Mohammed Hassan Ahmed is one of the UAE’s rising screenwriters. His ten years of experience make him a strong force in the development of the country’s film industry.
He recently switched his focus from short films to features and wrote the script for the 2011 UAE drama “Sea Shadow”, directed by Nawaf Al Janahai. He’s written television shows and has worked with filmmakers in neighbouring countries Kuwait and Bahrain.
He also worked on the scenic, silent film “Sabeel” directed by Khalid Al Mahmoud – the only Khaleeji picture screened at Berlinale in 2011.
DFI: Why did you start your career with scriptwriting, given that most people are more inclined towards directing and acting?
Mohammed: When I was young, I contemplated everything; the black abayas that my mother used to hang in the backyard, to the almond tree in my grandmother’s place and the majestic adhan (Muslim call to prayer). All this was creating a beautiful feeling inside me without being able to express it.
When I grew older and discovered the art of writing, I decided to use it to describe what I’m feeling….I never thought about directing. Unfortunately, everybody wants to be a director. There are very few scriptwriters in the Gulf.
DFI: You’re considered one of the pioneers and have worked on several short films. “Sea Shadow” (2011), directed by Nawaf al Janahi, is your first feature. What was that experience like?
Mohammed: All films I write, whether they are one minute or two-hours long, are very similar and need nothing but determination before engaging in writing.
“Sea Shadow” is the first film I wrote that was screened in theatres across the Gulf…I always work with directors close to my heart and mind. I have a problem dealing with a filmmaker I’m not familiar with. I need to know how he eats, sleeps and what he likes. I need to know his little details to make sure I’m presenting my script to a person who will feel it.
DFI: Why do you think there is a lack of scriptwriters in the region?
Mohammed: Writing is considered as a hobby, especially here in the Gulf, and not a means you can make a living from. To embrace it, you should believe, understand and decide.
In short films some directors manage to write their own scripts, but the need for an experienced and professional writer is indispensable. That’s one of the main reasons we lack feature-length films because we are still looking for good scripts and people to write them. We are constantly looking for new talents.
I recently documented all of my work in a book which I called the ‘Silent Light’. It will be released in libraries soon and will include my first screen writings, along with a DVD which documents my experience.
DFI: How closely should a screenwriter work with others producing a film?
Mohammed: I strongly believe in workshops. The script’s first draft is still very raw and you can’t implement it immediately. The filmmaker should read it closely, comment on it and then it will be re-written. The remarks will guide you through to the final draft.
I like to be close to the director up until the day he shouts ‘action!’ At this moment I stop interfering. I just step aside and watch. I get closer to the characters silently. After the shoot wraps, we still meet. That’s the way I work with all filmmakers.
DFI: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Mohammed: They have to take off their shoes as if they are going to pray. Writing is a beautiful world; it’s really fun and very real and loyal, but to do it needs some sacrifices.
The best advice I can make is to watch as many world cinema films as you can, not Hollywood. They should listen to their inner voice during writing so they can paint the reality artistically…They should not call themselves scriptwriters after their first films. They should find good directors.
Those in the industry already should look for talents everywhere because they are there, we just don’t know them and they don’t know how to approach us.
DFI: What is the best script ever in your opinion?
Mohammed: I have watched a lot of films that I never recovered from. I remember the Russian film “The Return”. I’ve always considered it as a complete film.