A Journey of Perseverance, Learning, and Triumph in the Media Production Industry

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Zeina’s story serves as an inspiration to aspiring professionals in the media production industry, highlighting the power of perseverance, continuous learning, and adaptability. 

It was through a fortuitous introduction by a close friend that Zeina landed her first training job as a script girl under a renowned Lebanese producer. From there, she embarked on a journey of continuous growth, gradually assuming more responsibilities and honing her skills. Working on diverse projects, such as short films, commercials, music videos, and independent productions, allowed her to gain insights into different aspects of production and establish her expertise.

By building strong relationships with local collaborators and engaging in open dialogue, Zeina successfully bridged cultural gaps and triumphantly entered the Saudi market.

In this interview, we delve deeper into Zeina’s experiences, challenges, and successes, gaining valuable insights into her remarkable journey in the media production industry.

How did you get into the industry, and how did you become a production manager?

I don’t have a bachelor’s degree in fields such as film production, theater, or communications.

But that was my dream. My parents were against the idea. So, I did a master’s in Business and French literature to please my mom and dad.

After graduating from both universities, a close friend of mine introduced me to a well-known Lebanese producer where I started my 1st training job as a script girl. In parallel, I was sneakily buying online books and studying about the film industry, without my parents’ knowledge.

As individuals gain experience in entry-level roles, I progressively took on more responsibilities and developed a diverse skill set. I worked on various projects, such as short films, commercials, music videos, and independent productions. This experience helped me understand different aspects of production and built my expertise. I did well and I got promoted to 2nd Assistant Director on my 2nd TV series.

And my journey started, climbing up the leader till I reached the level of being a director, directing and producing my own films with proud parents tapping on my shoulder

What was your biggest challenge during production, and how did you overcome it?

I have been fighting for over 2 years to enter the Saudi market. It was really tough and challenging.

And in the end we made it. So, from the minute I receive an inquiry for Saudi Arabia, I ask the client to jump on a call to alert them about:

Cultural Differences: Saudi Arabia has a unique cultural and social environment, which can present challenges for foreign production teams. Adhering to cultural norms, traditions, and religious sensitivities is crucial. It is essential to conduct thorough research and work closely with local experts or consultants who can guide local customs and practices. Building strong relationships with local collaborators and engaging in open dialogue can help bridge cultural gaps.

Obtaining Permits and Permissions: Filming in Saudi Arabia requires obtaining various permits and permissions from government authorities. The bureaucratic process can be complex and time-consuming. It is important to start the permit application process well in advance, allowing sufficient time for approvals. Engaging with local production companies or fixers who have experience navigating local regulations can be immensely helpful.

Extreme Weather Conditions: Saudi Arabia has a desert climate, with hot temperatures and occasional sandstorms. These weather conditions can pose challenges for outdoor shoots, equipment maintenance, and the well-being of the cast and crew. Planning shoots during more favorable seasons, scheduling regular breaks, and providing necessary amenities like shade, water, and proper equipment protection can help mitigate the impact of extreme weather.

Overall, thorough preparation, cultural sensitivity, local collaborations, and flexibility are key to successfully navigating production challenges in Saudi Arabia. Each production is unique, and it’s crucial to adapt strategies based on the specific circumstances and requirements of the project.

We found a good fixer in Saudi Arabia, flexible, and replies directly but not well experienced with foreign crew. We had no choice other than to work with him. I took the 1st project, keeping in mind that I have to accommodate the client’s requests. It was hard and it is still hard in that territory, as I have to be on standby 24/7 on standby for any changes they may put in their laws without notice, organizing the production.

But now I can say, we are doing amazing in that territory and we can do more.

Can you tell us when a project didn’t go as planned and how you adapted to the situation?

We had 2 big shoots in Saudi Arabia on 4/5 May and Qatar on 7/8 with a big potential recurring client. We started to prep almost a month ahead, due to Ramadan, slow government office replies for permits, and the Fitr holidays. We had all the permits in our hands and we were ready to roll.  On the 1st of May, new regulations popped up, all permits were canceled and we had to apply again. We were chasing our tails. Both fixers were running from one office to the other till we got all permits. We wrapped up Saudi Arabia, and a client was flying to Qatar on the 6th. 

On the 5th, the drone permit for Qatar was rejected. No drone shooting all over the country on the 7th and the 8th – the 2 days shoot where we need drones. Luckily, our drone operator was filming on the 6th. I communicated with the client, who was very understanding and asked for a drone shot list. This way we managed to cover all the scenes a day ahead. A few extra shots were missing as the drone operator couldn’t leave his set to do ours, so we made a deal with the drone operator to buy stock footage for Doha from him as a package with his fees. 

Based on the assessment of the challenges, the team should revise the project plan and set realistic goals. The team should come together to brainstorm solutions to the challenges we face.

Throughout the project, it’s important to foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Encourage the team to reflect on the challenges faced, identify lessons learned, and implement changes to prevent similar issues in the future. 

We should always remember, every project is unique, and the specific adaptation strategies will depend on the nature of the project, the challenges encountered, and the available resources. Adaptation requires flexibility, collaboration, and a willingness to adjust plans and approaches when necessary.

What is the most unusual request you’ve received from a client, and how did you handle it?

During a video production project in Saudi Arabia, a client once requested us to shoot a scene that involved a farm with goats. 

The fixer, although aware of the challenges involved, approached the request with careful planning and consideration for safety and ethical concerns.

During the actual filming, the fixer ensured a controlled environment, with designated safety zones and barriers to protect the goats from running away. Unluckily, one goat disappeared and it was the farmer’s favorite goat. Drama was on set. The fixer called me and informed me that the farmer wanted to stop the shoot and kick the crew out. I advised our fixer to take the farmer aside, calm him down and pay fees for 3 goats instead of one. It worked great, they took their shots and everyone was happy.

How do you ensure your team stays motivated and focused during long and intense shoots?

Ensuring that a team stays motivated and focused during long and intense shoots requires a combination of effective leadership, communication, and support. 

1. Set clear goals and expectations: Clearly communicate the objectives, timelines, and expected outcomes of the shoot. Ensure that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities. When team members have a clear sense of purpose, it becomes easier to stay motivated and focused.

2. Foster a positive and supportive environment: Encourage open communication and create a positive atmosphere. Recognize and appreciate team members’ efforts and achievements. Regularly provide constructive feedback and offer opportunities for growth and development. Celebrate milestones and successes to boost morale.

3. Foster teamwork and collaboration: Encourage teamwork and create opportunities for collaboration among team members. When people feel connected and supported by their colleagues, it can boost motivation and engagement. Foster a culture of respect, trust, and cooperation.

4. Keep communication channels open: Regularly check in with your team members to gauge their well-being, address concerns, and provide updates. Create an environment where team members feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns. Actively listen to their feedback and take appropriate actions when necessary.

5. Provide motivation and inspiration: Share success stories, inspirational videos, and client feedback. 

6. Take care of physical and mental well-being.

7. Lead by example: As a leader, it’s crucial to exhibit a high level of motivation, focus, and professionalism. Show dedication, resilience, and enthusiasm for the project. Your team will be more likely to follow suit when they see your commitment to the work.

What advice would you give to someone new to the production industry and looking to build a successful career as a production manager?

If you’re new to the production industry and aspiring to build a successful career as a production manager/producer here are some key pieces of advice to consider:

1. Gain Practical Experience: Seek opportunities to gain hands-on experience in the production industry. Practical experience will give you valuable insights and help you develop crucial skills.

2. Take the time to understand the production industry thoroughly. Study different production processes, technologies, and trends. Stay updated with industry news and developments to remain competitive and adaptable.

3. Develop Strong Organizational Skills: Production managers are responsible for overseeing various elements of the production process. To succeed, you need to have excellent organizational skills. Learn to manage resources effectively, create production schedules, and coordinate teams to ensure smooth operations.

4. Communication Skills: Effective communication is critical in production management. You’ll be interacting with diverse teams, stakeholders, and clients regularly. Develop strong interpersonal skills, active listening abilities, and the capacity to convey information clearly and concisely.

5. Be Detail-Oriented: Paying attention to details is crucial in production management. From tracking budgets and schedules to ensuring quality control, being detail-oriented will help you identify potential issues and prevent costly mistakes.

6. Foster Leadership Abilities: As a production manager, you’ll be leading teams and guiding projects to successful completion. Work on developing your leadership skills, including problem-solving, decision-making, and motivating team members. Lead by example and inspire others to achieve their best.

7. Stay Flexible and Adapt: The production industry is dynamic and ever-changing. Develop a mindset that embraces flexibility and adaptability. Be open to learning new skills, exploring different roles, and adapting to industry trends. The ability to adjust and evolve will help you thrive in this competitive field.

8. Continue Learning: Never stop learning and investing in your professional development. Stay curious and seek growth opportunities to stay ahead of the curve.

Remember, building a successful career takes time and dedication. Stay passionate, persevere through challenges, and continuously strive for excellence.

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