DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Lebanon’s Cedars Art Production, the prominent film and TV company which recently scored a massive hit across the MENA region with TV show “Al Hayba,” is ramping up and reconfiguring its scripted content output with its first two high-end shows conceived for OTT play, one of which involves the fictional creation of a special pan-Arab investigative unit to fight ISIS.
“We are preparing our first original content specially made for OTT players,” said company president Sadek Anwar Sabbah, speaking at the Dubai Film Market which has opened up to TV. “Al Hayba,” which is about a family of arms smugglers working the border between Syria and Lebanon, screened at the DFM on Saturday (Sabbah is pictured above with the cast).
Sabbah said “Al Hayba” helmer Samer Berkawi is set to shoot “Ressort” (which can be translated as “Spring” or “Coil”) in which a couple “somewhat similar” to “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” will be travelling to a different MENA country in each “fast and edgy” episode.
“In each episode we will be in a new place with some new cast members,” including a special guest star, besides the two central characters which will remain throughout, Sabbah said.
Algerian TV star Amel Bouchoucha and Syrian star Bassel Khayyat, both Arab A-listers, are attached to play the two protagonists in “Ressort” which will take viewers “behind closed doors in various different Arabic countries and societies” and “give an idea of the problems and aspirations” there, according to promotional materials.
Aside from its innovative pan-Arabic concept “Ressort” will be a bold new type of TV series for the MENA region in terms of format. Each season will consist of between 13 and 15 episodes as opposed to the 30 episodes per season that are customary in the Arab world for so-called Ramadan shows.
Sabbah said he already has the total investment in place to ensure an August 2018 shoot date for the “Ressort” skein which he intends to pitch to Netflix as well to the linear broadcasters such as Mbc, Osn, and Orbit, that are his regular clients.
The Cedars Art chief said he will be giving his regular clients priority, but has been convinced by Netflix execs whom he met in Dubai to try to offer these broadcasters “only the MENA rights, so that he can have the possibility of giving Netflix second-run rights for MENA and first run rights globally outside MENA,” Sabbah said.
He added that he was “not sure local broadcasters will be agreeable to that” but that he is hopeful that they could be persuaded by the lower cost this model would entail for them.
Cedars Art has another show for potential OTT play in an earlier stage of development titled “H20” which envisions a scenario in which the Arab League has designated a special Arab police to fight terrorism in the region.
“We are working on a script which will have Arab police from Lebanon, Egypt, and Tunisia team up on anti-terrorist intelligence and strategy,” said Sabbah who called “H20 “a new genre that has never been done before in the Arab world.”
The storyline, and physical shoot, will extend to Europe. One of the problems that this new joint anti-terrorism effort will face “is to secure the world against an attack in Paris,” Sabbah said, adding that each 52-minute episode will have a big thriller plot.