What can you tell us about yourself?
I studied architecture and worked in the field for five years. During my college years, I fell in love with photography. Egypt didn’t have the culture of photography, only a very limited number of photographers were known in Egypt back then. When I started working as a photographer, Tarek Nour saw some of my pictures and offered me to work as a resident photographer in his company. I worked there for six months, but I was hooked by the advertising field and I decided to open my own agency with the feeling that I might present something new.
I did a couple of press ads in an Egyptian magazine and they were noticed by a Lebanese advertising guy that was looking for a partner in Egypt. He had a small advertising agency and wanted to open an office in Cairo. It was an actual turning point because it introduced me to the international advertising scene. After a few years, I realized that I’m only passionate about movie and TV production. In my agency we always had a problem finding a good, professional production company that can deliver good commercials. So I opened my TV production commercial company, ‘Image Film Production’; the only one of its kind at that time. We created a culture of TV commercials that still goes on up till now. In 1998, we produced ‘Sesame Street’ and I stopped commercials completely and focused only on creating this show for ten years. This show helped us realize that the media scene, abroad, is huge. We wanted to deliver an entertaining material with an educational message that targets the youth so we did ‘The University’.
After that, I ran a media representation company and then I discovered the agency business. After lots of readings, meetings, and travelling, I decided that this is the business for me; It’s the perfect business for the collective experiences and connections I have. It is a business that didn’t exist although it was extremely needed. So here I am now running ‘Creative Arab Talent’.
What is the importance of talent agencies?
Artists should not humiliate themselves by negotiating their fees! So we do this on their behalf and we make sure that they’re treated well and according to their level. We make sure they choose what is right for themselves. This is why everyone wants to sign with us now, as our stars boomed! But to be honest, we only gave the advice but they did all the hard work.
In your opinion what’s the reason behind this huge boom?
Honestly, I don’t know! People are looking at me as if I’m the reason behind this success, yet the one who actually explained it to me was Mohamed Mamdouh, he told me, “It was because you chose the right talents.” Some of our talents did not succeed as much as others, and that’s normal but I think ‘Grand Hotel’ was the whole package. In our business, perception is reality and perception is how we got them the good roles.
From the beginning, we knew that there were two barriers we need to overcome or else we would have been doomed. We needed to convince the talent to sign with us and trust us without double crossing us. Actors, by nature, are very sceptical and insecure, so we started with those who trust me as a businessman and as a friend. So, if the producer tells them that he doesn’t work with agencies, they refuse to work with him! For the first six months, we had some problems and doubts, but then we had two turning points: The first was when Yousra decided to sign with us and the second was when Mariam Na’oum joined us. After that, the buzz started that we are a respectable, good team, yet we became a threat to the producers.
They saw that I’m somebody who understands the business and can negotiate, for example, one of my stars used to take a certain amount of money, and then she boomed and I knew that her name will bring ads and the channels will fight so I tripled her wage. They mainly feared I may raise the market price, which is not true. I convinced another actress to accept a role for less money, she was a bit hesitant and we insisted that she accepts the role. Now she realized this was the best decision she has ever taken . Ramadan was the second barrier, as all producers did not approve to work with my clients through our agency and all of my clients refused to work with them.
That was before the boom, so how did they trust you?
They had to! The producers wanted my clients and they knew that only way to reach them was through my agency, so they were obligated to deal with me. That’s when we started our good relationships, they learned that I wanted their benefit because when they succeed, my clients will also succeed and so will I.
You did a lot of career shifts, is there something in specific you’re still searching for?
I like to follow my passion, yet I am constantly searching for a new challenge. This career is super challenging. And I think it’s because I follow my passion that I always have to do something that stimulates my mind.
Why did you open an office in L.A?
I wanted to create a bridge to ease things a little bit. Anything I can do to serve both parties, I will. Meaning; taking some of our actors into the international zone and bringing international celebrities to the Middle East. I have offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well; we have very rich clients who are willing to pay an enormous amount of money to invite international celebrities. This business is built on trust, especially the Hollywood business; if they don’t trust you, they will not do business with you. So I want to be the trusted voice of both sides. They need to know that if they need anything, they can get it through my agency.
You were chosen to join the Advisory Committee of ‘Cairo International Film Festival’, what does this role add to your work achievements?
I think the reason they chose me is because they know I have connections. Being well connected in the stars business opens a lot of doors so easily! My job is to bring people together, I’m a deal maker, the talents are my weapons they’re my reason for existence.
Where and how do you dig for these weapons?
I used to but now I don’t sign with actors anymore. On the other hand, my clients feel relieved and satisfied. I know there are a lot of actors who will bring me lots of money but I just can’t defeat what I represent. I have to be very careful of my own image.
Here, when a producer wants to work with a certain actor, he calls the scriptwriter, while in Hollywood, they call the agent. And as an agent, I am supposed to create work packages. So when Mariam Na’oum brings me a fantastic story, we sit and start to think who can direct this, who can act..etc. They don’t have to be my client. So now, I have a group of people attached to a certain project and they all have to be very passionate about it so I only take their approvals as a commitment to something they already like. Then, I go to a producer with this package. So what I did here was that I provided a job opportunity to, at least, one of my clients. I created something they like rather than have them wait for the perfect opportunity to work.
What do you still aim to achieve?
My ultimate dream is to distribute our work abroad, but our main problems are lack of knowledge, laziness and good connections; which is my area of expertise. I went to Hollywood several times as a producer to crack that “Hollywood shell” and open wider opportunities for the Egyptian market but I was only met with denial. Now that I have my talent agency, it’s a totally different story, these people understand the importance of an agent; something we don’t quite understand here.
Will we ever see you as a director again?
I want to direct a romantic movie. If I found a good script, I’ll go for it. I admire the brilliant works of Ezzel Dine Zulficar, his directing techniques back at his time are in the same level of those in Hollywood today!
Do you prefer managerial or technical work?
I prefer to sit down and think! But I also hate details, as I don’t have patience for them. I love to be a leader not manager. I want to be in a place where I think ahead for an adequate amount of time. I’m very ambitious and there’s nothing I deem impossible; I believe that everything can be done. This doesn’t mean that I don’t fail, I have had a lot of failures, but I learned from them and I had the pleasure of trying. I’m currently preparing a presentation for the government to bring foreign movies to be shot here. I want people all over the world to trust us again. I have access to every agent in Hollywood so I can bring Scarlet Johansson, Taylor swift or Matt Damon to visit Luxor and Aswan or attend Cairo International Film Festival. These visits will promote our tourism better than those sea, Nile and monuments pictures!
You almost did everything! What is the thing that you haven’t done yet?
I’d love to write music! But there isn’t anything in my career field that I haven’t tried yet, I covered it all.
The ACA Awards, did it meet your expectations?
No! I gave myself a five out of ten since I actually lost money. I think the perception is much better than reality. It had its bright moments; it created a much bigger image for me and now Abu Dhabi wants me to do the awards there.
Photo Credit: Raghda El Sayed
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