KUWAIT: A few months ago, a call for proposals from the Kuwait-based National Creative Industries Group was shared on Instagram with a tantalizing invitation to pitch to Netflix. It simply read: “From dream to streaming.”
At first, readers of the post seemed reluctant to submit nominations and the few who did later said they felt it was “too good to be true”. Eventually, 150 applications arrived and two months later the six selected authors were announced.
The price? The six writers would be part of a six-week program called TV Writers’ Lab 6×6. The three Saudi and three Kuwaiti writers would spend the six weeks polishing their scripts under expert guidance with the goal of turning them into market-ready pitches for Netflix. The dream? To write an Arabic Netflix Original.
The six participants received mentorship and virtual masterclasses from several entertainment industry experts, including Farida Zahran from the hit show “Ramy” and Wael Hamdy from the famous Arabic Sesame Street. They were part of a specially organized program, including training sessions conducted by the famous New York Film Academy.
All participants received NYFA-approved certificates of completion upon completion of the program.
“With Lab 6×6, although our program is based in Kuwait, it will also target the talented creative community in Saudi Arabia,” Sheikha Al-Zain Al-Sabah, President and CEO of NCIG, told Arab News.
“By bringing together Saudi creators with their Kuwaiti counterparts, this unique program aims to build the long-awaited creative bridges and lay the essential foundations for the collaborations needed to reinvigorate our shared content-driven industry and allow our regional stories to inspire and entertain audiences around the world.
Al-Sabah is the dynamic woman at the head of the NCIG. She describes herself as “a dreamer, an actor and a disruptor”.
“The beauty of this program is not only that they (the writers) follow this incredible program where they have access to the list of masterclass sessions and mentors that we have, but they can also present Netflix at the end of the six weeks,” she said.
Netflix gets the first right of refusal, Al-Sabah said, and if Netflix doesn’t get it back, the creator fully owns the intellectual property rights to their project. “So they can take it wherever they want and I have Netflix to thank for allowing us to do that,” she said.
“We invested a massive six weeks in these creators – both NCIG and Netflix. Ultimately, at the end of the six weeks, they (the writers) have that kind of freedom to say, I own it entirely and I can put it out there.
Viewers’ insatiable appetite for delving into worlds created with a non-Western gaze has been in high demand lately, as evidenced by hits such as “Squid Game” in Korean, “La Casa de Papel” in Spanish, and “Lupin” in Spanish. French.
Having Arab writers scripting their own stories and bringing them into the world of streaming is something that’s been a long time coming, and something that Netflix – and its subscribers – fully embraces.
This is not the first attempt to help Arab talent shine on the world stage. The NCIG, for example, produces, facilitates and supports cross-platform content for the entire region and beyond.
“We have had several programs over the past two years, but the Lab 6×6 program is a first of its kind initiative in the region that aims to incubate writers in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and turn their ideas into ready-to-use pitch decks. be released in six weeks,” Ahmed Sharkawi, director of Arabic series at Netflix, told Arab News.
“Kuwait has a long history of storytelling in the region, credited with pioneering Gulf drama, and the Saudi entertainment industry is rapidly evolving to become a powerhouse for the region,” he said.
Dania Al-Tayeb, who identifies herself as “a creator” specializing in teen dramas, discovered the program while watching Harry Potter. At first, she didn’t believe she would land this opportunity.
“I just submitted what I had, and didn’t do anything new. That’s it. That’s how I didn’t really believe it was going to happen,” she said.
Her story, “Recovering Dreamer”, is about a struggling ballerina in Jeddah who discovers that her French mother only loves her because she is a ballerina. “And she goes on a journey to find true, unconditional love,” Al-Tayeb said.
Fellow Jeddawi, Rulan Hasan, started his career making rap music videos. She worked in the first hip-hop studio in Saudi Arabia and loved it. She became a full-time writer in 2016 and wrote for Netflix shows such as “Takki” and Netflix’s first Saudi original drama “Whispers” or “Waswas” in 2020.
Her show “The Silent City” is about a very precarious and deaf teenager from birth. She is kidnapped and discovers that there are people living outside the city and everyone inside the city is actually controlled by sound waves. “And this is where she has to make a big decision; either get his hearing back or take this huge assignment off and run away,” Hasan said.
Hasan thanks her husband for encouraging her to apply for the program initially, but later an unexpected little cheerleader is born.
“I’m pregnant, in my second trimester. I think the program helped me not to think about nausea too much,” she said.
“It affected me because it made me think that I wanted to create a better world, even if only in my story. I sincerely hope for a world where children can be free and safe, and especially healthy. I feel like those are the most important parts,” Hasan said.
The third Saudi participant, Osama Ali Shar, grew up in Wadi Al-Dawasir and studied psychology in Jeddah. He jokes that he was his family’s unofficial storyteller; they would tell him the details of their day and then ask him to “tell the story” to everyone because he was able to cogently articulate what had happened due to his natural charisma and curiosity , even if the events had not happened to him.
His screenplay at Lab 6×6 merges the idea of psychology and religion. It centers on a psychologist who poses as a sheikh and presents himself as a sheikologist. It’s a story of deception, personal growth and community trust.
The program’s Kuwaiti cohort consists of accomplished writer Faisal Al-Beloushi, who has already achieved huge success in the Arab world with his previous work, which aired on Netflix; serial careerist Jassim Al-Qames, who dabbled in journalism and politics; and Twilight Zone obsessive Mohammed Nedal Jalal Salam.
The program is a milestone for the region as it offers the public the opportunity to see stories about the region from local people. It is also an important step for regional writers as it gives them a global platform.
Salam summed it up well: “This experience was like visiting Disneyland. It’s like seeing the world you’ve always wanted to see. I became a child again.