv.com a hub for diverse Kenyan content, offering opportunities to other filmmakers and helping satisfy the growing demand for local stories.
As we fast forward to today, it’s evident that Philip Karanja and Abel Mutua’s journey from struggling actors to film production titans has been nothing short of extraordinary.
Their resilience, determination, and passion for storytelling have shaped them into true trailblazers, redefining the landscape of the Kenyan film industry. With exciting projects in the pipeline and recognition from international platforms like Netflix, the future looks brighter than ever for Phil-It Productions.