Dubbed as a one-of-its-kind production for its scale and style, big-budget Syrian drama The Brothers opened to rave reviews on Abu Dhabi TV in April. Vibhuti Arora reports from behind the scenes The year 2014 began on a high note for Abu Dhabi as the city hosted a roster of regional and international productions. The […]
Dubbed as a one-of-its-kind production for its scale and style, big-budget Syrian drama The Brothers opened to rave reviews on Abu Dhabi TV in April. Vibhuti Arora reports from behind the scenes
The year 2014 began on a high note for Abu Dhabi as the city hosted a roster of regional and international productions. The UAE capital was in the spotlight for Hollywood biggies such as Star Wars 7 and The Fast and the Furious 7 as well as Bollywood action thriller Bang Bang, while also hosting several regional productions. One such production that has been turning heads since it began filming is The Brothers one of the biggest TV series not only in the history of Syrian drama but also for Abu Dhabi. With an estimated budget of USD 46m, this Syrian production stands out for its technical finesse and star cast. The production is claimed to be slicker and smarter than many of its counterparts, and experts have even termed it as a milestone in the history of Syrian drama.
The series has a different look and feel to it. Unlike most TV dramas, this series is being shot entirely on location. There are no studio scenes, as one would typically expect of a TV drama. A private villa in Abu Dhabi has been transformed into a home of the five brothers, who serve as the central characters in the series. Some portions of the series are also being filmed on the streets of the UAE capital and at a retreat on Saadiyat Island.
A complex family drama that chronicles the life of a businessman’s five adopted sons, The Brothers is set in modern day Abu Dhabi. The story has been adapted from a popular Mexican soap opera and features more than 36 main actors, who are all stars in their own right and hail from Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.
Produced by Syrian production house Clacket Media, the series is supported by twofour54 and Abu Dhabi Film Commission.
The filming on this 90-episode series was in full swing when BroadcastPro ME went on location. The crew had been shooting in Abu Dhabi for more than two months in 12-hour shifts every day and filming of the first 50 episodes had already been completed. The series premiered on Abu Dhabi TV on April 20 but the shoot is expected to continue until July.
Twofour54 offered a 30% rebate on the production cost and helped the production team with location scouting and infrastructural facilities. Intaj is handling the post production of the entire series.
This soap opera has clearly raised the bar for Arab productions, thanks to its scale and style, says Series Director, Seif Sbei, who describes it as a massive project and a trendsetter of sorts.
Historically, one wouldnt associate Abu Dhabi with drama but here we are showing a story set in Abu Dhabi, reflecting the high life of the cosmopolitan city. Its a combination of Syrian and Egyptian drama with some Lebanese characteristics and we have tried to give it a Turkish feel. The anchor of the project, however, is its storyline.
The shooting is being carried out in blocks and not as episodes, which are then brought together at the editing table. Between our DoP and myself, we have tried to give the series a very slick look. Having big stars from different countries in the Arab world is expected to attract more viewers from these countries, Sbei comments.
Croatian DoP Mario Delic, who shares an Emmy Award for his work on the documentary Calling the Ghosts and boasts a vast body of work in the Arab region, is the main man behind the camera.
According to Delic, its a modern story that reflects wealth and sophistication. The camerawork, therefore, had to be aligned with bringing out these characteristics in the script.
We developed a visual style in the early stages of the project with Director Ammar Alani. Although we have a different director now, we maintained the same visual style, he explains.
The story is filmed at two main locations, the brothers villa and Bait Riad. The visual concept for the villa was to keep it in cooler, bluish hues with lots of reflections, bright spots in the background and photography thats somewhat over-the-top and traditionally seen in TV commercials.
Thats keeping in line with the fact that the brothers are living in a rich world and dont face the reality of ordinary people. The idea for Bait Riad, on the other hand, was to keep it modest with warmer colours and realistic photography. This is the reason the shoot is being handled by two units. While Delic heads the first unit, the second unit is under Nizar Wawiye. Both the DoPs have different framing and lighting styles, which according to Delic, add two different dimensions to the drama.
The series is being shot on the Sony F55 and the Sony F5, one for each unit and the audio is recorded on Sennheiser mics, which are synched with the cameras.
The choice for these cameras was made early on for their ability to shoot 2K RAW. They also shoot 4K, however, thats more demanding in terms of data storage. I attended the Sony F55/F5 workshop last year in Advanced Media, Dubai and was very keen to try out these cameras. We shoot both 2K RAW and HD, but HD is used for editing since it takes less storage and then the EDL (edit decision list) is sent as output to use with the RAW files, explains Delic.
Commenting on the versatility that the two cameras offer, Delic says: I love the ability to use the existing light in the night since we shoot a lot of night scenes on the streets.
The ISO2000 sensitivity of the F5 is great. I filmed some unbelievable shots using only small lights for the actors while getting to feel all of the existing sources in the background. In one scene, I operated the Steadicam system from a car ahead of one of the actors, Qays Sheik-Najib, who rode a motorcycle. We used only one LED stick for a fill-in and all of the rest was provided by the street lights, which gave the scene a very dramatic effect.
Let there be light!
Delic has deployed Kino Flos extensively throughout the location and calls Chinaballs his weapon of choice.
They give a soft contrast to the actors faces and work very well for close-up shots, he says.
Having worked in the Arab world for 12 years, Delic has deciphered a thing or two about complementing natural light with cinematography lights when shooting in the region.
I have realised that 12KW lamp Dinos work perfectly in local conditions. With their help, I can get away with many things even after the sun goes down. As opposed to common light here, I use light from the camera angle very rarely. My light mostly comes from the sides and from the back. I dont reveal all and let things unravel slowly.
In addition to the LED lights, the kit has two Jablights, two EcoPunch lights and one Spacelite, which enhance the visual texture of the footage.
Lighting can make or break a scene, according to Delic. He emphasises the importance of angles, use of colour, space in the frame and composition, which can be managed with good lighting.
I believe that the main role of a DoP is to translate the script and the directors vision to screen through cinematography. Keeping the communication channel open between the director and his crew and the actors helps greatly in achieving this, explains Delic.
In addition to the rented equipment, the producers imported six AAdynTech LED lights from the US three for each unit and bought some kit that was not locally available. According to Delic, the most important element of the kit is the SGS Twin Dolly, which is a dolly/slider that is very easy to set up and can even be operated by one person, as opposed to conventional dollies.
I have used the twin dolly before and liked the flexibility it offers; it can be set up on the floor or even on top of a table. It comes with very sturdy tracks that can be extended as much as one can afford, says Delic.
The crew shoots between seven and 15 scenes a day in a 12-hour shift.
Right after the shoot, the camera cards are sent to twofour54-intaj’s editing suites, where the footage is colour corrected. Colourist Ayman Abdel-Basset, who is handling the colour grading, takes care of the footage at intaj.
The biggest challenge of this project was to keep up with the schedule and still maintain the quality. Films give you the luxury of time and you can experiment more, which is not the case in soap operas, as one is constantly pressed for time.
I find myself shuttling between locations a couple of times a day. At times, the light conditions are not the best for a given scene and we have to make do with what we have, comments DoP Delic.
The crew will be camping in Abu Dhabi until July, when it is scheduled to finish the filming of the entire series.
The series is presently running on Abu Dhabi TV, CBC Egypt, OSN, Zee Alwan and LBC.
Ayman Abdel Basset at twofour54 intaj is handling the colour grading for the project. He works closely with Mazen Al Saady, the in-house editor of Clacket Media.
Basset elaborates on the workflow:
The DoP wanted to enhance the atmosphere while maintaining an overall style. Colour grading is done on twofour54 intajs Baselight. We use FCP for editing. Considering that the series is being shot in 2K resolution and our final delivery is in HD, the output turns out in very high quality and whats more, RAW allows full freedom in post production.
“The main challenge in this project, however, is dealing with footage done on two different cameras, the Sony F5 and the F55. Although both cameras film in RAW, they use different sensors, which one has to bear in mind while grading. Our objective is to make the pictures look the same throughout the project.
The other challenge is, of course, the tight delivery schedules, which are part and parcel of a soap opera production.
“I wouldnt measure the footage in terms of hours but just suffice to say that it is a lot. To start with, we were grading specific scenes as opposed to an episode, at a time, until an episode is locked.
“The cameras film two types of files. An HD file goes to edit and the same file in 2K resolution RAW comes for colour grading. The editor then cuts the scene and sends the XML to conform with the raw footage.
I copy the RAW footage to the internal storage, which, so far, has been in excess of 21TB.
It is conformed to rebuild the edit but using the 2K re-RAW.
“It is then graded and we receive approval, then lock the episode to finalise it, using the pre-graded scenes.
“The graded footage is delivered back to the series editor, who then takes care of audio and versioning.”