Egyptian director Tamer Mohsen on his love-hate relationship with Ramadan series

May Abdallah, Saturday 9 May 2020

The award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter compared directing a TV series to a quest to create a painting in 10 minutes, a mission which involves a lot of pressure

Tamer Mohsen
Tamer Mohsen in an interview for Al Ahram Arabic gate, at the 2018 El Gouna International Film Festival

Egyptian filmmaker Tamer Mohsen opened up to Al-Ahram Arabic gate In an interview about working on Ramadan television series, from which he draws joy as he copes with their challenges. Mohsen is known for directing award-winning film Ott wa Far (Cat and Mouse), and numerous television series including Taht El-Saytara (Under Control).

When comparing works for television and cinema, he pointed to the environment in which his work will be watched. He said that “in cinema, the viewer watches the film on a big screen in a quiet hall, with a proper sound system, a setting deemed perfect for any filmmaker. When it comes to a television series, you don't really know how the viewers will watch it, and whether it will receive the attention you are expecting.”

He said he received a message from a friend saying she was so interested in the events of the series he directed that she continued watching it on her mobile phone while on the street.

“At first when I realised that she was in fact watching the series on the mobile phone, in the broad daylight, not to say in the sunlight, surrounded by crowds and noises I felt that all my effort poured into the production went in vain. In such viewing conditions, how could she notice the light I used, setting details, shooting angles and many other technicalities which were so important to the series? But then I thought that on the contrary, maybe it was not such a bad thing. After all, she got so involved in the plot and characters, so impatient to continue watching the series, that she did so in those unusual circumstances. It is obvious that the technicalities are there only to support the story, they help the plotline to progress.”

Tamer Mohsen
Tamer Mohsen behind the camera in one of his earlier works. (Photo: Tamer Mohsen Instagram, 2013)

Mohsen explained that "when I work on a television series, I always think about many details outside the plot, often feeling that I’m holding a stopwatch at hand. The pressure to create a big work in six or eight months is enormous, and time is of the essence here. Unfortunately, the director’s choices are sometimes defined by issues beyond creative or technical aspects. Having to toe a specific line can render the implementation process quite uncomfortable.

"But on the other hand, you get to enjoy the whole process, especially once it resonates successfully,” Mohsen added, comparing directing a series to a quest to create a painting in 10 minutes, a mission which involves a lot of pressure. “Yet no matter the circumstances, there is a special kind of pleasure in the whole process.”

At the beginning of his filming career, Mohsen focused on documentary films. Among his known works are Political Crime: The Assassination of Hassan El-Banna (2007), Saad Zaghloul: The Leader And His Shadow (2008), Political Crime: Assassination of Sadat (2009), and The Whale Shark Visit (2013).

In his discussion with Al-Ahram Arabic gate, the director explained that though he enjoyed working on each of these films and learnt a lot in the process, documentaries were never his dream.

Mohsen directed his first feature comedy Ott wa Far in 2015. The film received three awards at the Cairo National Festival for Egyptian Cinema: Best Supporting Actor (Mohamed Farrag), Best Director (Tamer Mohsen) and Best Screenplay (Wahid Hamed).

He worked on Bedoon Zikr Asmaa (Without Mentioning Names) television series in 2013, while his breakthrough in the series field came with Taht El-Saytara, a 2015 drama which unveils the world of drug addiction in Egypt. Then came Hadha El-Masaa (Tonight), a 2017 series.

Tamer Mohsen
Tamer Mohsen together with Dhafer L'Abidine and Nelly Karim, on the set of Taht El Saytara television series (Photo: Tamer Mohsen Instagram, 2015)

Though today Mohsen is a well established director of films and television series, he revealed that short films have always been close to his heart. “Unfortunately they do not attract the deserved attention from Arab audiences,” he said.

Mohsen is yet to release Nemra Etnein (Number Two), in which he collaborates with other directors. The series stars Amina Khalil, Amr Youssef, Mona Zaki, Nelly Karim, and Ahmed Malek. He is also to release in 2021 Taqatoe Toroq (Crossroads) starring Mona Zaki, Amina Khalil, Mohamed Mamdouh, and Sayed Ragab.

Mohsen's repertoire includes directing several television ads, such as the 2018 and 2019 anti-drug and anti-smoking campaigns, all featuring the Egyptian international football player Mohamed Salah, the National Cancer Institute, and Magdi Yacoub Foundation.

Additional reporting: Ahram Online

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