Career Path With TV Director, Rotten Tomatoes Critic Jacob Ayoo Oyugi

August 23, 2021

Jacob Ayoo Oyugi is the founder and CEO of Ayoo Films Limited. He has a Diploma in Technology in Journalism and Public Relations and is currently pursuing an online Bachelors degree course in Contemporary Media Practice and Film Production at the University of Westminster in the UK.

Mr Ayoo is also a film critic and contributor at Rotten Tomatoes, an American review-aggregation website for film and television.

The 31-year-old shared his career path with the Sunday Nation.

Tell us about your childhood and family life

I am the second last born in a family of eight – three brothers and four sisters – with a strong and amazing mother. My father passed on in 1993. I grew up in Nairobi’s Umoja estate. My brothers played a major role in molding me to be the man I am today. My childhood was stable because I was raised in a loving environment. Making mistakes was not an option, and this was like a manual on how to stay with people around me.

Educational background

I started my education at Fadhili Junior School in Umoja Two. I was admission number 5. I keep bragging about this and we all laugh about it as a family. This was the best decision my guardians could have ever made because it gave me an amazing foundation. I schooled at Fadhili up to class one and then transferred to Tumaini Primary School in Umoja Innercore, where I stayed till class five.

In 2002 I transferred to Nyaundi Primary School in Kisumu County, where I sat my Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCPE) examination. I then joined Sawagongo High School in Siaya County for my secondary education.

After high school, I joined Kenya Polytechnic University College – presently known as the Technical University of Kenya – for a Diploma course in Technology, Journalism and Public Relations. I majored in broadcast and graduated in 2014.

This course equipped me with theoretical knowledge and practical skills in journalism, TV production, communication, public relations, conflict resolution, negotiation among other PR learning skillset. Thereafter I enrolled to study a number of electives including units such as photojournalism, news writing, editing and publishing, cinema, and television.

After the three-month course, I was absorbed by the Standard Media Group as a production assistant in the converged newsroom before being elevated to a TV producer position and later a news director.

I then decided to enroll in a local university here in Nairobi for Bachelors Degree in TV Production. This course was going to help me gain knowledge in creative TV production and directing. Unfortunately, I dropped out due to financial constraints.

With time I developed an interest in digital media. I embraced new forms of storytelling, creative camera shots composure, stress management through working with absolutely tight timelines, and creative programme directing.

In 2019 I enrolled for an online undergraduate course in Contemporary Media Practice and Film Production at the University of Westminster, United Kingdom. Hopefully, I graduate in December 2022. After I’m done with my bachelor’s degree, I hope to pursue a Masters’ degree in Cinematography, probably in France.

Share with us your career journey

My career journey has been bumpy but quite interesting. I fell in love with film production in 2002. I used to watch amazing films on TV and that’s when I knew that I wanted to pursue that as a career. In high school, I wasn’t an A student in high school, but I wasn’t a poor student either.

After clearing college, I specifically looked for a course that would help me achieve my dreams. That is how I landed an internship opportunity at the Standard Media Group as a production assistant in 2014. My job description included operating the teleprompter for anchors and ensuring the studios were clean and well arranged. Getting a job proved difficult after my first internship ended, so I found myself interning at the MP Shah Hospital six months after I left the Standard Media Group.

One evening, my former boss at the media house called me and told me about an opportunity. I went for an interview, passed, and landed my first job as a production assistant with starting salary of Sh15,000. This was later raised to Sh21,000. One year later I was promoted to an assistant TV producer, then to a TV producer, and finally to a TV director.

I fell in love with directing when I was still very green in this field. It was a baptism by fire kind of thing. I knew the industry was very competitive so I had to push myself to be the best. Everything I’m doing today, I learned from the best in the industry.

I later founded Ayoo Films Limited, where I’m currently the CEO. I’m also a film critic at Rotten Tomatoes. As a film critic, I’m responsible for viewing, taking notes and analyzing the acting, plot development, writing, directing, editing, and cinematography of films. I basically use my writing and analytical skills to craft a professional review that can help audiences determine whether or not they should watch the film.

Some of the films I have reviewed so far include Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man, and The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard. Writing for Rotten Tomatoes has taught me the importance of looking at films with a third eye and answering questions that no one will ever ask.

Tell us about your career progression over the years.

My career has taken an amazing curve from being a TV director and producer to starting my own company in 2018. I always knew that I would be a filmmaker but I never imagined myself having my own company. Ayoo Films Limited has been a baby that I have been nurturing for the last three years.

The journey hasn’t been easy. I learn new things every single day. My dream is to create employment because I know how difficult it is to get employment, more so in this media industry. Sitting in a management class has helped me grow my leadership, decision-making and management skills.

What is the most memorable thing about your career journey? 

The passion and stubbornness in me could not allow me to remain in one place – I always wanted more. I could ask news directors on shift to allow me to direct their bulletins as I operated the teleprompter. If you have been in a news production setup, you’d understand how technical this could be and probably the riskiest idea. A very bad idea!

In fact, the people who saw me grow remind me how hard I worked to be where I am today. As a production assistant in the morning shift we used to be picked up at 3 am. I have to confess that I would pray that the director on duty oversleeps so that I could just get an opportunity to direct the show. May God forgive me for this!

What has been a key driver of your growth? Any lessons learnt, success and failures?

Passion is my main drive! The belief that I want to be the best version of myself in everything I do and everywhere I go kills me every day. I have always wanted to leave a positive impact in everyone’s life. I keep affirming myself that I am the best producer and director that ever lived.

I have learnt to be the hungriest person in the room. Hunger to know more. Hunger to learn. I have also learnt to be patient, humble and a good listener. Listen to critics and know when to take in critics. I always strive to be innovative and creative and never take a no for an answer.

I really celebrated registering a film company at the age of 27. I have been able to create employment for three people on a contractual basis. This motivates me to work harder every single day. Being the youngest film critic at Rotten Tomatoes is one achievement I have always been proud of.

One of the habits that have kept me going and helped to stay afloat is a reading culture that I have cultivated in my life. I have thrived by reading a book a month. This has helped me to jog my imagination, change my train of thought and even change how I view life.

Persistence has also helped me get this far. I have grown to believe that you are as good as your last production. So I always try as hard as I can to make each production better than the last one.

Anyone who was helpful in your career growth?

My family. I owe it all to my family. They’ve supported me through it all. I can not also forget the boss who gave me a chance to intern and work at Standard Group. Then of course there is the late Edwin Audi, a friend, and brother who believed in me. He introduced me to amazing people in this industry. These are the people Ayoo Films Limited owes its existence.

Key decisions you might have taken along your career?

Every decision you make, from your choices to how you respond to the circumstances of your life, shapes your destiny. A decision you make today could affect your life tomorrow, a week from now or 10 years now. Destiny is the ripple effect of every decision you make over a lifetime.

The decision I made to pursue an online undergrad course at the University of Westminster has changed the way I look at my career. Taking an online course in management has helped me look at business differently. It is steadily sharpening my skills in business management, calculation of risks, and even how to approach the business of filmmaking.

What would you tell your younger self?

Be kinder to yourself. Always know your worth. The world is bigger than you think it is and your worries aren’t as important as you think they are, just be you. Don’t worry if you look different, or feel you look different, from most other people. You are where you are because God wants you to be there. No matter what you are going through, kindly know that the rains will come, the sun will shine and the grass will grow.

Your advice to the youth?

It’s not all about how much money you make, it’s all about how much change you make. A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business. So you have a choice to make about what your life is all about…Your passion or your paycheque. Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. Choose a job you love and you will never have to work your whole life.

Future plans?

I want to take my company to the International space. I want to make it huge at home and abroad.

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