David Zennie makes movie magic in the UAE
When most kids his age were out playing, David Zennie was developing short-film concepts and coaching actors almost twice his age. The Lebanese-American filmmaker, who directed his first commercial at the age of 14, has produced videos for artists such as Karl Wolf, Joseph Attieh, Qusai, Sandy, the Foreign Beggars, Sofia Marikh, Yo Yo Honey Singh and, more recently, Bollywood star Akshay Kumar.
The Dubai resident’s videos have blended Arabic and Western cultures in a way never seen before, allowing him to accumulate more than 30 million YouTube views for his work.
He recently ventured into B-Town to film a song for the movie ‘Khiladi 786’ and walked 7DAYS through the process from concept to completion. Zennie, who has a portfolio that would be the envy of many video makers, modestly explained: “This was our first time actually being part of a music video that’s associated with a film so it was a new experience for us, to be honest.
“Usually we’re specifically doing projects that are music-video based with an album in mind but in Bollywood obviously they have several different formats and forms.
“Each [song video] is part of the movie and the story is intertwined, so we need to be briefed from the movie-side as well. We meet with the actual director of the movie, the artists and then together we’re able to create a unique video for that piece,” the filmmaker added. While a film might take a year or more to make, videos can be delivered in a week or quicker.
“Khiladi was a two-day shoot and it was based between Dubai and Hatta,” said Zennie. “It was a very quick turnaround.
“Two days to shoot then the rest of the week for editing.” Zennie also discussed his experience working with Bollywood stars and movie crew and, contrary to what many artists may assume, the B-Town team gave the director complete control and were grateful for his Dubai expertise.
“When they came to us they had a general idea of what they were trying to do,” he explained. “We know how to use the locations to fit that concept.” He added: “The company that hooked us up with a Ferrari for the ‘Khiladi 786’ shoot, ended up sending us the car with the number plate ‘786’ without us even asking for it.
“Coincidently the owner of the company had this licence plate!”
So how many ‘takes’ does it take to shoot a video?
“It’s hard to determine the amount,” Zennie said laughingly. “One particular scene could even take an hour and a half or two hours.
“In the case of Khiladi, for example, because the concept is about driving (the song is called ‘Long Drive’) and it was in a surrealistic dream, a lot of the music video was based around them driving the car.
“For that alone we had to go up-and-down the street, back and forth several times.” Funnily enough, the director neither speaks nor understands the languages of so many of the music videos he films. It appears that the music itself is dialect enough for him.
He said: “Because we’re working on Arabic music videos and Punjabi music videos and now Hindi music videos - none of which I understand [the language] - we have
to rely on the beat and how it changes with the music.”
Zennie believes that the lack of language understanding is what makes his videos even better.
“It’s because we’re feeling the music and paying very special attention to how the performers deliver their lyrics in correlation to the beat,” he added.
DUBAI DAZZLES ON SCREEN
Dangerous animals, exotic cars and daredevil performers are what movie makers from around the world come looking for in the UAE, according to video director David Zennie. “We’ve done requests before for cheetahs or jaguars, exclusive cars, tanks and even flame-throwers,” he said. “The opulence and wildness factor attracts directors to the city. No matter how crazy the request is - it seems Dubai has the answer.
“We can execute anything,” Zennie added with a cautionary note.
“There’s limitations to every idea obviously, but there’s also a plan of execution for every idea and budgets that go with it. So it’s a matter of finding the right mix between the two.” Speaking of what’s possible, Zennie shared an example of how an unusual ask is achievable in the emirate: “We were looking to get some cheetahs for a project and we just put a post out on facebook once to see what happened. “Within hours a guy - with not one but two cheetahs - replied.”
He said the most sought after locations in the city are Burj Khalifa and the Burj Al Arab helipad. The Dubai skyline, especially at night time, is also a huge draw. “Dubai looks fantastic on camera but the trick is really finding a new way to show it each time,” said Zennie. The director, having filmed all over the world, also thinks Dubai has a unique position that offers something special to film-makers.
“I think it’s the perfect location to show a blend of East and West,” he said.