Abbasi, Lemus to ET: Filmmakers must present something unique

CAIRO – 8 October 2019: El Gouna Film Festival and the US Embassy in Egypt presented an important screenwriting workshop to twelve uprising filmmakers. The workshop was mentored by two talented American filmmakers, Amman Abbasi and Marvin Lemus.
Abbasi is a writer, director, editor and composer. His feature film “DAYVEON” premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for two Spirit Awards. Abbasi’s upcoming projects include “The Quench” and “Silhouette”.
Marvin Lemus is an award-winning screenwriter, director, and producer. Lemus co-created and directed “GENTEFIED”, a bilingual digital series which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and is now set for release as a half-hour dramatic-comedy for NETFLIX in 2020.
Abbasi told Egypt Today that they worked with the workshop participants on their ideas, what movie they want to make as each of them has a very specific voice, which is nice.
“This workshop is not about being prescriptive to them but rather encouraging of their own unique voices because the Arab world is rich with unique stories that should be preserved in that type of storytelling,” Abbasi recounted.
Lemus said that he lead a workshop in Dubai and Abu Dhabi last year as part of the Global Media, Maker which was different from this one.
“Egyptian filmmakers have their films and we are helping them with their short movies, where in Dubai, it was a masterclass on digital series.
This workshop in Egypt is very exciting because the participants already have their ideas; they have a whole treatment to the script. We are helping them with the story they want to tell,” Lemus said.
On the similarities between the Egyptian and American cinema industry, Abbasi explained that there is some sort of bridge between the two industries.
“There are huge Egyptian talents and the same in the US. I think there is probably a synergy and a sort of sensibility; an example of that is Rami Malek, the Egyptian-American star who won the Oscars for Best Actor.
That was a massive achievement. Also, Ramy Youssef, who is a TV show creator, which is a big role in the US industry. I think especially right now, we have a unique Egyptian moment in the US cinema and this formed a nice bridge between Egypt and the US,” Abbasi explained.
Abbasi added that preserving the traditions of storytelling is also important, to be able to know that this is a very unique way of telling a story verse and to have diversity in storytelling.
“It is fun to sit with top students who are watching films from all over the world and getting to create their own point of view. Especially that in Egypt, there is a new generation that is starting to create a strong cinema industry,” Abbasi said.
Abbasi added that during the workshop they looked for smart techniques of storytelling that qualified filmmakers should have.
“We looked during the workshop at short films of Martin Scorsese, for instance, we talked with the participants about the ideas of the movies they want to make. There are places that short film could be improved, so giving the students the chance to look at that sort of angle will show how true talent is born and will shed light on the ways to improve that talent,” Abbasi said.
Lemus added that he worked with the participants on how to enhance their storytelling techniques through certain exercises. “I have a very different background; the way I started in this industry was through doing digital short movies, performing sketches on YouTube and for different brands.
The way I learned and grew was through basically having to figure out how to make something in two or four or five minutes that’s going to get used, grab the attention and bloggers talk about it,” Lemus explained.
Lemus added that when it comes to short films storytelling you have to highlight what you are trying to say, what you are trying to talk about, what is your storyline and dramatic point.
Lemus further noted that when you are studying short filmmaking, you have to watch a lot of features, to gather a lot of thoughts, themes and story points. “Short films help to crystallise the idea and the story.
I think expressing the idea in a short period of time in a short movie is more difficult than in a feature movie, unlike what others may think,” Lemus clarified.
Making features is more difficult in the screenwriting process, according to Abassi. “I think short films have more creative factors; it can be totally expressionistic, experimental; you have some sort of accessibility, where in the feature you have certain rules that you should abide by,” Abbasi said.
“For short films, to make somebody feel something in just a minute or two is not an easy task, so doing that kind of work means that this filmmaker masters his craft well,” Lemus recounted.
“I have never done a workshop like this. I can’t say I am very well burst in Egyptian cinema.
I am hoping to continue to learn more about it and that is the reason why I wanted to come here.
Since I have never done this type of screenwriting curriculum, I really wanted to make sure I was prepared so I tried to build up what I thought was appropriate curriculum based on the types of processes that work for me.
I guess our best expectations were to hopefully set the twelve students at their best,” Abbasi stated.
Lemus explained that he expected the participants to be beginners,but found them to be great filmmakers. “I found that they are really very strong storytellers, they are so smart and really exceeded my expectations,” Lemus added.
Lemus explained that El Gouna Film Festival is one of the fanciest festivals he has been to.
“The line-up of the festival is really amazing, a lot of prominent movies that are all worth watching. It is very comfortable when you are at the other side of the world and everyone is just being open and inviting; this festival really stands for broadening horizons,” Abbasi said.
Abbasi added that he advised the participants at the workshop to be uniquely themselves and make the movie they want to make. “Filmmaking is a singular thing that comes from the vision of the scriptwriter or the director,” Abbasi added.
Lemus advised them to be vulnerable, honest, real and to be themselves in an intimate way.