AuthenticA Interview with Story Expert: Selina Ukwuoma

The StoryBoard Collective
March 18, 2024
1. Who are you? What do you do in life? What is your role in AuthenticA?  

Note from the Editor: Selina is a script consultant, script editor and she works with different organisations on their various programs and labs. Selina also works with production companies independently on specific projects in an international context. Selina is the Story Expert of AuthenticA Series Lab.


I work with the writers, I accompany them and their stories over the six months of AuthenticA.  After that, they continue on their journey. 

Consistently, after my first year in the industry, I worked with different countries in different parts of the world. That has been an important aspect of what I always wanted to do.

My heritage is heterogeneous and I have connections to different places. Consequently, conversations for me have always been broader than British and even European. Having grown up in Lagos, Nigeria, as well as in Britain, and having family in Brazil, Germany and Australia, the stories I encountered through my family influences and personal experiences are stories that are often absent in the mainstream space. 

My priority is to address this lack of representation, particularly with reference to Africa, and, in my case, experiences from a Nigerian context. Returning to England, I encountered such ignorance about Africa; the lack of recognition of its importance in terms of different stories and experiences, the sense that Africa is somehow not up to date, not part of the modern world.  Shockingly, something that I still encounter to this day. 

2.  What aspect of the programme is the most engaging to you? What keeps you motivated to keep on consulting for the AuthenticA programme? What is your motivation to be involved in the AuthenticA Series Lab? 

To me there is this plurality of African stories that have not been heard and have a great deal to offer to the rest of the world. I want to be part of that.  I also want to hear these stories. 

The most exciting part of my job is when I work with people whose stories are hard to understand at first instance because they are outside of my experience. 

These stories show me a new way of looking at the world. For me it is magical when something completely new and different is revealed to me. 


3.  How do the stories evolve and what is your secret recipe to help the writers unlock their greatest potential?  

My absolute priority is to hear their voice. Everything I do works towards trying to help them realise their voice rather than trying to make their voice fit any given template. 

There will always be a space where the story takes place. You have to be particularly open, especially if you are working in different cultural spaces. It is important to remain open to hear what the writers are trying to communicate to you. 

People write imitatively and if I suspect that the writers might be falling into the trap of American or European mainstream media - that bombard us nowadays - I have to remind them that they have their own stories to tell.

My job is to ask questions and try to get to what is really important to them. There are two important things: how they experience their stories and how they can express that through the idiom of the space in which they are from. 

I always advise the writers to stay playful, open and flexible about the story. Creativity doesn't happen in formulas or templates.  Creativity can only happen with a certain amount of anarchy. I like to create space for that in workshops.  

Particularly, as part of AuthenticA, I designed the story development side of this program so that the cohort itself plays the most important role. The writers bring their different and authentically African perspectives, their diversity in terms of gender, race, nationalities, personalities. Mehret Mandefro, the Creative Producer of AuthenticA, also brings her own perspective.. 

We all ask quite challenging questions in order to refine and distil what is at the heart of the story. It is not a linear process.  In development you have to go in circles and keep the process dynamic and intuitive.

Where did the idea come from, what is the spark of inspiration? It can be different for each story and each writer. 

A huge amount of trust is involved. Writers have to be really trusting of the mentors in the process. Building that trust at the beginning of the process is essential and needs to be established early so that we can go on the development journey together. Without that it is impossible. It is always a real privilege to be trusted with the stories that are meaningful to the writers.  

Of course, it requires reciprocation from both sides. I must always be honest and offer emotional responses to the writers in order to have a way to evaluate their stories and for them to decide what value my feedback brings to their story. 

4. How have you seen the evolution of the place of African talents in European co-production markets and how do you see it evolving for the future? 

Generally, across my career and in different markets, both films and series, there has always been an appetite for good African stories but also a paucity of African projects. In particular, on the series side. 

Furthermore, I would say there is a stark growth in interest in African content.  There have been attempts to capitalise on this “untapped” market, however, the production of stories has remained “local” even though there is a great deal of value in those stories beyond Africa.  A fact that is still underappreciated. 

Last year, we did something really special with AuthenticA. I think we really surprised the market at Series Mania! 

People said, the stories were punching at the same weight or better than the best of the stories that were developed in European or US spaces. We have known that for quite some time, but there haven't been opportunities to develop the stories correctly.  Mainly because of resources and people believing it was possible. 

AuthenticA is special because the writers get the time that they need to develop their stories in non-mainstream forms. They are given the time to find their voices while finding the strength to stand tall in an international market and advocate for their story.

For me, it was one of the most gratifying experiences to see the participants pitch their story, in their very strong, individual voices. And the market completely responded to them as it should. 

5. What do you wish for the talents this year - a word of encouragement for the talents

Stand in their power! 

They each have something different to offer to the world! The need to recognise that the world is missing what they have to say - and that it is powerful! 

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