Middle East's Only Talent Agency Launches in Hollywood

Amr Kouba - H 2016
Credit: Amr Kouba

Amr Koura hopes by opening his Creative Arab Talent agency in Los Angeles he will establish a trust base to help Arab talent penetrate the Hollywood market and vice-versa.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter at the Dubai Film Festival in December, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos said he wanted to create a “really great scripted series about contemporary life in the Middle East.”

With the SVOD giant launching around the entire globe — including the Arab world — just weeks later, the Middle East’s first and only talent agency now wants to help Sarandos achieve that goal.

Amr Koura first set up Creative Arab Talent in Cairo just over two years ago, launching the Hollywood-style 10 percent agency model in a market not used to industry middlemen. Having overcome a few hurdles, most notably convincing talent not used to having an agent to sign up and overcoming derailing attempts by local producers who preferred to deal directly with the stars, the company now has a 30-strong roster, mostly Egyptian actors and actresses.

“We have a waiting list of about 50,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We’re in a unique position because we’re the only people in town — we created a business that didn’t exist.”

Koura says that when Netflix first started looking into prospect of working with talent in the Middle East a year ago the first thing they asked was: Who are the agents?

“And they realized there weren’t any," he says. "So they met with producers and were quite disappointed with the approach because producers have their own way of doing stuff, and Netflix require certain standards.”

As well as a four-agent-strong office in Cairo and another set to launch in Abu Dhabi, Koura is, as the proverb goes, taking Mohammed to the mountain by setting up shop in Los Angeles.

Opening Wednesday, Creative Arab Talent’s Hollywood office will start with just one producer, but a triple-pronged set of ambitions.

“I know this will be a difficult thing, but I want to try to take our talent into the American market or international media scene,” Koura says, adding that he also wants to be the Middle East point of contact when Hollywood stars come to the region, something he says there is a “growing demand” for.

“Thirdly, I want to create content projects, either joint ventures or creating something in the Middle East in collaboration with one of the studios,” he says, pointing to similar deals being done by the likes of Universal and Disney in Turkey.

“Like any agency, we package projects and because we have access to all the top regional talent we can package writers and directors, and stuff that would give them the standards they are looking for rather than just dealing with a producer who does it his way,” Koura explains.

The past few years have seen a moderate number of figures from the Middle East make a name for themselves in Hollywood circles.

Palestinian actor Ali Suliman found roles in Body of Lies, Kingdom and Lone Survivor, while Egyptian star Amr Waked had a major part in Luc Besson’s Lucy and a recurring role in Netflix’s Marco Polo. Behind the camera, Saudi helmer Haifaa Al-Mansour (Wadjda) is currently finishing A Storm in the Stars with Elle Fanning and Maisie Williams, while double Oscar-nominee Hany Abu Assad (Omar, Paradise Now) is lined up to direct The Mountain Between Us, with Idris Elba attached. Elsewhere, Oscar nominee Naji Abi Nowar (Theeb) and rising Emirati talent Majid Al-Ansari (Zinzana) have both been picked up by UTA.

Koura says he expects there to be a lot of collaborations with the main Hollywood agencies and has lined up meetings with the likes of UTA and CAA, alongside Netflix, around the L.A. launch of Creative Arab Talent.

“I really want to keep [Middle East talent] constantly in the minds of Hollywood,” he says. “What I heard every time I met people before I started was that they’d love to have Arab talent, but 'we don’t know who to talk to.' I want to be the guy they can talk to. I’m trying to establish a trust base, and being in L.A. will help me do that.”