Nayla Al Khaja Discusses Filmmaking And What It Takes To Be Successful

Nayla Al Khaja is the CEO of Nayla Al Khaja Films (previously D-Seven motion) and her community venture ‘The Scene Club’. She recently bagged the coveted ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ at the 2017 Gulf Business Awards among numerous other accolades.

Now a successful businesswoman she has not lost sight of her true passion for filmmaking and has worked towards the development of the UAE film movement. We caught up with this gifted director to get her insight into filmmaking and the UAE creative industry.

What got you into you film?

It happened gradually over the years. My Father is a film collector and I grew up watching a lot of movies. We watched everything from Hollywood to Russian. I was mesmerized by storytelling and knew I always wanted to do something creative.

Was film your first venture into the creative field?

No. Initially I studied graphic design. One day I stumbled upon a production crew and volunteered my services. It was then that I took film seriously and decided to go to Canada and study filmmaking. I also own an art gallery and paint. However, I intend to keep this discreet and sign under a different name. Painting is more of a hobby to me and film is my profession

What differentiates painting from filmmaking and why did you choose film?

Painting is more solitary and with filmmaking I get to meet people and work with a team. It's also very flexible and not a one-man show. I love being around dynamic people and it also fulfills my appetite for business.

Was there a particular aspect about storytelling that got you into filmmaking?

I think it was my exposure to different cultures at a young age. My father is very international and as a young kid in the UAE I was fortunately exposed to many cultures way back in the 70s.

Do business decisions influence your art form?

No I do not compromise on the art itself. But I’m also not a hardcore art or complete commercial filmmaker, I believe I’m somewhere in between. However, marketing does play an important role in business decisions since filmmakers must maximize exposure

How should filmmakers market their film?

Firstly, marketing must be part of the plan irrespective of the films budget. There are lots of ways to do this – one can hold a press conference, hire a sales agent or get the right distribution partner. There are over 3000 film festivals worldwide and that makes it impossible to send a film to all of them because it becomes too costly. Filmmakers must research and select the ones that are right for them and send their films accordingly.

What is it like being a woman in a male-dominated industry?

Although woman account for only 8% of the global film industry I don’t ponder upon it. I think it is also an advantage in a way, filmmakers should not be judged by gender but by the quality of their films. These days there are film festivals dedicated exclusively to female directors - so that helps as well.

Brief us on your upcoming feature film and Why now?

I recently wrote the script and shot a 30min pilot for my feature film titled –Animal. I sent this to a few film festivals and It was well received. It also won best film in the short narrative category at the Italian movie awards. Once the final script is locked I will raise money towards it.

Do you have a favorite genre?

Thriller and Suspense. I like films that are a bit dark in nature and definitely want to do a horror film in my lifetime.

Tell us a little about 'the scene club'?

The scene club is a private cinema by invite and for members only. It is not designed to make money and with this project I just wanted to give back to the community. We now have 3 full-time staff working at the club and this allows me to focus on my other business ventures as well.

The scene club recently announced #madeintheuae initiative. What is that about?

Made in the UAE is targeted at not only emiratis but anyone that lives in the UAE. We do a one hour in-depth review and have 3-4 individuals from the production dissect the film. They each get a 10min slot to describe their part and their challenges. It's almost like watching a live cooking session before you finally eat the meal. We will have our fifth screening very soon.

What is your view of the UAE creative industry and what changes would you like to see?

There’s so much happening in the UAE. Both the government and individual businesses are constantly establishing new initiatives. Fine arts and music is really booming. However, I would like to see a system where part-time/freelance creatives are given certain concessions to work legally. It is quite difficult for a startup or small business to bear these expenses.

You are also becoming a social media personality. How did that come about?

I started in April this year and but I’m not very consistent! I recently launched my youtube channel and decided to call it Flogging – which is basically a film-maker vlogging. I just thought the term fit right in! We intend to release content regularly and already have the next four episodes ready to go. I've also ventured into anchoring and did ten episodes for the NDTV – Elife collaboration.

What is your advice to individuals who want to get into filmmaking and to young filmmakers?

To those that are interested I would recommend finding a production in town and intern with them. They’ll be happy to have extra hands on set. This will also help you analyse what you really want to do and which department suits you best. Those that are already doing it (young filmmakers) be patient and improve your craft. A good benchmark is to look at films that have won awards at various festivals and compare the quality of your work to theirs.

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