How did you find one another?
Ayten: I’ve frequently met Heba during screenings, but we were not close until we worked together on ‘Villa 69’, and I wanted her to work with me as an actress. We became close friends and wanted to continue working together as directors and actresses. Until now, I always ask for her opinion on the work I’m doing. As for Nadine and I; I used to work with Mr. Khan so I was introduced to Nadine through him. During the Revolution, we used to meet a lot when both our films were screening at the same time and we admired each other’s works. We’ve become friends since.
Heba: I met Ayten when we worked on ‘Villa 69’. So, I knew her from the very beginning because our films were screened together, but we only became close during the film and later on travelled together to Alexandria. She stayed over at my aunt’s place and that’s when I told her about the idea for the series. I asked her to work on it with me, since I don’t like to direct too many episodes, and she agreed. As for Nadine, I met her while participating in the viewing committee at the Ismailia Festival. Ayten is the one who recommended Nadine to join us and so we ended up working together.
What did each of you major in and how has it helped you become this good at what you do?
Ayten: I studied Commerce in English, which is not exactly related to film studies. I used to work in a bank while aspiring to work in cinema, but I did not know where to start. I started looking for places where I could learn about filmmaking. I didn’t major in directing at first, as I wasn’t sure what I wanted to specialize in, just that I wanted to work in the film industry as a whole. I majored in screenwriting, until I discovered that although I loved it very much, I wanted to become a director.
Heba: I’m a graduate of the Film Institute. I worked on several short films that won awards; I made a film about prostitution in Egypt while I was still enrolled in the Institute, as well as a film called ‘Eshk Akhar’ (Another Love). I also made a film called Settou Zad, My First Passion with Misr International Films, which won the State’s Encouragement Award. I won two awards at the Rencontres de l’Image Festival, the First Prize and Best Actress award, which The late Mr. Mohamed Khan was one to present me with himself. I have worked as an assistant director for five years with Mr. Sherif Arafa. All of those experiences have taught me so much. During this coming series, I know that I’ll learn new things. Practice is what teaches you. You can learn a lot from professionals; I learned from someone like producer Marianne Khoury that I have to continue working no matter what. She stood by me in situations that were not work related and she is someone I trust very much. You also learn how to discover your mistakes and fix them through practice.
Do you ever have clashing opinions and ideas? If so, how do you settle things?
Nadine: It is natural for a clash of ideas to take place, especially since three directors are working on one project, but those happen in a civil way. A difference in opinions is not a clash, there’s a difference between the two! Of course, our opinions varied, but we worked through them and resolved them just fine.
As directors, what do the three of you have in common that helps connect your ideas in one piece?
Nadine: We’re three different directors and our work is mostly character-driven. Even if the character is in the form of a place as in the case in my film. We handle that in depth, in the same manner, but at the same time each one of us has a different style and I think that it is in fact beneficial.
Ayten: What’s in common between us is our sense of humour, that’s what tied me to Heba at first, and it’s also what made us think of Nadine. We needed someone who could handle things lightly. We’re also all interested in humanistic issues and human relationships. I think that Heba and I are alike in that sense. Nadine thinks of comedy differently but I admire her stylistic methods very much.
Do each of you work on certain scenes separately or simultaneously? And how do you manage to do that?
Nadine: This project was actually Heba’s before Ayten joined it. When they called me, they were still in the processing stage. We worked together on 30 episodes and discussed the characters, so we were involved in the project from square one. Later on, Heba worked on her own, and then Heba and Ayten worked jointly before I came back to work with them once again. After the episodes are written down, what happens is we give our input as directors. As for filming, the three of us had agreed on a certain format or style. Even our names will be included in the credits of every episode because we all work in the same manner that we aim to execute in the best way possible. One director will not work on 60 episodes, but the three directors will, so that each director will handle 20 episodes. Consequently, every director will give each episode her best effort because they won’t feel overwhelmed.
What’s the most difficult thing about working as a trio?
Nadine: Of course, collaboration between two or three directors is not easy. There has to be a line of communication and understanding between us. I think this is what we have worked on and it has turned out wonderfully.
Heba: Taste. I think that’s what we needed to compromise. For example, Ayten and I might want a certain actress that Nadine does not agree on. It’s difficult to please everyone or have everyone agree on the same idea, so that’s where the different tastes come in.
And how does working together actually facilitate work?
Ayten: Having two other people to discuss everything with has facilitated the process for me. Usually, everyone discusses things with the director, while he/she has no one to confer with. However, this time we’re working together on the series, so we can talk about the transitions for instance, among other things. I think it also made it easier that I won’t be working on 30 or 60 episodes on my own. Having them both with me to confer with made things easier.
Could you tell us about how the idea of ‘The Seventh Neighbour’ came to life?
Heba: We’ve been working on the series for a long time. We had people helping us during the processing stage, like Mohamed Ismail Amin. Later on, we decided to keep the project more female oriented. We did the processing and the sequence of episodes before we settled on all the characters and their intermingling. Afterwards, Ayten and I worked on sequence suggestions with a writer called Menna Ikram. We settled on what would happen in each episode and then we wrote our ideas down, which were eventually turned into a series. We sent it out to several agencies and Hani Osama of The Producers was very enthusiastic about it. That’s how it all began.
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