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Former 03 Chief Fadi Ismail Launches Shingle With Eye on Saudi Arabia (EXCLUSIVE)

Dubai-based Middle East producer Fadi Ismail, the former general manager of Saudi-controlled broadcaster MBC’s 03 Productions arm, is launching his own company with a slate largely made up of TV projects based on Saudi intellectual properties.

Ismail’s new shingle, DKL Studio, is developing a dozen skeins, some of which push the envelope of what is considered viable content for Saudi Arabia.

The standout project in this respect is transgender drama “Confined,” based on a novel by the same title by Sahar Bahrawi. The book is said to be the true story of a Saudi hermaphrodite named Rola who “fights her family and community to reunite with her real sexual identity, to change her sex to male,” said Ismail. The producer noted that the novel, which he has optioned, is sold in Saudi Arabia.

Ismail, who as head of 03 Productions was behind Netflix’s first Turkish original, the sci-fi thriller “The Protector,” said DKL Studio would focus on “genre projects conceived with an approach that is innovative for the region.”

Aside from bold storylines, DKL Studio projects are also novel in that they are being developed as 10-to-15 episode shows, in a departure from the 30-episode model that is still dominant in the Middle East. Ismail blames the 30-episode model for “a lot of industry shortcomings in the region,” including the fact that Middle East TV product does not travel and is uncongenial for the streamers to which young audiences are migrating.

“We don’t want to admit that sophisticated and younger audiences in this region have left [linear] TV already,” Ismail said.

He added that content being developed by DKL targets Netflix and Amazon as well as local streamers such as MBC’s Shahed service, Saudi Telecom’s Jawi, and Asian SVOD service Viewclip, which recently launched in the Middle East.

“I think the SVODs are looking primarily for Saudi content because Saudi [Arabia] is the biggest and most lucrative market with large part of the population under 30,” said Ismail, who currently is financing the development of his slate himself.

Other projects in the DKL Studio pipeline include:

– “The Orchards of Arabistan,” a fantasy based on a recently published Saudi book set during antiquity before either Christianity or Islam. According to promotional materials, two covens of witches, one from Persia and the other from the Arabian Peninsula, enter into a confrontation to annihilate each other. In this war they use all means of magic, sorcery, talismans demons, and also humans to overthrow each other. Ismail called it a “Game of Thrones with witches from the region.”

– Scarecrow Ville,” a supernatural thriller-horror show set in the late 19th century, in which a tuberculosis epidemic sweeps through Egyptian villages on the Nile, killing hundreds. Those who survive honor the memories of the dead by erecting scarecrows in a field on the village’s outskirts. The show is touted as having elements of James Wan’s supernatural horror film “The Conjuring” and also of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and Hulu’s “Castle Rock.”

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