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Hollywood Filmmaker Arabia offers chance at Hollywood via reality show

A new reality TV programme is looking for Middle Eastern filmmakers to send to California, where they will vie for a prize worth $2.5m in funding for the winning project.

A new reality television show could see filmmakers and writers from across the region gathered in Hollywood while they compete against each other for the financial backing to have their scripts transformed into feature films.

New Hollywood Filmmaker Arabia is a programme currently in the planning stages and should see 12 contestants from the Arabic-speaking world fighting it out to win up to US$2.5 million (Dh9.2m) in ­funding.

“It’s really based on the chasing of a dream,” says Jennifer Stevens, managing director of Three Lamb Productions, the UK-based company putting the show together. “It’s also an opportunity to build a cultural bridge. In bringing 12 Arabic filmmakers to Hollywood, we can show wonderful films that wouldn’t get to be shown in the US.”

The plan is that the 12 contestants will spend eight weeks in Hollywood, visiting sets and meeting legendary figures from the filmmaking world. This will then be turned into a 13-week television series, following their journey as they face tasks covering all the elements of preproduction, from soundtracks to locations, with a special guest introduced every week. Based on their efforts, one contestant will be voted off each episode by a panel of Arab judges. The final will be broadcast live from the Middle East, says Stevens, who has been doing the rounds of the region’s film festivals.

She is now looking for filmmakers and writers from whom to draw the 12 contestants, but says it’s a strict process: “We don’t want amateurs. They have to be experienced already and with a body of work to show for it. We want them to be able to pitch and deliver, and have the ability to convince our judges and prove the strength of their film project every week.”

If you think you have the necessary skills and experiences to be among the 12, you can get started immediately. A website allows applicants to upload their CVs and a two-minute video pitch. “Based on their on-camera strength and capacity to pitch, we will invite them to submit their script,” says Stevens. A selection panel will then choose the 12 candidates to be sent to Hollywood.

Stevens says she’s met plenty of excellent filmmakers from across the region, noting Nayla Al Khaja, the award-winning director, and Abdullah Al Kaabi, who made his debut at last year’s Dubai International Film Festival, as two Emiratis whom she rates highly. But, she says the trouble is that many struggle to make themselves heard where it matters.

“They all say that there’s no platform for distribution, that they can’t get their films noticed by the international community,” she explains. “And that’s where we really see that we can use the internet and television, to give them a platform to get the distribution and get themselves noticed in this internet world we live in.”

It is not just the Arab world New Hollywood Filmmaker is covering. Nine other countries and regions are getting the same reality competition experience, including Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latin/Central America, Russia, South Africa and South Korea. However, Stevens confides: “Arabia is the one I’m most passionate about. It has such a rich history of storytellers and there are so many unheard voices here.”

And with the New Hollywood Filmmaker website, the hope is to create a worldwide platform where film-lovers from all over the globe can see work that might otherwise be ignored in their own countries.

“If you’re interested in Middle East cinema and you’re in America, it’s really hard to find these films. If you’re a lover of Latin American cinema, for example, you can go on the web to the New Hollywood Filmmaker website and find these up-and-coming voices,” says Stevens, adding that the website is being developed in 10 languages. An iPhone app is also planned, allowing viewers to interact with the show.

“For us, it’s a honeymoon period for convergent media,” says Stevens. “Independent filmmaking is suffering because there is no solid distribution model for independent cinema – the funding mechanisms are not in place. Filmmakers spend years trying to get their films financed and not focusing on the creative process. And that’s where we see this… With this, we can really create a global platform that can make an upper warehouse for these great independent filmmakers to come together.”

No broadcaster has yet been announced, but Stevens says she’s been speaking to the biggest names from across the Middle East. Filming will probably begin towards the end of the year, with an eye for broadcasting in 2012.

In Kazakhstan, which will be the first of the New Hollywood Filmmaker programmes to be screened, Stevens says there have already been more than 50 applicants online. For the Middle East, with such a broad geographical area covering a wealth of differing cultures, the hope is for a huge turnout, particularly from countries such as Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and the UAE.

Shows such as Arabs Got Talent, which is currently airing on MBC, prove that there is an audience in the region for such elimination competitions on TV. Arabs Got Talent auditioned more than 1,500 would be stars from across the region, and such has been the show’s success that recruiting for the second series is thought to be ready to begin almost as soon as this season concludes on April 8.

But, claims Stevens, New Hollywood Filmmaker Arabia will be somewhat different.

“In our show the contestants won’t be singing and they won’t be dancing.”

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