Zayat takes on Homo-sea-pians
By Alixandra Rutnik on Jan 15, 2021
Director & One Club Member create resort ad together
"Homo-sea-pians" are not what you may think... Director Mohamed El Zayat and his creative assistant & One Club Member Carine Howayek worked together on an original ad for Kai Resort in Egypt– Homo-sea-pians. Homo-sea-pians, not to be mistaken with homosapiens, are people of the sea. With the creative play on homosapien and the beachy video footage, this ad is definitely going to make you nostalgic for past days spent on exotic beaches soaking up the sun and salty sea water. After talking to both Zayat and Carine, we have all the details on this unusal, intriguing, and comedic spot that was produced during the pandemic of 2020. Here's to traveling more in 2021!
Zayat, tell us a bit more about yourself as a filmmaker.
Zayat: I am an Egyptian filmmaker living between Cairo and Brooklyn, NY, but I'm mostly in Cairo. I direct commercials, but I am currently working on my first feature film and TV show (I guess when it rains it pours). I have been directing commercials for the last seven years, but before that, I was the creative director for McCann Egypt. I have been trying to take on projects as diverse as possible because directors in the Middle East are not yet as specialized and segmented as in the US and Europe. This happens to be a double-edged sword– on the upside, you have the freedom to try different things and be praised for your diversity. On the downside if you screw it up, this reflects poorly on your whole body of work– no one stops to say, “He is good at comedy, but maybe drama is not for him,” or vice versa. Nope. You just become terrible. I am also a musician.
The film for Kai resort is alluring and obviously in response to the lack of traveling due to covid-19. What was the original brief that you received from the agency and how did you take it from there?
Zayat: Honestly, the agency Elephant Cairo did an amazing job with the script, I literally didn’t change anything, except maybe remove a few lines for duration purposes. What I decided to do is treat it like a stylized documentary (or a fashion documentary). I combined the best of both worlds. On one hand, you want your destination to attract the hippest of the hip, and on another, you want to make a study about the creatures of the sea– homo-sea-pians.
Most of the compositions are an homage to iconic documentary shots like the girls whose faces are right above the water, or the top shot of the sea in the opening of the film.
I tried to feature characters as diverse as possible in terms of age range, attitude, and lifestyle, but mostly belonging to the upper Egyptian social class. I closely looked at the type of people and the stereotype in which they are perceived, then I tried to reflect that with a twist of subtle humor.
The agency and I wanted to be as inclusive as possible in terms of casting and making the film feel organic. The client, however, refused to feature anyone overweight because somehow overweight people don’t go to the beach. I had a long conversation about that, but eventually, I chose my battle and let this one go.
"Most of the compositions are an homage to iconic documentary shots like the girls whose faces are right above the water, or the top shot of the sea in the opening of the film."
Carine, what was your role in creating Homo-sea-pians, and what ultimately defines you as a creative assistant?
Carine: After working for five years in an agency, I decided to step into the freelancing world. I wanted to focus more on the combination of my creative skills with the production side.
I started by working on film visual treatments with Zayat, and bit by bit we introduced the idea of a creative assistant in the region here. My job consists of a variety of things, from coming up with ideas on so many layers during a project to being a creative consultant to the director. I am part of all the stages of a film while working closely with production houses and agencies– this allows me to see all the opportunities in this field.
"My job consists of a variety of things, from coming up with ideas on so many layers during a project to being a creative consultant to the director."
Can you share some details on prepping this campaign to creating its visual film elements?
Carine: The agency and the client loved the visual treatment. The main thing in prep was casting. Egypt is a conservative country, and even though a lot of people don’t live a conservative life, it is really challenging to find models and actors who are comfortable to shoot in bikinis or swimwear in general. We received more than 400 options to go through.
Then we had to put the rest of the elements together, working on a color palette, briefing the art department (Islam Hassan) and the wardrobe team (Howayda Wagdy). We had to scout the location because Zayat and the cinematographer Ahmed Tahoun wanted to make sure we had a “seemingly naturally lit look.” We made sure people looked tan since we were reaching the end of the summer season.
Honestly, working side by side with Zayat and being involved in the project from A to Z only makes me more excited to start every new project.
How was shooting this ad during the pandemic?
Zayat: We shot at the actual resort, but the problem was that it was under construction when we were there. So it was basically a construction site overlooking a bay. That made the usable angles quite limited, so green screens were used to cover up the construction and we did sky replacements in post-production. This is how the agency came up with the idea of “homo-sea-pians–” creatures of the sea, so that they wouldn’t have to get into the details of the resort and rather sell the destination as an experience, (quite smart in my opinion).
The commercial was shot in a single day (14 hours), but we were moving really quickly and the level of efficiency was amazing. We had no time to waste, but we did not manage to get all the shots– we missed two.
One of the biggest challenges was the weather, as the resort happens to be in one of the windiest places in Egypt. It makes this area heaven for kite surfers, but it also makes it hell for any underwater shots due to the crazy currents.
We tried to maintain social distancing as much as we could and production was measuring everyone’s temperature throughout the day. People were wearing masks and production PAs were walking around sanitizing people all the time hand sanitizer.
What was your process of editing Homo-sea-pians and putting everything together?
Zayat: Since the film is a voice-over, I wasn’t quite sure about which shot should go with which line. I was sure I wanted the film to have a mellow pace. That being said, I briefed the editor Neda Ahmed about these things and asked her to have a go at it. She came back with an amazing first cut.
We worked on it back and forth, lengthening parts and shortening others, choosing different takes than the ones used, until we reached a place we were happy with. I changed the music, which affected the pace of the edit, so the editor had to revisit it again after we were almost locked in. It was a smooth process, but a process nonetheless. Fortunately, the editor and I were on the same page from day one.
Where are you most looking forward to traveling in 2021?
Zayat: Honestly I am looking forward to the opportunity to work outside the Middle East and more internationally. In the last two years I have been getting a lot of international attention, but Covid-19 got in the way. It’s not a very easy sell to convince a French client that the best director for his commercial is an Egyptian that you need to fly over from Cairo during Covid-19 times. On a personal level, I miss traveling, I assume just like everyone else.
Carine: I never took traveling for granted, but 2020 made me really miss it. As much as I love revisiting my favorite cities, I know for a fact that I want to explore places that I've never been before. I happen to travel in the region for shoots, so it would be ideal for me to find opportunities to combine both work and travel.
"It’s not a very easy sell to convince a French client that the best director for his commercial is an Egyptian that you need to fly over from Cairo during Covid-19 times."
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