‘You Again’ is a Labour of Love: Nick Mutuma Overcomes Challenges to Direct His First Film

We’ve seen him and loved him on screen, as the boy toy Luka in “Tabasamu” or the conflicted heartthrob Leo in MTV’s “Shuga”. He’s even courted Nigerians playing Tomide in Lowladee’s romantic comedy series “This Is It”. But can Nick Mutuma prove his directing chops with his first film, the soon-to-be-released rom-com “You Again”?

Nick describes the film -which he also stars in alongside Tanzania’s Mimi Mars, Lenana Kariba and Neomi Ng’ang’a- as a story that explores what it would be like to work with your ex.“Two college sweethearts find themselves in a quagmire after being paired up as co-news anchors at a leading TV station, 7 years post break up,” Nick says.

In this interview, Nick shares more of his journey as a first-time director and what it took to make “You Again”.

How did the idea for this movie come about?

The idea was born over coffee with my friend Natasha Likimani, an amazing writer. We’ve always toyed with the idea of collaborating on a project.  The goal was to create something that we’d both enjoy watching and tell a story that is relatable. We’ve both always wanted to direct movies, and it was agreed that we’d co-direct this one. We fleshed out a few ideas over a few weeks and that’s how “You Again” came to be. We shot the film in 7 days.

Why did you come to the decision to cast Mimi Mars all the way from Tanzania? What extra magic does she bring to this film?

I’ve had the pleasure of working in both South and West of Africa and I can say with conviction that there are a lot of similarities across the board. I’ve always championed Pan African collaborations because Africa has the potential to build the largest music/film industry in the world. We brought it closer home because we wanted to incorporate Kiswahili into the script. I reached out to Vanessa Mdee and asked her to recommend a few Tanzanian female actors, and she sent me a list that included her sister Mimi.

It was written in the stars. Mimi’s mother’s first name is Sophia, and so is her character. Mimi had a poise and grace very similar to her character and she really wanted the gig. We took a risk and it paid off. I think she has a very promising future in acting and music that will transcend the borders of Africa.

As an actor who’s been in the industry for quite a long time, how was the transition like from an actor to a director?

As the old saying goes, nothing good comes easy. The transition has been far from easy but I’ve enjoyed the journey every step of the way. Roy Mutonga and I set out to launch a production house (Giraffe Africa Production Ltd) a year ago. When we started off, it felt like we had no idea what we’re doing but we’ve since slowly found our groove and are slowly beginning to carve our niche in the TV/Film space. Look out for us!

Seeing as this is the first film you’ve directed; did you feel any pressure to get it right the first time?

One of my good friends and workmates Kevin Davies always tells me ‘You’ll always find something wrong with your film, that there will always be something you feel could have been executed better’ and he’s right. This is a marathon for me, not a race. I can’t wait to work on the next one…and the next.

What’s the most valuable lesson you learned during the whole filming process of “You Again”?

The most valuable life lesson for me is patience and gratitude.  When we started out we had nothing but ideas. I’m always blown away when I watch the final product and read the trailer reviews on YouTube. It’s a blessing that I don’t take for granted.

Are you nervous now that the film is about to come out?

I’m nervous and excited, but most of all I just really want it to be out, we just want people to watch and enjoy our labour of love.

You worked with director Tosh Gitonga in his 2018 rom-com “Disconnect” which was quite a success, any lessons you have learned from him and channelled into this movie?

Tosh Gitonga is an amazing guy. He really held my hand throughout the entire process. Not only was he generous with advice, but he also kept tabs on us; motivating the team when we were discouraged and allowing us to use his postproduction facility pro-bono. I owe that man a bottle of whiskey.

You also star in the film, what character do you play?

I play Kingsley, a young man struggling to make ends meet in Nairobi. After several failed attempts at securing employment, he resorts to spending his days on his father’s couch. His saving grace comes when his dad gets him an interview for a marketing position at a leading TV station, but the network believes that he would be the perfect news anchor, that’s when he meets with his Ex-girlfriend Sophia, an unpleasant blast from the past.

What was the most challenging thing about starring in your own production?

Acting and directing your own film is difficult especially because we were learning as we went along. What helped was the fact that Natasha (co-director), Kevin Davies (cinematographer) and I were in sync with what we wanted out of the film. The first few days were rocky but we eventually built a rhythm.

 What was the most difficult thing about making the film?

Financing the film was an uphill task, we (Giraffe Africa Productions) are fairly new in the production space and few were willing to take a chance on us. We found the perfect partner in Darling Hair Kenya who believed in our vision and gave us the support we needed to be able to get the production up and running. We were also supported by Film Studios who provided us with technical support and Switch TV that allowed us to play around with their newsroom. A lot of our close friends also helped out, notably Funscapes Amusement Park and Ashleys (Two Rivers), Café Kaya, and Five Senses Restaurant in providing locations for the film.  We got our wardrobe from Royalty By Rajab and Signature The Brand clothing. It was really magical how everything came together

What would you like people to take out of this film?

That the film industry is alive in Kenya and that with their support, the industry will grow and flourish. We also want to create exportable Kenyan/African stories that show the beauty of our country. A lot of narratives that are exported abroad paint Kenya/ Africa as a poverty-stricken; sad place but we’re happy people.

If you were to choose one Kenyan actor to direct, who would it be?

I love Kate Kamau Karanja. She’s an unstoppable force; I would love to work with her on a drama series. I also enjoyed working with Lenana Kariba and look forward to collaborating on a lot more projects with him.

Be sure to catch “You Again” which will premiere at the Junction Mall on Thursday 26 September.

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