Damascene Conversion

Studio B has been converted into a little corner of old Damascus.
Old Damascus, Syria, Twofour54, Analysis, Content production

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Studio B at twofour54 Abu Dhabi’s Mussafah site has been dramatically converted into a little corner of old Damascus for a new Ramadan drama from Syrian director Momen Al Mulla.

An all star cast has joined renowned Syrian director Momen Al Mulla at twofour54’s Studio B in Mussaffah, Abu Dhabi, where the hit director of Bab Al Hara and his team are shooting what is tipped to be this year’s smash Ramadan hit, Hammam Shami.

Al Mulla’s previous series, Bab Al Hara, was one of the most popular series in the Arab world. The show aired for a total of 156 episodes spread over five series on MBC between Ramadan 2006 and Ramadan 2010, and at the peak of its popularity the show was attracting audiences of over 50M across the Arab world.

Syrian comedy and drama has always been popular with regional audiences, and in recent years many of the most popular shows, including Bab Al Hara, have been Syrian productions, often financed by the Gulf satellite channels, as production has slowly gravitated away away from its traditional Egyptian base.

Unsurprisingly, with the current situation in Syria showing no signs of improving, Syria has not proved the easiest place to shoot content for this year’s Ramadan schedules.

Consequently, Damascus-based production company Al Adham has sent Al Mulla and his-50 strong team of cast and crew to Abu Dhabi, where the vast Studio B space has been used to build an impressive selection of sets based on Old Damascus, including the bath house (hammam) of the title, a town square and an impressive courtyard space.

Although the team may have preferred to be able to use the real locations in Damascus, Al Mulla is hopeful his efforts can at least bring some relief to the embattled Syrian population during the holy month.

He commented: ““Despite all the pain and sadness in Syria right now, we are trying to bring a smile to people’s faces. This is a light comedy. I hope when people watch our programme they will smile again.”

He added: “We hope ‘Hammam Shami’ will be a huge success and attract audiences from across the Arab world. This project reflects the true spirit of Damascus with an all-star cast which has previously portrayed life in Damascus flawlessly.

Recreating the atmosphere of old Damascus has been challenging, but it has also allowed us to introduce new horizons to the typical Syrian drama. We have built an amazing set that replicates old Damascus perfectly. Our Arab audience will be the judge of ‘Hammam Shami’s’ success.”

The sets are certainly impressive, as we saw when we were invited to take a tour last month, and twofour54 intaj chief Paul Baker noted: “twofour54 intaj has generated over 13,000 hours of content since its inception.

Original Arabic productions like this are increasingly considering Abu Dhabi as a location of choice thanks to its great infrastructure, the 30 per cent cash rebate offered to content producers and intaj’s production experience.

We’re finding increasingly that major international productions are attracted to Abu Dhabi too when looking for locations in the region – we have an award-winning team of both Arabic and English speaking preofessionals who can offer assistance to producers in the emirate, a big group of freelancers available to incoming producers, close links with the Abu Dhabi Film Commission and, of course, our business support service that can help with visas and other administrative issues.”

Noura Al Khabi, CEO of twofour54 agreed, and added: “The production of this major Syrian drama here at twofour54, reinforces Abu Dhabi’s reputation as a world-class production hub and the home of original Arabic broadcasting content. We are very pleased that the partnership with Momen Al Mulla and his production team reflects our capability to facilitate the most large-scale of production projects.

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“This series is another major production project to add to our rapidly growing portfolio. The incentive scheme, which is administered by the Abu Dhabi Film Commission and gives a 30 per cent cash rebate on qualifying spend in Abu Dhabi, is proving very attractive to executive producers of international feature films, TV shows and commercials.”

The team behind Hammam Shami seem to think Abu Dhabi is a good choice of location shoot too. Although Al Mulla conceded that shooting in Abu Dhabi is more expensive than back home in Syria, he did not feel that this was prohibitive, and claimed that the excellent infrastructure and facilities available tempered the higher costs.

He added: “Syrian drama continues to flourish and I would like to extend my gratitude to all who have supported this show, especially our partner twofour54 for providing us with all the support required to turn this into a successful venture. We look forward to further collaboration with twofour54 on new strategic projects.”

Production manager Asem Al Awa also hinted that this could be the first of many collaborative efforts between Syrian producers and Abu Dhabi facilities, particularly those at twofour54: “With this project we are building on the strong foundations and history of drama in this region,” he said.

“The production of Hammam Shami will set the standard for drama productions produced this year. This regional production collaboration is the first step in the artistic journey of Syrian drama produced in Abu Dhabi. ”

The show focuses around family life in 1950s Damascus, and particularly the lives of visitors to the traditional Syrian hammam of the title, where much of the action takes place.

It features some of the best known stars of Syrian drama and comedy, including popular returning members of the cast of Bab Al Hara, Mustafa Khani and Salim Sabri, and Al Mulla was keen to emphasise that although many women feature in the cast, and although the action focuses around a bath house, religious sensibilities and modesty will be fully respected during the holy month to create a humorous, entertaining show that’s suitable for all the family.

We haven’t seen the show yet, but we hope you’ll enjoy this sneak preview of the impressive set and agree that, judging by the location where the action will take place, the signs are certainly promising. Broadcast dates and times were uncomfirmed at the time of going to press.

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