The birth of CinemaTech in Egypt

Photo by Terje Sollie from Pexels

The entrepreneurship ecosystem in the MENA region has been booming over the last few years, with new and exciting projects coming to life all around us. As a result, several industries, traditionally assumed to continue working the way they have for many years, have drawn inspiration from the startup entrepreneurial ecosystem regarding operations and processes to keep up with the pace of new technology and innovation.

In a recent webinar- held as a collaboration between the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation of the AUC School of Business, the AUC School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Gemini Africa- stakeholders and field experts discuss the concept of CinemaTech, highlighting how the film industry can leverage the flourishing entrepreneurial mindset in the region. Gemini Africa is an investment company and hub for the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Egypt and Africa.

CinemaTech fills a gap

“We believe that our main role and objective at Gemini Africa is to have an impact over [the] community and youth to make sure they are supported in different aspects of their work,” said Adly Thoma, chairman and CEO of Gemini Africa.

“Last year, we launched an initiative called Gemini Uplift, partnering with 70+ companies, agencies and NGOs. From there, we started to think as a team about how we can support the untapped businesses from an entrepreneurial perspective, seeing as we are the entrepreneurial arm of Orascom. On top of those was the cinematic industry.”

Thoma added that the seed that planted the initiative was the concept of leveraging new technology to boost cinema and film, just like how technology has helped so many industries transform over the past few years. “We started off by trying to link and mingle the entrepreneurial ecosystem with the cinema industry by initiating programs on how to use technology to develop the industry. So we are focusing on platforms, software, creative thinking, and new techniques that help with cinema production. We are not focused on producers, actors, directors or superstars; our expertise is using the technology within cinema to help improve the filmmaking industry.”

“We thought the best fit that can help with that are the entrepreneurs and startups, so in October of last year, we decided to call to action all those who have fresh creative ideas and innovations or existing applications and platforms that can help the industry,” said Thoma.

Thoma discussed the challenges, doubts and the rigorous process of engaging with those entrepreneurs and new initiatives. “I received many calls commending us that what we were trying to do was very interesting but that we wouldn’t find enough ideas or firms working in this small space. However, we received more than 150 applications in less than ten days. We filtered them, conducted one-on-one interviews and completed other steps before selecting ten finalists who pitched their idea at the Gouna Film Festival.”

One of the ideas that stood out at the Gouna Uplift Pitch Competition was that of Droovy. Droovy is a startup that aims to capitalize on the massive success of the film industry in Egypt by becoming the market leader in the interactive movie industry through designing, developing and creating engaging viewing experiences. The startup utilizes virtual reality technology to give the viewer alternative scenarios of a particular scene or ending of a movie.

“[In the Gouna competition], we had a prominent panel which included Nagib Sawiris, Sherine Reda, Nardine Farag, Amer Ramsis and myself, and three winners were selected. From that point, we discovered an untapped track of marrying entrepreneurs and filmmakers. We are so proud to have received two patents, one recognizing the first-ever entrepreneurial pitching event at a film festival and the second recognizing Gemini as the first-ever Egyptian company to create a new track within the entrepreneurial scene, which is CinemaTech; startups that use technology for development in the film space,” added Thoma.

Activities and partnerships to expand CinemaTech

Farah Abdelkader, senior programs specialist at Gemini Africa, encourages young entrepreneurs to join the conversation and get involved with CinemaTech. “Everyone is encouraged to join one of our workshops. For instance, we just had a hackathon in Aswan a couple of months ago, which was a big success. Young practitioners are the ones who know what is missing in the film industry. All they need is a solid idea and a solid business plan, and they can approach us.”

According to Abdelkader, the Hackathon addressed five challenges in the filmmaking industry where technology could be leveraged to improve the industry in those aspects. “One of the challenges is concerned with adapting the filmmaking and viewing experience for differently-abled people (cinema for all), where one idea leveraged voice technology and coloring technology to improve listening to and watching movies for the hearing-impaired,” said Abdelkader.

“My personal favorite challenge was ‘staying script focused’, which is about digitizing scripts to improve accessibility,” added Haitham Khalil, CEO and founder of BingBong Studios. Khalil also gave a glimpse into another challenge related to props and wardrobe explaining that he was particularly impressed by one of the ideas presented, which utilized virtual reality to simulate the filming location for set directors and art directors who want to be connectedly involved in the production with their directors and directors of photography.

“Gemini has created a venue where young entrepreneurial filmmakers can bring their ideas and projects to life. It’s a wonderful hub that is much needed in the industry,” emphasized Tania Kamal Eldin, associate professor of practice at the AUC department of the arts.

“Students and entrepreneurs need to get on-ground to figure out what is lacking. Attending all those events and film festivals such as Gouna Film Festival and Cairo International Film Festivals gives you the opportunity to learn so much through workshops and masterclasses where you can start bridging the gap between cinema and technology,” said Abdelkader.

Abdelkader added that Gemini is partnering with other organizations and events in the region apart from the more popular ones to decentralize the cinema and film industry. “We’re not only focusing on Cairo or focusing on where the industry is happening, but we want to expand more. That is why we partnered with Luxor African Film Festival, which tackled the African cinematic scene, and we are currently partnering with Aswan Women International Film Festival, which focuses on women in film.”

“All industries are becoming tech-based and are going to technology to find solutions, so that’s what we’re doing with the cinematic industry to make it as advanced as possible,” said Abdelkader. “We position ourselves as a bridge between the prominent startupsstartup and the advanced creators in the filmmaking industry. However, we are trying to cater to the entire pyramid and reach the lower-level beginners as well, who are our young talented generation. We want to engage them through CinemaTech,” added Thoma.

A success story

Khalil of BingBong Studios shared his journey in CinemaTech. “Around three years ago, I decided to invest in this new entity called BingBong studios. The idea is entirely focused on the creative side of the business and how to link it to the business world of the media industry.”

“The idea was born out of the fact that an essential part of the creative process is scriptwriting. It requires talent, craft, and a lot of logistics. So, I partnered with a couple of colleagues who work as head writers for TV shows in order to help scriptwriters hone their talent and provide them with essential skills that they might not be aware of, especially for commercial scriptwriting, through workshops and other activities,” said Khalil. “We thought this would be a good initiative from our experience seeing very passionate and talented scriptwriters who don’t have the necessary skills for commercial production and for working in the commercial space.”

BingBong is a creative writing agency with a mission to connect brilliant writing talents to the media industry, through building a network of creative storytellers. The company capitalizes on their internal collective experiences on both the creative and business fronts. “We are in the business of creating classics, specialized in the craft of storytelling and taking our pride in having a stellar network of global and local production partners that actualize and monetize our creations,” said Khalil.

However, Khalil emphasized that the journey wasn’t easy and continues to be challenging, especially that they launched at a time when the industry was beginning to change. “We spent the first two years mostly going through trial and error, seeing what the market needs, understanding how to modify and be flexible. The industry also changed a lot, with the biggest disruption being the introduction of digital platforms such as Amazon Prime, Shahid and Netflix, who came to the region and changed the game completely,” added Khalil.

“We are trying now to bridge that gap by understanding what the new platforms need and what the new production rules are and then connect that with the creative ideas that are trying to grasp the grassroots creative movements,” said Khalil.

Khalil went on to explain how they ended up working in CinemaTech. “We already had a couple of big projects going on, writing for Amazon Prime’s first show here in Egypt in addition to a couple of films and TV series. When we sat down with Gemini, we discussed the whole ecosystem, and we thought that we could either be compliant and reactive to the market changes, or we can drive it.” Gemini has supported BingBong in expanding its range of services where the startup offers scriptwriting and storytelling services that include synopsis, character profiles, character arcs, seasons map, pilot design, season beats, episodes scripts and script doctoring.

Khalil praised Gemini Africa’s direction and effort in CinemaTech and its extensive support for BingBong Studios. “Gemini has an audacious vision about disrupting the whole market, identifying problems in the market, introducing digitized solutions and providing access to those who have talent, ideas, distribution, ready projects, etc. but don’t know how to break into the market per se.”

“What is exciting for us now is the whole picture of the ecosystem. If we have the digital platforms as buyers, supported by the advertisers, as well as free platforms such as YouTube, and we have the creatives on the other side and the link between them that is now represented by the agencies and production companies, then digital solutions can really bridge the gap, and our company is just one of them. We are providing virtual workshops supported by on-ground activities and workshops in Cairo, Luxor, Aswan and other places to nurture young talent and actually get their work produced,” said Khalil.

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