Egypt's young video editor Ahmed Hafez

Published: 5 February 2020 - 5 a.m.
By: Nikhil Pereira
Tell us a bit about yourself and how did you get into the industry?
I was born in Egypt in the early 80s, so my childhood and early teen years were just like any Egyptian kid in the 80s and 90s. I started my career at an early age. I’ve been doing what I do for over 20 years, since high school. My dad used to work at an advertising agency, I would spend my summer vacation accompanying him to work, watching, observing, and learning from a distance since the age of 14. At first I was interested in graphics, 3D and animation. I tried doing that for a couple of weeks, but I got bored and lost interest. I’ve always had an eye for the editing suite. I’d go watch the editors while they work and ask them questions. One day there was a situation where the editor didn’t show up and they needed someone urgently. I said I’d do it. They let me try. This was back when editing was linear. Following that moment I won their trust and they let me take on small jobs. By the time I finished high school I was experienced enough to take on an entire project by myself. I made the jump, without ever being an assistant editor, to work on music videos. By the time I was 18, I had made a name for myself editing commercial shorts and music videos. I wanted to pursue my studies at the higher institute of cinema, but my father was adamant I had an alternate back-up career in place. This meant I studied international business at Cairo University. I was a full time editor and studying business at university at the same time. My first feature film was 45 Days, which I worked on at the age of 22.

Who were your influences?
Director Hadi El Bagoury was like my godfather. I’ve known him since I started working, so he’s definitely had a big influence on me. The first commercial I ever edited was directed by him. I’m also a big fan of Egyptian editor Khaled Marie’s work. When I was younger Man on Fire (2004) directed by Tony Scott and edited by Christian Wagner was the film that influenced me the most. Director Marwan Hamed also has a great influence on me. I consult him on everything I do.

How much of the story-telling onus lies on an editor’s shoulders?
Good movies are all about good storytelling and I see myself as a storyteller. That’s the most accurate job description for a film editor. I put my vision and techniques into telling a good story. My favorite aspect about editing is the endless possibilities; you get to experiment over and over until you have something you like. My ultimate goal is for the edit to be smooth, almost to a point that it’s invisible. That’s why they call it the invisible art. Right now, I am working parallel on different projects. These include Shahid’s original series Every Week Has a Friday, Netflix’s Paranormal and Mohamed Diab’s Amira.

What could you tell us about Netflix’s original series: Paranormal by Amr Salama
Amr is a good friend and we have worked on Tayea a couple of years ago. He’s one of the most creative and passionate people I’ve worked with. He’s especially passionate about this project. Paranormal is based on a widely popular book series in the Arab world. Add to this, it’s a Netflix original series. This is big and I’m proud to be part of it. Netflix’s standards make the workflow different than anything I’ve worked on so I’m enjoying this new challenge.

Clash was a dramatic, critically acclaimed historic film, tell us the experience of working on it.
Clash was definitely one of my most challenging and therefore favourite projects. The entire movie is set inside the back of a police vehicle at a historical time in Egypt. The fact that it’s a one-location setting and that the whole story happens over 12 hours meant that you had to maintain a changing timeline, make sure the viewers don’t get bored. It’s dangerous, sweaty, cramped and claustrophobic. It’s real drama. It’s deliberately not an easy watch. The editing had to capture that sense of a horrifying immersive experience. Blood boiling, intense, and very fast.

Having spent a fair amount of time in the industry what are some of the trends you have noticed regionally?
The TV industry in the Arab world used to have a certain traditional form of 30 episodes to fit the Ramadan season and that didn’t give you enough space to be creative. Today the TV viewing experience is undergoing an evolution as people are buying into the idea of video on demand service, this gives us more time for better productions — creatives are no longer having to compress the story into 30 episodes, you’re working on telling a good story regardless. In addition the Arab film industry is flourishing and expanding as well. In 2018, four Arab films competed for the Palme D’Or at Cannes. In 2018 and 2019, Lebanon scored two Oscar nominations. Our target as filmmakers is evolving — the changes are allowing us to compete on a global platform, reaching different markets.

How has the industry evolved since you first began?
I started of my career on linear video editing system, and today I edit digitally. This has made the technical part much easier, which lets us cut, copy, and paste, change the order of scenes in any way and make any changes desired. That means endless options, and again that’s my favourite part, experimenting again and again and again until you’re completely satisfied with the end result.

What changes would you like to see take place in our industry and region?
I’m generally optimistic about the changes taking place in our industry. What I’d like to see change in my part of work is for post-production to have more time in the film’s schedule. Dunkirk, for example, spent a year in post-production. It’s very rare for this to happen in our region.


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