Producer - Born A King
"Saudis have big dreams and want to embrace international partnerships."
When did you start in the film business?
I started in the business when I was nineteen in 1992. Since I always wanted to be a producer, I wanted to understand the financial side of this business, so I took a degree in international business administration. My father was a television producer and I started as a 3rd AD in the family business and worked my way up.
Describe your job?
In my opinion a producer is a person that ties everything together. We are the people that start with the idea of the project and bring in the right creative and technical elements to execute it. They help writers and directors tell their stories.
What productions have you worked on internationally?
I’ve worked all over the world. I’m currently working on the Spanish side of Killing Eve starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer for BBC America. I continuously come back to Saudi Arabia because it's a new market so it’s exciting to be part of an industry with all the opportunities that it affords. We shot two international feature films in Saudi, Born A King and Champions.
How did you come across Born a King?
We wanted to tell a story about the founding of a nation from an unusual perspective. We were drawn to the story of Born A King as it’s a historical action-adventure from the point of view of a young boy. It’s the fascinating true story of Prince Faisal’s visit to London on a diplomatic mission in 1919 and his relationship with his father, King Abdulaziz.
Tell me about the battle scene in your film Born A King?
The battle was the scene that tied the movie together. I directed the second unit for the sequence. We shot for ten days in Saudi Arabia and the battle sequence took four days to shoot. Obviously, it was the big set piece for the movie and it was vital we shot it in Saudi Arabia. There were no stuntmen in Saudi so we brought twenty stunt men from Spain and the Saudi National Guard rented us their cavalry. We then trained the cast, horses, and camels for stunt scenes. We shot the scene in Al Thumama National Park an hour outside of Riyadh. We had to find a location with a soft ground with no bushes so it wouldn’t injure any of the stuntmen or cast.
Why did you choose the story of Champions?
After producing Born A King, my partner Andres Gomez and I wanted to produce a contemporary story in Saudi. We knew there were many families in Saudi who care for special needs children and the Kingdom pays special attention to the needs of children with disabilities. Not to mention, Saudi Arabia’s special needs team has won the INAS World Football Championship four times in a row. When the Spanish movie, Campeones, became a huge success in Spain we immediately felt that it’s heart-warming story of a disabled sports team would find a special resonance in Saudi.
How did you choose Jeddah for filming Champions?
After shooting Born a King in Riyadh we wanted to explore locations in other regions. We were introduced to the Help Center "Markaz Al Oun" in Jeddah, which is a fantastic organization for children and people with disabilities. The center helped us audition young special needs adults and was invaluable. When we scouted the beautiful buildings of Old Town and the vibrant cityscape of Jeddah it was an easy decision to film there.
How was your experience casting in Saudi for BORN A KIng and champions?
We identified first hand that this was going to be difficult so we took the responsibility of casting to heart for Born A King. Most of the casting was ‘street casting’. We spread announcements to schools and clubs in Riyadh and used local casting directors. The director and I sat through a lot of casting sessions to personally pick cast. For Champions I came across a casting director, named Walaa Bahefzallah, she helped us explore local talent in Jeddah which has a rich arts and culture scene. That’s how we found our cast and our leads, Yasser Alsaggaf and Fatima Al-Banawi.
What did you think of Saudi Arabia before coming here and how did that change after filming?
I had never been to Saudi before and I only knew what the media told me which was of a very conservative country. When I came here, I quickly realized there’s a high number of young people who speak fluent English and are educated to a high standard. They have big dreams and want to embrace international partnerships. Saudi is much less conservative than the media has in mind. Obviously there were cultural traditions we had to respect and uphold but the international crew definitely enjoyed themselves here.
We have six more days of shooting in Jeddah once the Coronavirus restrictions are lifted. I’m looking forward to returning to Saudi and working with our local crew again.