Behind the scenes of the production of Fox Networks first original series in the Middle East currently wowing audiences across the region.
Behind the scenes of the production of The Open Road - FOX’s first original series in the Middle East.
The six-episode debut season of ‘The Open Road’ is the first FOX Original Productions in the Middle East. It premiered in October 2018 and is now showing across multiple FNG channels in and Fox+.
The show represents a new direction for FOX Networks Group’s content strategy and is billed as the first Middle East production produced under the title of FOX Original Productions. “FOX Original Productions is a global title we assign to shows produced by FOX. We launched this type of production in the Middle East with The Open Road, and it’s just the beginning.” The series was heralded as groundbreaking on many fronts for TV in the region. It follows two Arab women Chantal and Pamela, as they jump on their Harley- Davidsons and travel around Lebanon, the UAE and Jordan, exploring local culture, cuisines, vistas and uncovering hidden gems. As much as the series is about travel and exploration, it is also focused on the social interactions of Chantal and Pamela with the people in each country, including the biking community and locals they meet along the way.
The story behind the creation of ‘ The Open Road’ goes back to October 2017, when FNG MENA and Electric Films came together to bring this production to life.
Alex El Chami, who is Head of Production and Executive Producer at FNG and National Geographic Middle East says that with their expanded bouquet of channels over the last three years, FNG was looking to expand its local content and looking for innovative TV show ideas that could be produced locally to global FOX standards.
“We are very proud of the high entertainment value and quality of
‘ The Open Road’ series. I believe we have created a pretty cool format for our local and international markets. With its exciting reality format starring two Arab women, strong and engaging narrative and stunning cinematogra-
phy, we bring to regional viewers a new type of entertainment – with a bold, dynamic voice, expressing the modern aspirations of the region’s youth. It also carries on the timeless tradition of storytelling, which is deeply rooted in this region, and brings it to life in a thoroughly contemporary content format.”
Gemma Wade and Saadi Moukaddem, the two Managing Partners of the production company Electric Films shared the excitement in the concept of a biker travel series with El Chami. FOX Networks Group and Electric Films had collaborated on several projects for National Geographic in the past. Gemma Wade says, “Electric Films and FOX Networks Group were working pretty cohesively already, like one big team. We first thought of the format because there is nothing else like traveling by bike. It is just a whole different sensory experience,” says Wade. “Secondly,” she adds, “we also thought it was interesting because in the UAE there is a massive biker community that is so diverse – it can be a CEO, a lawyer a doctor or a nurse. So that kind of started the thinking for us.”
Moukaddem adds that they were driven by the desire to produce something not seen before in regional TV: “I suppose there is also the need to create content about subjects that are not talked about much in the region which is bikers. And we felt we are capitalis-
WE ARE VERY PROUD OF THE HIGH ENTERTAINMENT VALUE AND QUALITY OF ‘ THE OPEN ROAD’ SERIES. I BELIEVE WE HAVE CREATED A PRETTY COOL FORMAT FOR OUR LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL MARKETS. IT ALSO CARRIES ON THE TIMELESS TRADITION OF STORYTELLING WHICH IS DEEPLY ROOTED IN THE REGIONG. THE SHOW ITSELF IS VERY STRONG AND VERY UNIQUE FOR THE REGION.
ing on the fact that we have two female presenters riding the bike.”
Moukaddem says it was thanks to the guidance from FOX Networks Group that the idea to have women presenters riding the bikes came about: “Having the women presenters came from the concept that tailors to the channels that FOX Networks Group have. We also liked the idea of having a light being shined on women’s empowerment through the series. You don’t see a lot of TV channels doing anything about bikers and about women going and exploring the Arab world. The show breaks stereotypes so we thought that would be a really good idea.”
Alex El Chami added: “The show itself is very strong and unique to the region. We had several brainstorming sessions with Electric Films focused both on content, storyline and series format. How can we create a worldclass series? We sat on our drawing boards and started planning...
HITTING THE ROAD: THE PRODUCTION STORY
Getting the right women presenters to host the show was critical to make the show work. Wade says that, “In terms of casting, the main thing was that they were real – we didn’t want TV personalities or presenters. We wanted women who were relatable. We wanted presenters that were fun and people you just want to hang out with. That was really important for me.”
“Thinking as a viewer you want to make sure these guys are people you want to be friends with. You want people to watch the show and think I want to jump on the bike and travel with them too. We’ve got Pamela and Chantel who were friends already so that helped. They are from different countries, Lebanon and the UAE, so that helped too,” continues Wade.
El Chami reminds us that the unscripted nature of the show ruled out casting professional actors. “Given that this is a non -scripted reality show, it’s very important for the characters to be real. There are several moments in the show where our hosts get very emotional, making it really impactful for viewers.”
Moukaddem explains how the fact that they chose real bikers added a new dimension to the show and also helped them during the filming. “Having people who aren’t presenters actually melded really well with the whole aspect of the show. Even during the filming, things happened during the shooting that were not part of the script, but we went along with it.”
“There were loads of instances where we found ourselves in the middle of the mountains and thinking it’s not going to rain and all of sudden there is rain. One day before we filmed in Petra, they literally had to evacuate 8000 tourists because of the bad weather. There were landslides and floods and everything and we just had to deal with it. I remember the sandstorm that we were hit with. Everybody had to run for cover, and I remember thinking, “Okay, well what we do now?”
“The adaptability of the Arab presenters-- because they are real bikers who have actually passed through different terrains --was also very important. Basi-
THE DAY BEFORE WE FILMED IN PETRA THEY LITERALLY AD TO EVACUATE 8,000 TOURISTS BECAUSE OF BAD WEATHER. THERE WERE LANDSLIDES AND FLOODS AND WE JUST HAD TO DEAL WITH IT. I REMEMBER THE SANDSTORM THAT WE WERE HIT WITH, AND EVERYBODY HAD TO RUN FOR COVER, AND I REMEMBER THINKING, “OKAY, WELL WHAT WE DO NOW?”
cally, that allowed us to be able to shoot everything and just go with it.”
As Senior Producer for Electric Films, Wade was responsible for of all aspects of organising the production, including putting together the production logistics, scheduling and deciding on the crew requirements for the filming. She talks about the challenges they faced and how they pulled off the filming schedule of a show going on the road across three countries.
“We basically spent a week in each country and that allowed us to do the full travel, going from Amman all the way down to Petra in Jordan and then Lebanon and the UAE. That gave us enough time to do all the filming. We were following the action and it’s not scripted, so while we have a few suggestions, we were literally just sort of following where the bikers were taking us.”
“It was obviously exciting as a production team, but had its challenges. For example, in Episode 6, you see the girls getting lost and asking for directions. All of this sort of stuff happens which is a challenge at the time, but actually in the editing works out quite nicely.”
El Chami explains how he views it as an Executive Producer: “I’ve done road shows before and when you are on the road, there are a lot of surprises. So you need to have a flexible production structure and a flexible crew. Looking at the production from a network point of view, I think they’ve managed to be as flexible on both ends,” says El Chami.
Despite having last minute changes and a lot of challenges from filming across three different countries and multiple locations, he thinks Electric Films did a great job. He adds that content has always been the main focus since day one “You need to have people who can shift things around and make big decisions in
a matter of seconds without affecting the content itself.”
Wade feels the getting the balance between having a small crew on the road, but enough to manage the production is crucial. “You need to have a small enough crew to feel the action but also big enough to make sure you have the support you need.” Total crew numbers varied from country to country, but the main crew consisted of the director, producer, sound engineers, the series producer and cameraman along with a support crew of about 6 people.
“We were hovering around 11 or 12 people. You need to make sure everything is contained and you don’t miss the shot.”
In terms of equipment used on the shoot, Moukaddem says they were using Sony FS7 cameras and stabilizers for the road shots. “Actually, something that
was very important for us was to get the audio while they are riding the bikes and we can still know what they are talking about so that we can actually follow up and capture the same thing that they are viewing and the spectator can feel they are with them on the drive.”
“We invested in a system called the Tentacle Sync Studio system which is a time coded audio sync system. Because there are also lots of cameras recording at the same time, so it allowed us to match the audio with all the separate images which are recorded on the bikes. That was very important, because that’s what we want the viewer to actually experience – the drive on the road,” continues Moukaddem.
“We just have to cover every angle that we get because when they’re gone, they’re gone! So you just want to capture as much as possible. There were a lot of Go Pros on the biker groups that joined us just to cover the necessary angles that we had. There was an instance we had to actually send our camera man down the zipline! He had a separate recorder with a camera and he had to record everything from the floating platform mid-air, so that was quite fun!”
Drones were also employed to capture the footage – “All of them were DJI Inspire 2,” says Moukaddem. “There is some paragliding in Episode two and it’s very im- portant to capture the beautiful landscape because so many of the locations we went to the nature is just stunning,” he adds.
El Chami says, “With a project of this size there are a lot of moving parts – and the production needs to be closely monitored to ensure everything is on track at all times. Shooting across three countries required them to allow enough time for pre-production. This benefited us in production and in post. When you come back with loads of footage, it’s pretty much down to your pre-production planning and making sure all the boxes are ticked.”
El Chami says as a network FOX Networks Group are very proud of the show and the way it came together. “It’s a very free format and we can take it anywhere, which makes it interesting.”
FOX Networks Group believes they have a winning concept in this show, evident in the fact that it is airing across their extensive TV network as well as online platforms.
WE INVESTED IN A TIME CODED AUDIO SYNC SYSTEM BECAUSE IT ALLOWED US TO MATCH THE AUDIO WITH ALL THE SEPARATE IMAGES WHICH ARE RECORDED ON THE BIKES. THAT WAS VERY IMPORTANT BECAUSE WE WANT THE VIEWER TO ACTUALLY EXPERIENCE THE DRIVE ON THE ROAD