USC Launches Hollywood Boot Camp for Middle Eastern TV Creators (Exclusive)

USC School of Cinematic Arts

The Los Angeles training program for Arab TV writers and producers comes as Netflix and other U.S. digital players target 300 million potential viewers in the region.

Keen to bring high-end TV to the Middle East, the USC School of Cinematic Arts has launched a Hollywood training program for Arabic TV writers and producers.

USC, working with the U.S. State Department, is hosting an initial Hollywood boot camp at its School of Cinematic Arts Complex to run through to August 5. In all, 10 TV writers and another seven producers from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia will participate in a TV writing course that includes Hollywood showrunners breaking down their own hit American TV shows and offering tips on how Hollywood makes TV dramas.

The Middle East Media Initiative also has backing from Arabic TV producers, the USC Norman Lear Center, and American Embassies from across the Middle East.

During their Hollywood stay, the Arabic TV writers and producers will also shadow American TV writers and producers in writers’ rooms, in preproduction meetings or on TV sets. The USC-led program aims to get new local TV shows into the Middle East beyond the usual fare of Arabic language melodramas and slapstick comedies timed for a Ramadan release.

"The participating TV writers and producers are eager to raise the quality of programming in the region, creating content that finally reflects audiences’ real lives," said Rachel Gandin Mark, director of international programs at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, in a statement.

The launch of MEMI follows Netflix investing in local talent by commissioning its first Arabic original series, Jinn, a teenage supernatural drama from rising Lebanese director Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya, who did the 2015 comedy Very Big Shot, and screenwriter Bassel Ghandour, who co-wrote the Oscar-nominated Theeb.

And Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is in talks to take a stake in Endeavor, the holding company for talent agency WME, a move that could similarly see Arabic TV writers tapping into the Hollywood system to create American-style TV series for their region.

Netflix and a host of other Hollywood companies, including HBO, CBS, NBC, Fox, USA Networks, Discovery Channel, Kapital Entertainment and UTA are participating in the MEMI initiative. The two-year program’s director is Deana Nassar, a media specialist focused on Middle Eastern artists, who comes to USC after serving as artistic director of the Arab Film Festival and as the Hollywood liaison for the Muslim Public Affairs Council.