Talking Film With Henry Akrong
Marrying his innovative approach to filmmaking and the arts in general, with a captivating social media presence, Henry Akrong, and his creative group, Package Studios, are pushing the envelope in the creative film industry.
The following conversation with Henry attempts to delve into the mind of one of Ghana’s avant-garde creatives to understand what makes him, him. In this conversation, his sentiments about the good, bad and ugly of the Ghanaian creative industry are expressed.
Who is Henry Akrong?
Henry Akrong is someone who has experimented and worked with a lot of art forms, ideas and gigs to arrive finally at this level.
So film. Why, and how did you get started?
Tried a lot of art forms and outlets, and film happens to be the latest one I’m experimenting with and I like. It started with home videos. I thought no one was paying attention to them, but turns out people were watching, and more than that they liked the content I was putting out. I decided to take it up a few notches.
What is Package studios?
Package studios is a creative company we started. When everyone is standing around a box, each person sees it from a different perspective, much like how we approach almost anything in life. Doing things the same way everyone does them has never really been my thing. Hence package studios felt like the perfect avenue to express the ideology of varying perspectives. The double entendre here is the name ‘package’ connoting ‘branding’.
You are a multidisciplinary creative, not only do you make film, you draw. And you do so live… on Instagram stories. Was visual arts your first true love?
I always loved to draw, and have been doing so since I was a kid, but never really took any formal art classes until I switched schools and started taking art class. Although those classes helped develop my skills I never really thought of art as anything other than something to do in my free time. And just like my film projects, the art caught people’s attention…you know with the live IG sketches, and the rest is history.
Just as I mentioned before, I like to think of new ideas and avoid doing things like everyone else. I had been making those skits long before as personal projects and somehow they caught on and people seem to like them a lot. I usually get an idea in my head, or source ideas from my group of who/what to shoot and just start work! Its interesting how this seems to really impresses people, because I’m not even charged up yet haha!
Who are your film idols? And what did you grow up watching?
Brandon Lee is definitely one of my idols. The guy makes his art and doesn’t necessarily try hard to fit in, and doesn’t care who likes it or not. At the end of the day, he puts out what he thinks is good. We’re alike a lot in that respect.
I have always liked documentaries; I want to learn something new from someone’s life as opposed to watching science fiction or some other genre purely for entertainment. If I’m going to spend the little time I have watching something then it may as well be something that gives me perspective into someone/something new; something real.
Regarding new projects, ‘Bye Bye’ by RJZ really struck a chord. Did you expect that kind of reaction? And how do you make film that targets those sentiments/emotions?
I was going to say I didn’t expect that much of a reaction but that’d be a damn lie. After we finished working on the script, and everything came together, we were in awe ourselves and went through the same reactions people are now getting after seeing it. So we kind of expected it, especially the part where the real ‘bye-bye’ wasn’t the husband leaving but when he died. That was deep.
Also I gotta just say, RJZ is such a talent and IS DEFINITELY next up!
What was the inspiration behind the decision for your cast for the ‘bye bye’ video? Considering the video’s release coinciding with International Albinism day?
Before shooting the video, RJZ kept saying how he didn’t want it to be just ‘another video’, and how he needed it to express a fresh perspective. Consider how different RJZ considers himself (different from people in the music industry) it made sense that the people in the video wouldn’t be your ‘everyday cast’. The video highlights the struggles and plights that face all of us regardless of our outward appearances.
The release of the video came a few weeks before International Albinism day, and so we saw it as an opportunity to raise some awareness. It was well received by many pro Albinism groups who referenced the video on their podcasts and social media.
I’ve heard the film industry being described as cut-throat in Ghana/Africa, especially towards young creatives. What are your sentiments? And where do you see the future of film as an art-form in Ghana?
The issue with the film industry is that it is run by business people who want to make their quick profit and that’s it. There is no funding for the real creatives, the experimenters and the innovative guys who want to, say, experiment with CGI in film. The same subpar projects keep getting funded and the result is an industry with not that much innovative content.
Young creatives have it the worst in the industry. The old heads at the top of the industry don’t want to give younger (more innovative) creatives the opportunity for fear of being replaced. So they’d rather just use the creatives (who they pay very little) and keep the innovation stifled enough so that there is not threat of these younger people replacing them.
What is your aim with all of this? Telling the African story? Telling your story? Or just doing you?
Definitely telling the African story; my story, and trying to show people you can create content that people like that doesn’t look the same as everything else. I would love to do some documentaries since I grew up watching a lot of those. I’m thinking of doing one on the struggles that young creatives go through in the African film industry.
What’s next for Henry Akrong and Package Studios?
Just taking it one project at a time.
You’re clearly a trailblazer, what advice do you have for young creatives in this field?
Keep doing what you love and hone your skills to be better, and don’t be scared to experiment. It took me trying out things to find my sweet spot so do as many things as you need to until you find that one thing that speaks to you. Then work your ass off!
‘BYE BYE’ by RJZ, produced by Tokyo