x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

'City of Life' director turns to smallest screen for new project

Ali Mostafa discusses the grueling schedule for making a mini-series which will be screened online via MBC's digital platform.

Ali Mostafa on the set of Classified. Courtesy MBC
Ali Mostafa on the set of Classified. Courtesy MBC

The route between silver screen and TV screen has become a well-travelled path for many in the film industry, but one Emirati director is going a stage further: to the computer screen. Classified - a five-part mini-series - begins on Wednesday on MBC's digital platform, www.mbc.net, and the man behind the show is Ali Mostafa, who wrote, produced and directed City of Life.

The story is to be broken down into five episodes, each a length of five minutes, and will be broadcast online weekly until October 26. The plot follows three friends, one of whom discovers that his scientist father invented a device that quite a few unsavoury people want to get their hands on. "He takes the few friends he can trust and goes on a treasure hunt, following clues left by his dad," says Mostafa. "But there are people on their tail trying to get them. There's action and drama."

The filming took Mostafa and his crew across the region, from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to Riyadh and Bahrain, and all during a rather tight schedule.

"We only had two days to film each episode - 10 days in total," says Mostafa. "It was a relentless, gruelling schedule; an absolute challenge and a struggle." But the director admits that the experience was one he enjoyed. "It really put you to the test and made you think on your feet. To work with such constraints really helps you as a filmmaker."

With filming now complete, the challenge for Mostafa is to get the first episode edited in time for the launch date. "I actually have a physical countdown on mbc.net. I've never had a physical countdown like this before."

The Classified cast - which Mostafa says he had to assemble in just three days - is mainly made up of first-time actors, although one - Ashraf Hamdi - appeared in last year's The Flowers of Kirkuk.

Already online is the action-packed trailer - available on YouTube - in which Hamdi's character is pursued by a couple of less-than-friendly-looking guys in black suits. A chase in four-wheel drives and a couple of fight scenes are thrown into the mix as well. "What you know, can harm you. What you don't, is classified," goes the show's tagline.

Although Classified is set to be viewed on a screen a fraction of the size of your average cinema, Mostafa says that shooting for a web series was no different than for a normal feature. "We shot in exactly the same way. We wanted to make people feel like they were watching a well-produced film."

For those who might miss it on the MBC website, Mostafa says it's likely to be spread socially, via the likes of YouTube, after it has been aired. And he's keeping quiet about the prospects of a follow-up. "You'll have to watch the show and see what happens."

Mostafa's next feature film project is set to be a low-budget road movie about a group of friends going on a trip from Abu Dhabi to Beirut. The film, which has the working title From A to B, has been described by Mostafa as a "dromedy" and a cross between Little Miss Sunshine and "a sober, Arabic version of The Hangover". It is due to go into production next year.