With the success of Netflix’s Egyptian horror series “Paranormal” and a slew of streamers such as Viu and OSN seeking locally produced originals, the TV market in Egypt is set to undergo rapid change.
In response, Cairo International Film Festival’s TV Pitch Market, part of the festival’s Industry Days program and now in its second year, joined forces with Middle East Media Initiative (MEMI) to shape 11 TV projects into a “pitchable” form this week.
MEMI, a University of Southern California-based exchange program backed by the U.S. State Department and Middle East TV industry partners, is dedicated to training and supporting a new generation of Arab TV screenwriters and content creators to tell local stories for a universal market.
Following four intense days of workshops and sessions during CIFF’s Industry Days program, projects were given the opportunity to pitch – via Zoom – to a room full of TV executives attending the physical festival.
While nine of these projects benefitted from MEMI’s summer exchange program, led by the initiative’s program director, Deana Nassar, two further Egyptian TV projects were given the opportunity to join the CIFF sessions.
These included “Be a Star,” a six-part absurdist comedy set in the entertainment industry, created by Luke Lehner, Ramsi Lehner and Sherif Nakhla, who have developed the series bible and written the pilot episode, and have fully developed three seasons of the show.
According to the three creators – two of whom (brothers Luke and Ramsi) are established actors – the series is based on their own experiences and many of the scenes stem from their improvisations.
The series sees the main protagonist run a failing talent agency who takes advice from a large humanoid chicken that represents everything that he’s too scared to act upon himself.
For U.S.-born Nakhla, whose directing credits include a feature-length documentary and a short, which both received TV distribution, the surreal nature of their content and the fact that it is only six episodes long is a departure from the Egyptian TV staple, and it was only possible to pitch it thanks to new streamers entering the market.
“Egyptian TV dramas tend to revolve around social commentary and are grounded in reality – there’s not so much genre – sci-fi, horror or fantasy,” he said.
“Broadcasters here also favor the 30-episode format, it’s become traditional here and when you have a series of that length it forces you to go down a certain path.”
“The new platforms coming along are making you work harder on the scripts, they are looking at different genres and telling a story in less episodes,” he added.
Nakhla also cites Viu’s original drama “Zodiak” – a 15-part thriller about university students who find themselves the target of a curse – as another recent series to break the mold, although he notes that Viu released it back-to-back with another show, “Ana Sherry Dot Com,” to cater for the local audience’s 30-episode show expectations.
Another project to be invited to CIFF was “Game of the Egyptian People,” a miniseries comprising of six self-contained dramas that focus on some of the legendary tales and forgotten heroes that Egyptian soccer has spawned over the last century.
Norah El Khateeb (“Girl Rising”) is the project’s executive producer and its creators are George Azmi and Omar Shama – a Cairo-based screenwriter and film producer (“After the Battle”), who co-founded his own independent production company, Mashroua, eight years ago.
According to Shama, with the FIFA World Cup now scheduled to take place in Doha in 2022, he hopes the series and its format will pick up momentum in the MENA region and beyond.
“We’re excited by the international appeal the series holds and believe it could be made in many countries all across the world, from South America to Europe, Africa and Asia, as it focuses on the world’s most popular game and the legendary tales and heroes it has spawned,” he said.
Pictured: Still taken from an improv scene shot during “Be a Star’s” development phase.