“Things are happening a lot faster than I anticipated,” the Saudi native says. “But it’s great because for the last 40 years we haven’t had our stories come out—I’m not even talking about the world—I’m talking about come out even to us.”
Abu Alsamh, who previously was the chief commercial officer of the Saudi Broadcasting Authority, is responsible for overseeing all Saudi content and development projects for MBC Studios, the in-house production arm of the Saudi-owned free-to-air network giant MBC, as well as expanding the content production industry in the kingdom.
With 13 different regions and a population of 30 million people, two-thirds of whom are under the age of 35 and hungry for content, Abu Alsamh says it’s an extraordinary time to be a filmmaker in the country.
“People are eager to be part of this prosperous industry,” she says. “There are parts of the country that even I, as a local, don’t know much about. So, every time I get scripts in from different areas of Saudi, I get very excited because it’s such a first step and everything is new. We have so many stories to cover that haven’t been represented to us yet.”
Abu Alsamh was instrumental in facilitating the two biggest Hollywood productions to shoot in the country: the $100 million + actioner Desert Warrior, with Anthony Mackie and Aiysha Hart, that shot in the country’s Neom region, and Kandahar with Gerald Butler that was shot around AlUla.
“It was so important to have these productions here because it laid out the ground rules for other productions to come,” she says, noting that the experience the local crews were able to take away from these projects was invaluable. “Whenever I go onto these sets, I always talk to the interns to see how they are doing, how the experience has been for them, and it’s always like a dream come true for them to have this opportunity to work on a production without having to leave the country.”
The exec is especially looking forward to their upcoming series Rise of the Witches, which is one of the country’s biggest-budget TV series to date. The story is based on a Saudi novel and tracks the rise of two witches’ covens that eventually go to war with each other.
“It’s very edgy and very modern,” Abu Alsamh says. “It’s mystical and fantastical and such an exciting piece of material for us to work on and offer to audiences.” The show features an all-Saudi cast and is also shot in Neom.
MBC is also busy with a local version of The Office. “Our workspace is so unique and not open to anyone,” Abu Alsamh says. “Families don’t know how their kids work in offices and it will be great to portray this interaction between men and women from different backgrounds being put together in one space. I’m really excited about this opportunity.”
Abu Alsamh also heads up the MBC Academy, an education and training platform with the aim to discover and up-skill Saudi talent. “We’re booming at the moment, so we need an abundance of talent and we’re always trying to grow our local skillset through this,” she says. “It’s important to recruit new faces, get acting coaches and build our industry from the ground up.”
Abu Alsamh is particularly passionate about empowering women in the business. As the mother of two daughters, who also has three sisters, Abu Alsamh says it’s a huge directive for her to facilitate getting female Saudi voices heard in the film and television sector.
“From a company point of view, MBC has always had a thrust to empower women, whether it be in productions or empowering executives within the organization,” she says. “It’s very holistic, comfortable and a diverse place to work. But personally, I am very passionate about empowering women. There are a lot of women in my family, and I feel it’s our responsibility to make this world a better place, as clichéd as that sounds. It inspires me to see what women can do—we are fantastic creatures.”
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