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Philip Karanja ‘Melvin’: From Earning Ksh 500 As An Actor To Making Millions As A Film Director

Philip Karanja is a former Tahidi High actor who was popularly known as Melvin in the show that aired on Citizen TV. He has made a remarkable transition from acting to becoming a successful filmmaker and co-founder of ‘Phil-it’, a leading production company in Kenya.

Outside of his professional endeavors, Philip Karanja is happily married to actress Catherine Kamau, whom he describes as his perfect partner. He values their deep friendship and shares their joyous moments together.

WoK exploreS his journey in the TV industry, the founding of his company, his rise from making little as an actor to reeling in millions as a film and TV shows director.

From Actor to Filmmaker 

Philip Karanja, once known for his role as an actor on the popular TV series Tahidi High, has carved a new path for himself in the entertainment industry. While acting served as a means to an end, Philip’s true passion lay in directing and filmmaking. He had always aspired to create and bring his imaginative world to life.

On Making Little as an Actor

Philip recalls his early acting days, earning meager sum of Ksh 500 per episode on Tahidi High saying.

“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”, he told Businessdaily.com Sinda Matiko.

He went on to add,

“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,” the award winning producer added.

As an extra, the pay was not substantial, but it was a stepping stone towards his ultimate goal. Over time, as his role on the show grew, so did his earnings. However, Philip knew that his true calling was behind the camera.

Founding Phil-it – Building a Production Company

Together with his co-actor Abel Mutua and Bob Muriithi, Philip co-founded Phil-it, a production company aimed at bringing fresh and captivating content to Kenyan audiences.

Despite facing numerous challenges and rejections, the team persevered, pouring their personal resources into shooting concepts and pilot projects. Their determination paid off when they finally secured their first major contract in 2016.

Making Millions as a Director – The Rise of Phil-it Productions

After transitioning from acting to directing, the producer found his stride and began making waves in the industry.

One of the significant milestones of the production company came at the Kalasha Awards, where their shows Sue na Jonnie and Hullaballoo Estate received critical acclaim. Their dedication and creativity were recognized, and the company’s success started to soar.

According to Business Daily, exciting news have surfaced indicating that Netflix is considering acquiring the rights to Philip and Abel Mutua’s production, Click Click Bang.

If the deal goes through, Netflix would pay an impressive sum of 60,000 USD (Sh8 million) for the exclusive rights to rerun the film over a two-year period.

The news follows the successful premiere of Click Click Bang, which generated a substantial gross income of Sh9 million when Philip and Abel independently distributed the film.

The film quickly gained popularity, with over 2,500 Kenyans eagerly paying Sh1,000 each to watch it within just three days of its release.

Personal Pride – Back-to-Back Successful Shows

Philip takes great pride in the back-to-back success of the shows he has worked on, particularly with Abel Mutua. The duo has collaborated for over a decade, creating popular TV series like Mother-In-Law, Hapa Kule News, Real Househelps of Kawangware, Hullabaloo Estate, and Sue na Jonnie. Their consistent success has solidified their place in the Kenyan TV industry.

Balancing Acting and Directing

Although Philip has primarily focused on directing, his love for acting remains intact. He occasionally takes on cameo appearances in shows like ‘Sue na Jonnie’. Acting is an integral part of his journey, and he hopes to return to the screen as a regular feature in the future.

Overcoming Challenges – Risk and Rejection

Building a production company from the ground up comes with its fair share of challenges. Phil-it Productions faced numerous rejections and financial risks during the early years.

Many concepts were rejected, and it took several years before they secured their first major job. However, their unwavering belief in their craft and persistence ultimately led to success.

Training and Talent in Film/TV

Philip’s training in film came from three years of study at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication. While talent plays a significant role, the knowledge and skills acquired through formal training have been instrumental in his success as a director.

He was mentored by Catherine Wamuyu.