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African YouTube comedy shot entirely on Zoom

Lebone Mano
By Lebone Mano, junior journalist
Johannesburg, 07 May 2021
Virtual Colleagues cast
Virtual Colleagues cast

Solar energy is not as ‘sexy’ as cryptocurrencies, or 5G, but it deserves more attention, particularly on the African continent, says Vanessa Awong Eya'a, creator of a comedy series shot entirely on Zoom.

The series, available on YouTube, is called Virtual Colleagues, and follows the travails of a Ghana-based solar company facing bankruptcy.

The show was filmed using Zoom, and follows June, a 35-year-old Nigerian CEO, who is used to doing business face-to-face. As the pandemic begins, she struggles to keep the company afloat and work with her dysfunctional pan-African team via Zoom calls.

The show draws on Awong Eya'a’s experience as the founder of a company called Renewables in Africa (RiA), a clean engineering company and media platform. The company was started in 2016, and now has clients in South Africa, Kenya and Ghana.

She says there’s not enough urgency in the world of renewable energy, and ‘it can take years to get an answer’.

“I think we can do much more with solar power. It can help build industries. Things just aren’t moving fast enough.”

She says that renewable energy projects need effort and funding, both of which are in short supply.

“It’s as if we only understand solar intellectually, (but) there’s no deeper connection to it. I thought it would be interesting to have a show around it, to make it more relatable.”

Endless possibilities

Virtual Colleagues debuted in December and each 15-minute long episode follows June (Winnie Ikediashi from Brighton, UK), her financial director, Achere (Brian Angels from Accra), head of engineering, Tamisa (London-based Juliana Anwuli Sydenham) and head of business development, Koffi (Kevin Osore).

The cast has never met in person. Osore lives in Nairobi, and came across Awong Eya'a’s call for participation on a Kenyan actors’ forum and landed the role after an audition on Zoom.

Says Osore: “We film once a month but we have about four meetings a week to rehearse. We’ve had to put in a lot of work but thankfully we’ve had no problems, we all just connected.”

One of Awong Eya'a’s only prerequisites for her cast was that they have stable network connection. As with real-life, the background matters too, “Because we use Zoom, each of us could recordfrom pretty much anywhere but these are supposed to be colleagues having meetings so it should look like they’re in the house or maybe in the garden,” she says.

Virtual Colleagues cast
Virtual Colleagues cast

“I guess it would also depend on the character. Straight-laced Achere wouldn’t be shopping during office-hours.” She recalls a rehearsal where Angels (who plays Achere) was on the road, on a motorbike, “He’s the most mobile of us all, he could be anywhere! But those motorbike scenes didn’t make the final cut, (because) that would be out of character.”

It takes about a day of filming to get 15 minutes of footage. At first, says Awong Eya'a, they tried to record entire episodes in one take but quickly realised that recording each scene alone worked best. “We’d have to do so many takes and we’d all be so exhausted at the end of the day. Recording in scenes is more efficient because we can take breaks and the actors can come and go for their scenes.”

Does she make any backups of the footage? She says she used to screencast and record on Zoom,but now she only uses Zoom and does some editing on Adobe Premiere Pro before uploading to the show’s YouTube channel.

As the end of season one of Virtual Colleagues approaches, Awong Eya'a says she’d love to extend the show for another season.

“There are endless possibilities with remote work. In the next season I’d like to cast members from more countries to drive solar awareness. For season one, I’d actually sent a call-out to South African actors, but I couldn’t find anybody. But this is still such a unique concept…maybe they thought I was crazy.”