PATH BREAKERS

Be­hind the scenes of the pro­duc­tion of Fox Net­works first orig­i­nal se­ries in the Mid­dle East cur­rently wow­ing au­di­ences across the re­gion.

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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

Pro­duc­ers Gemma Wade poses with a biker groupChan­tal is one of the stars of the Open Road

The Open Road crew at a Har­ley David­son show­room in Jor­dan.

Film­ing in Pe­tra, Jor­dan

El Chami says its im­por­tant to have a flex­i­ble pro­duc­tion struc­ture when film­ing a road show se­ries.

Sony FS7 cam­eras were used in the shoot

San­jay Raina, Se­nior VP and GM, Fox Net­works Group

Pro­duc­tion took place across three coun­tries

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