Translated by: Perwin Ali
Angie Al-Qassim and Samaa AbdelKhalek, two writers that took us on a magic carpet ride to a world far less busy than ours –a simpler world, a calmer world. Starting with their series Halawet El Donia (Life is Beautiful), they went on to pen Layali Eugenie (Eugenie Nights), proving that this is only the beginning for this duo, and that there is still more to come, with tales that speak to the heart and real emotions, all made possible because of their great chemistry together –there from the very start. We spoke to them about their experience together, working with Hany Khalifa and much more.
You are originally from backgrounds that are quite removed from the field of film making, how did you start writing professionally?
“I heard about a writing workshop by Tamer Habib. I decided to go”
Samaa: I studied Political Science, so I didn’t have anything to do with this world. Still, I always knew that I loved movies, but I didn’t know what I would like to do that’s related to film making, until the end of 2010. I heard about a writing workshop by Tamer Habib. I decided to go. We finished the workshop in April 2011. I loved it, but I didn’t take any steps towards writing until 2014 when I decided to take a break from my work and write; see where that takes me.
“I found that writing was what got me excited the most”
Angie: For me, it wasn’t that far removed from my area of expertise, as I had originally studied that art of communication. But I was living in Dubai, and hadn’t quite explored the movie world. My work was made up of public relations, advertising and business development. I decided to take a break for a year and return to Egypt to explore what it is that I can do within this field, because I too knew that I wanted to be part of this industry –I just didn’t know what. I tried everything so I can discover what it is that I wanted –I attended acting, directing and writing workshops. I found that writing was what got me excited the most.
How did the idea for Layali Eugenie come about? What excited you to present it?
The idea is originally from a Spanish series. Beelink, the production company, presented us the idea and we thought it interesting to explore a new world, and face the challenge of adapting for a different period in time. We were also excited about other aspects such as working with director Hany Khalifa.
Which character was the closest to your hearts? Or you felt was difficult, and took extra emotional effort in writing?
“I feel that we have to have a human connection with every character”
Angie: I enjoyed writing Tante Magda very much. She was a harsh woman and in everybody’s business, so it was especially entertaining. And, of course, Sofia, everyone’s favorite.
Samaa: Honestly, I don’t have one particular character that was close to my heart. I feel that we have to have a human connection with every character. As long as it’s not a “flat” character and has dimensions, then it has to have reasons for its actions; what are its motives? How will it act? So no one specific character is going to be more difficult to write than the others, especially that we don’t like the idea of the absolute villain or the excessively kind. All characters have weaknesses the roots of which I have to be able to understand; they have flaws, but I can see the logic. I experience and feel different things with each character, even simple and secondary characters. As long as you give a character dimensions, then it will take effort in its creation.
The chemistry between Angie, Samaa and Hany Khalifa: Tell us more about him. What was the thing you liked most about working with him?
“He is very meticulous. Pays close attention to all of the details, and will not let go of something when he believes that it can be better”
The series in its final form shows that you got along well with its director, Hany Khalifa. Hany is amazing. We always say that his strength is in the fact that he does not skimp on details, or turn a blind eye, no matter how tired he is, and has been shooting for thirty hours straight. He is very meticulous. Pays close attention to all of the details, and will not let go of something when he believes that it can be better. Not to mention his great taste. He always enhances and elevates the work. Usually writers hate changes, but I was in awe of Hany and his suggestions. I would go: how did you think of that? I love it! Yes, let’s do that.
What do you think is the most important thing you learned form Tamer Habib?
Samaa: We consider Tamer our Godfather. Before I met him, I didn’t know what a script looked like. He is the one who taught me how to create a script; he is the one who gave us our first opportunity in this field. It also goes without saying that he is a very talented writer.
“There is room for one to think with Tamer”
Angie: There is something really great about working with Tamer: freedom of thought. We might have agreed on writing one thing, but when we actually write it ends up being something different; then he goes: that’s good. It works. Why not? It’s possible for the character to go do this or that; we are not working in a tight mold. There is room for one to think with Tamer. You can go to him and say: I found person X doing so and so, and he will say: great, let’s make them do that. Flexibility and room to think are great advantages to working with him.
Every project has a different challenge. What was your biggest challenge this year?
“Creating a period drama requires doing more research, since you have not lived that time”
Samaa: Writing a period drama was a challenge. We didn’t want it to become comedic and clichéd. There is, as Hany says, “watching tradition” according to which, having watched certain types of movies you will talk in a certain way that becomes caricaturist –not real or believable. Creating a period drama requires doing more research, since you have not lived that time that chronicles historical events that you cannot falsify or use inaccurately, even if you are not writing something political. So the challenge was trying to grasp a period you did not experience.
“The great challenge was that most things relied on the dialogue”
Angie: We were also highly constrained in terms of imagination. We weren’t able to implement anything we could think of because we were limited by the places, the capabilities and technologies of that period. Because of that, we relied almost completely on the dialogue. We couldn’t come up with ideas of things for them to do because they didn’t have what we have now, and what they have we were not always able to apply, because we didn’t always have the production or execution capabilities to help. So the great challenge was that most things relied on the dialogue. We had to figure out how to escape it being boring because we were telling a whole story through dialogues between people that we were unable to take to different locations, and they didn’t have activities to do. We were forced to have the characters talking to each other, moving the story along through dialogue.
Halawet El Donia
In your opinion, why was Halawet El Donia successful?
“We created simple details that would make the viewer believe that these are real people”
We imagine because it was real. People liked that they saw a natural dialogue between the characters, so it didn’t feel like acting. When writing, we used to imagine what would happen if I was in my room with my cousin or neighbor. How would we act? How would we talk? What would we say? We created simple details that would make the viewer believe that these are real people in a house that looked like this. The focus wasn’t just on what they would say or the dialogue, and where the events would go; it was more important to show how we as humans live with each other.
What do you feel helped make the script as credible and believable as you wanted it to be?
“Ragaa Al-Giddawy, making everyone feel that she was their mother hen”
The cast loved it. On paper, we called their home “Beit el Settat” (The House of Women). To this day, whenever the case meets they say that they miss the house of the women. The spirit that was created between them and was in the ladies’ gathering, along with the energy brought by actress Ragaa Al-Giddawy, making everyone feel that she was their mother hen, was very evident and felt by all who watched the series.
Do you see that in this somewhat male-dominated field the women have enough rights and have proven themselves, or do you still seek more equality?
“Producers appreciate, and acknowledge that we women have our “small details” and have a different perspective”
We believe women have indeed proven themselves in this field. There are a lot of television series now where the lead is built on the female character, more than the male character. As writers, we get plenty of opportunities and offers to write, because male producers feel that they have finally found someone to speak for women. As women, we are distinct in our area. Producers appreciate, and acknowledge that we women have our “small details” and have a different perspective –other than their male perspective. They see this as an advantage, and seek us to help them view things differently –somewhat more deeply even.
What scares you the most as writers?
Samaa: I always ask, and fear: what if something is drained? What if you run out of ideas? There is nothing new. Things are the same, and I am repeating myself. Is what I am presenting good enough? Is it different or is it the same as many others? This is a fear that is always with me.
Angie: I fear that there isn’t something that moves me enough; that I can’t feel something that makes me want to write. Or that lack of feeling towards life that can hit us suddenly. This is always my fear with regards to my work.
What is your favorite movie?
Samaa: The trilogy Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight; Eshaet Hob (A Rumor of Love), Al Kheit Al Rafee (The Thin Line).
Angie: Closer, Nine, Cinema Paradiso.
What do women want?
“A woman also doesn’t want anyone to pressure her, or confine her to a specific mold that no one imposed in the first place”
Samaa: I don’t think all women want the same thing, but I am convinced that we live in a society that might be a bit too harsh on women. However, part of this harshness is the harshness of the woman on herself, and the harshness of women on each other. I believe that it is important for a woman to decide what she wants. But I think it is more important that if she is going to resist the roughness of society aimed at her that she should not resist it by being herself just as rough with others. Someone was just telling me about a woman sitting somewhere with her son. He started crying. A woman walked up to her and told her: no, you should not tell him so and so. That same woman would probably be upset if someone were to tell her how to raise her child. So why did she decide that this is the correct way to raise kids?
Angie: A woman also doesn’t want anyone to pressure her, or confine her to a specific mold that no one imposed in the first place. As a result, she wants to achieve perfection in everything in order to please society that told her that her primary role is to be a mother, and that if she wants anything else along with being a mother she cannot be derelict in her motherhood. Therefore, she is torn between everything that she wants.