A conversation with award-winning filmmaker Théo Mahy-Ma-Somga on UBUNTU – AN AFRICAN STORY + Being A Frenchman In LA

Théo Mahy-Ma-Somga has just won a screenplay award for his screenplay’Ubuntu – An African Story‘, even though he wrote it in his second language. The Frenchman is based in Los Angeles, where he wrote and directed the films ‘An American Life’, ‘All We Have Left’, ‘The Audience’ and ‘Awakened’ and ‘First World Struggle’.

He told us about his experiences in Los Angeles – positive and negative – and how his next adventure could be back in Europe.

Estaro, tell us more about your victory in the Big Apple screenplay competition?

“Honestly, this is a huge surprise to me, especially since I wrote ‘Ubuntu – An African Story‘ in my second language. This scenario is very personal, and I dedicated it to my grandfather, who left us a few years ago. The action takes place in France and Africa, so I didn’t expect it to resonate with an American audience – I’m very honored. I won in the drama category, which is funny because I considered my script to be a comedy, but everyone who reads it cries before the end! My sense of humor must be quite dark and cynical, I guess.

Tell us about your experience as a European working in Los Angeles?

“It’s all in the accent!” Just kidding – there are always pros and cons to being an underdog. I’m thankful that I already had a fantastic group of creative friends here when I moved, as it helped me acclimate faster. I understand why this can be such a difficult city for many foreigners, you can feel isolated quite quickly. I also find LA a bit sad, I see a lot of people with broken dreams in this city. One wrong turn and you see such misery in the downtown streets, another turn and you find houses as big as a football stadium. It doesn’t always feel right. The quintessential example would be the character of Jamie Foxx in “Collateral”.

How does your directing and writing process work?

“I tend to write in the morning. I wake up around 5am – I feel most inspired when everything is still quiet. I feel like my mind isn’t polluted by all the craziness of my day yet. I write stories based on life, people, human relationships; I like to tell the story of the underdog. I usually have the story mapped out in my head, like a beat sheet, and then I write each scene on index cards, trying to highlight the conflicts and emotional shifts. Then I start writing the scenes, one at a time. If an idea excites me, I write half of it and save the rest for the next day, which helps me not bang my head against the wall in the morning. I had a lot of trouble with the rewrites. I couldn’t really approach it properly, I needed to boost my confidence. I am still learning and working on my craft every day.


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Steven L. Nielsen