We Wanted the Work to Prove the Naysay­ers Wrong

When di­rec­tors’ col­lec­tive Good Peo­ple launched last year, the idea of a di­rec­tor-based pro­duc­tion house was new to the re­gion. Iain Ak­er­man caught up with co­founder and di­rec­tor Ali Ali to see how the com­pany has fared

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It has been just over a year since the launch of the Mid­dle East’s first ever di­rec­tors’ col­lec­tive and co-founder Ali Ali ap­pears to be in good spir­its.

In Athens on a shoot, he is in the early stages of pre­par­ing for a Dubai Lynx ap­pear­ance and has ex­pan­sion and growth on his mind. Not some­thing to be sniffed at in a chal­leng­ing mar­ket.

Ali and his co-founders cre­ated Good Peo­ple as a means to work with like-minded peo­ple in a like-minded environment. It was, in ef­fect, a re­volt against the es­tab­lish­ment. At the time of its launch, Ali said he had spent the ma­jor­ity of his di­rect­ing ca­reer in con­flict with pro­duc­tion houses. To him the in­dus­try had be­come old and tired and stuck in its ways. He hasn’t changed his mind much.

“We are still be­hind. We are fo­cus­ing all our ef­forts on cut­ting costs rather than break­ing norms and rais­ing bars,” he says. “I see many po­ten­tially Cannes-win­ning ideas in this re­gion go astray be­cause they are not given the right at­ten­tion, the right bud­get, the right post-pro­duc­tion, the right time to prep. I have been shoot­ing for Europe a lot this last year and the project life cy­cles there are much longer than ours. Each job is given the time and at­ten­tion it de­serves.

“We are con­stantly squeez­ing prep time and post time. Which in the long run proves to me more cru­cial than your ac­tual shoot time. I think there needs to be a strong col­lec­tive ef­fort from all mem­bers of the in­dus­try in our re­gion, to raise the bar and to do great work. There is ab­so­lutely no rea­son for Mid­dle East com­mer­cials to be be­hind, or to not win gold at Cannes ev­ery year.”

Ali, of course, needs no real in­tro­duc­tion. He is one of the re­gion’s most awarded di­rec­tors, with a D&AD yel­low pen­cil for di­rec­tion and a gold Lion at Cannes to his name. For him, the model sup­plied by the likes of MJZ and Stink – where di­rec­tors are as­so­ci­ated with spe­cific pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies – is the an­swer to a flawed re­gional pro­duc­tion in­dus­try. It is the model fol­lowed by Good Peo­ple. Has it worked? “All things con­sid­ered, I can hon­estly say we had a great first year,” replies Ali. “I read once – and no I don’t read busi­ness jour­nals – that 90 per cent of start-ups fail in their first year. So the fact that we’re still around is in it­self great news. A lot has hap­pened since last year. For one, we’ve founded solid long-term re­la­tions with sev­eral agen­cies across the re­gion, and we’ve found our­selves a great of­fice space in Beirut and spent all our money fix­ing it up. We’re about to launch our Cairo of­fice and hope­fully Dubai by the end of the year. But most im­por­tantly, we started Good Peo­ple to do great work. That

was our one, sin­gle-minded mis­sion for year one. And when I look back at our showreel today, I think we’ve achieved that.”

The idea of a di­rec­tor-based pro­duc­tion house is new for the re­gion and has not been with­out its chal­lenges, not least the re­sis­tance from both agen­cies and fel­low pro­duc­tion houses. And yet Good Peo­ple is in talks with Stink for rep­re­sen­ta­tion and part­ner­ship in the Mid­dle East and is look­ing to sign new di­rec­tors, in­clud­ing Na­dine Labaki. De­spite her long re­treat into fea­ture films, Ali be­lieves her be one of the smartest and strong­est di­rec­tors out there.

“As with any new idea, we faced re­sis­tance, but that’s not to say the idea is not cor­rect,” he says. “For if it is the proven work­ing model the world over, there is no rea­son why it shouldn’t work here. Agen­cies and agency pro­duc­ers are also still not quite used to the model, but I’m sure that with time this model will prove to be the way for­ward and other pro­duc­tion houses will start to slowly but surely con­vert to this model. For with­out di­rec­tors to guar­an­tee and main­tain a cer­tain qual­ity of work, a pro­duc­tion house has no real stan­dard or mea­sure, and can­not claim to be a brand.”

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween pro­duc­tion houses, cre­ative di­rec­tors and film di­rec­tors, of course, can be a fickle and test­ing one. Is it the re­spon­si­bil­ity of a di­rec­tor to re-work an agency’s orig­i­nal cre­ative con­cept? If it is, won’t the end re­sult bare no re­sem­blance to the orig­i­nal idea? How much con­trol should a di­rec­tor or a com­pany such as Good Peo­ple have over the cre­ative idea? It’s an is­sue that Ali has faced in the past.

“Our motto is ‘we fix it, we shoot it’,” he replies. “We try to im­prove the work, but not change it. If the con­cept changes, cre­ative di­rec­tors would lose own­er­ship, and that’s not our job as di­rec­tors. Our job is to take the idea and make it bet­ter; give it the best ex­e­cu­tion it can pos­si­bly have. If it’s in a liv­ing room and it needs to be in a 1980s diner with an old bitchy wait­ress, that’s our job. In short, we push as far and as hard as we can with­out chang­ing things.”

Ali’s part­ners in­clude Maged Nassar, his long-time cre­ative buddy, and Mo­hamed El Zayat, Tameem Younes and Ar­gyris Pa­padim­itropou­los. To­gether with pro­duc­ers Michel Abou Zeid and Cyn­thia Cham­mas they face the same chal­lenges posed by the wider in­dus­try as other pro­duc­tion houses.

“As an in­dus­try our big­gest chal­lenge is – and still re­mains to be – the bid­ding process, and the con­stant bud­get cut­ting,” he says. “Un­for­tu­nately we still find our­selves shoot­ing projects for half their true bud­get, and we are con­stantly be­ing forced to drop bud­gets in or­der to win a three-way bid –a model that was in­tro­duced by Proc­ter & Gam­ble to shoot two moth­ers dis­cussing de­ter­gent on a kitchen ta­ble. More often than not the work suf­fers. Just to give you an idea, we just shot du with Leo Bur­nett Dubai, which is our big­gest film this year (writ­ten and di­rected by Maged and my­self), on an ex­tremely tight bud­get. Less than half the bud­get we had in 2014.”

He adds: “We have fo­cused on the work. We wanted the work to prove the naysay­ers wrong. And there were many. Which made each job this year harder than any we’ve done be­fore. For there is no bet­ter mea­sure of a pro­duc­tion house then the work they do.”

There is ab­so­lutely no rea­son for Mid­dle East com­mer­cials to lag be­hind, or to not win gold at Cannes ev­ery year.”

Ali Ali with Maged Nassar

From Cen­tre­point TVC

From du TVC

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