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From Mission Impossible to Mission Possible

01 Aug 2018

Working on the set of Mission Impossible - Fallout and working in a refugee camp in Uganda isn’t as different as you might imagine, writes New Zealander Grant Kitto.

Grant Kitto in costume on the set of Mission Impossible - Fallout in New Zealand

From Mission Impossible Fallout to MSF

It was early 2017. After many years of wondering whether my practical skills could be applied in a more useful way, I applied for work as a logistician with Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors without Borders (MSF). I flew to Sydney for the interview. It was more gruelling than I expected but I was humbled to find out they had accepted my application.

Stoked, I flew back to New Zealand and took a short contract working on the set of Mission Impossible – Fallout while I waited for MSF to match me with a project.

Mission Impossible producers were looking to hire people with motorbike licenses. I’m a dedicated biker and I leapt at the chance. I pictured myself stunt riding for Tom Cruise. Alas, he doesn't need his own stunt man, because he does most of his own stunts,

"There are a lot of parallels between movie-making and medical humanitarian aid"

At the very least I was hoping to ride a late model Ducati. Much to my disappointment, they put me on a gutless Suzuki GN250. 

Of course, the Mission Impossible - Fallout plot is kept secret, so I didn’t know the full story, but I couldn’t believe it when they put me in costume and make-up as an aid worker. What a coincidence. I was getting dressed in the trailer and saw the photos that were the basis for the look of my role. They were Medecins Sans Frontieres field projects. Only days earlier, I accepted work with MSF. Now I was pretending to be an aid worker on the set of Mission Impossible. 

From New Zealand to Uganda

It was late 2017 and I had finished working on Mission Impossible - Fallout. MSF had just given me the call and I was off to Yumbe, Uganda. I was going to work in a refugee camp just over the border from South Sudan where hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese refugees were fleeing unspeakable horror. 

I was assigned to be Logistics Manager. A massive part of my role was fleet management. I was running up to 15 vehicles including two ambulances, keeping them maintained and serviced, as well as managing local drivers. My job also included keeping our offices and guesthouse maintained, keeping the generators running – stuff like that. I also worked closely with the pharmacist to ensure medical supply and the cold chain were not broken, and making sure vital medicine arrived safe and on time.

"In the space of 12 months I literally made the journey from Mission Impossible to Mission Possible"

Working for MSF is very rewarding. I was a small part in helping support the health and wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of people. There were many challenges. I had to do a lot of thinking on my feet and problem solving. I enjoyed working with a lot of like-minded staff from all over the world and loved getting to know the friendly locals and the community. I learned a lot of new skills and have memories for a lifetime.  


Would Tom Cruise survive a refugee camp?

Tom might be able to do his own stunts but would he survive working in a refugee camp? What’s interesting is the fact that my skills in fleet management, logistics and remote infrastructure really did transfer from a Hollywood movie set to an emergency refugee camp.

In the movie business, we are often working in stunning locations and more often than not, the sets lack infrastructure, power and water. The shoots are usually miles from the nearest hospital. On the big productions, we quickly create what is essentially a small town. We bring in water, medics, large generators, truckloads of food, a team of caterers, accommodation, tents. We bring in loads of vehicles and sometimes hundreds of extras, not to mention Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg.

Working at MSF can be very similar. When MSF sets up an emergency hospital, we bring in generators, water, huge systems to purify water, tents, food and vehicles. There are a lot of parallels between movie-making and medical humanitarian aid.

In the space of 12 months I made the journey from Mission Impossible to Mission Possible. It’s something I’m very grateful for.