Behind the scenes with Hassan Mahfouz

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One of these young professionals is Hassan Mahfouz, media producer, currently working on the crew of Sherif Arafa’s “Lahazat Harega”, the Egyptian version of “Emergency Room” in its second season.

How did you get into show business?

I studied Mass Communications and I like the field a lot. I was only hoping to get into the field and I had a family member who worked in advertising production who convinced me to work on ads. So I started working in advertising production as an entry into the field. Ads are short and quick so you learn everything fast and efficient. For “Lahazat Harega” I was given that chance by Sherif Arafa’s office and Amin El Masry, a producer at Partner Pro.

Who are the audience of this type of drama?

The audience is the same as of ER and Grey’s Anatomy, simply people who get touched by a human story. The audiences are interested in the relationships inside the hospitals and how doctors manage their stressful lives in a very sought after profession. We have something called “the 7:00pm serial culture” most of the Egyptian audience follow a drama serials in their daily lives and they want to see the character they have been watching for 10 episodes and got attached to. We focus on the life of the doctors, nurses and hospital staff that save lives, if we would only remove the pancreas it would be a documentary not a TV show.

 

 

What are your very own critical moments?

Most of my critical moments take place outside the plateau. As a producer my job is to solve problems and prepare for the next step. My critical moment is what’s coming next and it’s unknown so that’s a tough moment. My job is to find solutions for the whole team as sometimes you find a certain actor engaged in another parallel project so overlaps must be avoided, for instance. I must think of what’s happening now and what will happen the next week and the week after that. We have special effects and materials for example a burnt skin or a fake liver so a lot of planning is required.

What do you feel is the formula for consistent success?

The idea of “the hospital” itself wrapped with all its accidents and human relations. Sometimes a doctor is replaced by another one but the episode remains and the story doesn’t end. If we build such a show on a certain hero or heroine they will end in marriage or an accident (laughs). A hospital will remain a hospital for 20 years. The Bold and the Beautiful is going way too far as the details are the same. Friends ended after 10 seasons as it had to end. The characters shifted to different lives some travelled and some got married and the only character who’s life hasn’t changed was Joey and producers took that character and made the “Joey” show, this is called a “spin off” in our field. Like Frasier was from Cheers, Grey’s Anatomy’s star was the daughter of another in ER. There is also one more thing, producers used to tell me when I worked with them to ask myself some questions like: Is this nice? Would you put it in your house? Does it look real with the naked eye? And with the answers, the view is clear.

 

What is the most powerful pillar in a serial? Directing, script or acting?

If everyone in the team did his tasks perfectly starting with the script and ending with catering, it will be successful. As a producer I have to look at it as a factory, the producer who works in a car factory gets to push the button and if the button breaks he would call the engineer to come and fix it. We don’t have engines or machines here we have human beings and that is more difficult. I have a quote I always write at the bottom of my CV which says: You are as strong as your weakest link (as in a chain), if every link is perfect and there is only one weak link, everything will be destroyed. I learnt this in military school as you work in a team, your work isn’t only about books and papers and I found that effective in my job. The production team of Sherif Arafa’s office is the best in terms of discipline. I see the production team as the police or Ministry of Interior of the field as it takes care of the project’s security and finds solutions, it’s the back bone. Ahmed Saleh was selected to carry the entire show but he understood the format based on the hospital and the doctors. He grabbed that idea and as a producer I won’t step into the location of the director, if we say the producer or the director, definitely the director but the producer will supply him with everything. It’s like one player will shoot and another will get the goal the one who would get the goal is the one all hands would clap for.

 

To what extent the appearance of box office stars on such shows increase success of the episode?

Well, stars act like a marketing tool for the episode. You make the show in the Middle East and having this number of celebrities help you to cover the whole Middle East market. Leila Elwi, in another country that watch the show dubbed to their language, will be viewed just as a great actress but the audience there will realize she is a star seeing her charisma and professional attitude. If I watch an Italian show dubbed into Arabic I’ll be able to select the Italian star without being aware of him or her. Celebrities in Season 2 are less than Season 1 but it’s not about the quantity but about the incidents.

Syrian and Turkish soap operas are grabbing the Egyptian audience, how do you see the future of our Egyptian soap opera production?

I don’t mind them being in a higher level than ours as if they get higher we try to improve to compete, if it’s fair and honest competition. When I see a good Syrian production, for example, I would want a similar Egyptian production standard and maybe we could collaborate. Egypt is a very large target market with different segments that different formats can cater to. I won’t watch a certain show as it’s not made for me but it is made for someone else, on the other hand, up till now when I watch “Layali El Helmya” or “Raafat El Hagan” I enjoy them a lot. So I think that there is an audience for many formats and productions.

What is your dream project?

I dream of doing “Raafat El Hagan” the movie. I don’t mind anyone taking the plot but they should make me work with them (laughs). I imagine it produced with the same music, characters of the serial, but with a great production.

Who could play Raafat El Hagan?

A lot of actors could do this, but they should do it in different stages. The classic Raafat El Hagan was played by Mahmoud Abdel Aziz. This man’s existence in history is very important, so if someone isn’t able to do it perfectly then don’t. Like Halim with Ahmed Zaki and Haitham Zaki. He started his life as a rebellious teen and died in the late sixties so it won’t be done with the same actor.

 

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