Matui Isaac Thomas (MI Thomas) is an animation screenwriter. He serves as Head of Story at Magic Carpet Studios, a division he helped found as part of the founding team. One of the few studios that currently has its own story team. He is the co-founder of Magic Scroll, the division of the studio dedicated to developing and acquiring IP.
Over the years, Thomas oversaw the development of all the studio’s main scripts. “The Passport of Mallam Ilia” with “Meet the Igwes” continues to offer the best.
How would you describe yourself best?
I am a storyteller. As far as I know, that’s the simplest way to describe me. I’ve been writing stage, radio and prose for some time now, releasing a crime thriller ‘Secrets’ in 2018. Writing for the screen was something I picked up less than seven years ago, but here we are.
How did you start your animation journey?
I started my screenwriting journey with live action and didn’t fully transition to writing for animation until 2019. Of course, while working on the script for The Passport of Mallam Ilia from 2018, I had to pay attention to certain techniques. Writing for animation media. Then I decided, “Hey, I’m going to master this and become an animation storytelling expert.” This much. So I went to diploma courses, attended dozens of online and offline Masterclasses, signed up for One-on-One mentoring programs with some of the best in the craft, and committed myself to work. For example, the results from our work on Meet the Igwe’s, among other projects, are clear.
How would you describe the state? animation industry in Africa
This is a highly thriving industry with many steps to take, but you have to give credit to the pillars that hold it all together. Africa as a whole, and Nigeria in particular, is a tough place to animate, with funding and welcome stacked against many odds. Many people still don’t understand the medium in itself, and so it’s hard to pour the resources needed to keep it going.
Regardless, I can tell you that this is Africa – the future of animation, from writing to acting to animation. We got them all here, albeit in raw forms.
What is different and unique about African art and storytelling?
I can say that they are all pure. From the stories of Moonlight told in front of a burning fire and under the trees to the stories told by Cyprian Ekwensi, Buchi Emecheta, Camara Laye and hundreds of others, what you see is real and simply fascinating. The events, the characters involved in these events, their aims, journeys and endings are told with a lot of emotion and lessons in ways that differ from those described elsewhere. Just lofty and rich.
You led the story team for The Passport of Mallam Ilia, how difficult was it for you and your team to adapt it into a screenplay?
It was an extensive process that took about 11 months. We went to Kano and spent about a month researching and that expanded the story for us. There’s a lot the book doesn’t touch, but you’ll find it in the movie. There is a documentary on youtube that came out as a result of research.
What’s the story behind ‘Meet Igwe’s’?
It started with Chekwube Okonkwo, Artistic Director of Magic Carpet Studios. He originally wanted to do a sitcom called ‘My Little Big City’. We had these long informal conversations and endless series of nights tinkering with ideas. Coincidentally, each of us was fascinated by certain shows as we were growing up. One day he approached me and said: ‘Look, you’re going to give me this show’. It’s that simple, and we’ve started to turn it into a full-fledged TV show that tells the story of a dysfunctional middle-class family of five and their weird daily adventures. This is a satire and parody of life and the human condition. Judah Danjuma, a socially conscious cartoonist, came to direct the first season, bringing a fresh perspective.
When can we expect the first season?
First full season in production; I dare say in an advanced job. But honestly, only Danjuma can give you a date. I may have a date in mind, but if the show’s creator and directors have a different date in mind, I’m in trouble.
What was it like being a part of the founding team of Magic Carpet Studio and creating a team of writers specializing in animation?
Beautiful. I mean, it’s about the size of it. It is an honor to have the opportunity to fully express myself as a storyteller doing what I know best, surrounded by such amazing talent every day and every step of the way.
But, as with almost anything basic, I know, it’s hard. This has been difficult. Not many people are ready for this level of commitment, in part because the requirements for working with me in the story department are demanding and strict.
Second, it’s one thing to find a writer, another to find storytellers, and it’s a whole different ball game to find both. To be honest, I’m still looking for suitable storytellers. In my opinion, everything in this area is already with me and it is not enough for our needs.
Still, it’s been a rewarding journey that I’ll take again and again. Just beautiful.