How We Made Pili Part 3: Props



Early fans (or, er, coerced friends) of this blog will recall that this film began life as a documentary and became a feature length drama. There was therefore no prop budget in the production budget. The story was my fault, as described here it was planned on the side of the road in Mbwewe, and I knew some big props needed would be needed. I also decided the best thing to do was to put this to the back of my mind and the budget until we were in Tanzania as I didn’t have a clue how the penultimate scene could be pulled off or how much it would cost, but after all this is what contingency was for and the scene had to be filmed, so things would work themselves out somehow. I have found this is a good approach to producing (did I mention I never wanted to be a film producer?).

Our first week in Tanzania made me confident after our first prop – a door – was built in under three hours and under an artificial budget I had set in my head. The door was built to specification and on the house that would be Pili’s house before the first day of shooting. Having got a door my confidence grew that we could pull in favours to use other props.

It is pretty tricky to write this post without giving too much away. But over the course of the 5 week shoot we managed to have the door made, extra clothes purchased (and colour theory duly noted for DOP Craig), fake blood, a working ambulance with siren, FIVE (capitals are very necessary here as I am quite impressed with myself and the negotiation capacity of the crew interpreters to secure these) different buses, and the major penultimate scene prop that I can’t tell you about, but once you see the film you’ll be wanting to find out how I pulled the production of that scene off for under £500 (answer: local contacts, negotiation, good people of Makole and awesome crew).

Not all props and production vehicles were spot on. One day, after negotiating the use of three different buses, I suggested Director Leanne may want to go and check them out to make sure they were what she was looking for. She came back and said yep, but for one slight problem:


Yes, you are right – that would be Gaddafi and Bin Laden, not your usual poster boys at the back of a bus. We were in two minds about what to do about this. I wanted to keep them, what can I say, I am an IR academic and I think this would add an interesting dynamic. However, I also didn’t want stupid people to watch the film and use this bus to fuel their Islamophobia and racism. If you had no interest in seeing the film, perhaps see this as a reason to see it – did Bin Laden and Gaddafi make the cut?


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