By Mai Omar and Zainab AbdulAziz
One of Egypt’s best-selling authors and the genius behind the spectacular world of Blue Elephant has taken us on a wondrous ride of dreams, parallel universes, and spiritual presences. We sat down with Ahmed Mourad to pick his brains about the upcoming movie adaptation of his hit novel 1919 starring Ahmed Ezz and Karim Abdelaziz and the complex levels of the writing journey.
Why did you choose the setting 1919 for your book?
The most incredible thing about reading is to visit a world you’ve never been to before. Traveling to a different time has its unique luster. It’s fascinating to read about things that happened in an era which we did not live. We need to escape our reality sometimes and experience different lives and circumstances, and that’s what gives art its drive.
That’s why historical movies have such an amazing resonation with the audience, because they get to meet characters we could never meet otherwise. The events that took place in our country during the year 1919 will never happen again, we were colonized by the world’s biggest empire at the time, Great Britain, for 72 years. The resistance happened from the Egyptian people towards this great army. It’s an era missing in Egyptian cinema which we need to see and enjoy.
Time. My message to the youth is that you’re wasting precious gold by wasting time. Why realize this late when we can realize it early and gain all this fortune? Energy and time can move mountains.
How much time do you spend on research when writing your books?
The process takes from 2 to 6 months, but I never wait to finalize the research before writing. If I waited for this moment I would never start! When I visualize the world I’ll write about, I begin my writing journey. The research continues throughout the entire process until I submit the manuscript to the print house, or the script to the producers.
Not at all! It’s surely challenging, but I find it very thrilling. One must walk a mile in a women’s shoes to understand her.
You have successfully adapted your novels to scripts before, what is the process like taking your stories from the page to the screen?
The process begins by me reading the novel excessively. Maybe twice. I insert the most important events and then develop cinematic aspects which build the scenes.
The most important step completely disregarding the fact that I am the author of the novel. I have to become more biased towards cinematography standards. I dissect the novel and reassemble it according to a new vision for the screen.
This is a nice challenge for me because I am able to give the reader and non-reader something new; I get to include new events and visions which I didn’t have the chance to include initially. It’s like redecorating a house full of pillars, they have to remain untouched but I must refurbish the house to look better and newer.
How hands-on are you with helping actors and actresses play the characters from your books? Any stories to share from the set of Torab el Mass or Blue Elephant?
After Marwan and I finish our script work, we meet with the actor/actress and begin talking to them about the character’s background, basically what came before movie. Then we start addressing their questions, fears, and concerns.
The second stage is the table read; it’s when all the actors, actresses, scriptwriter, and director gather around and read the entire movie. This gives everyone an idea about all the characters in the movie. This is one of the most amusing stages in the process.
Hend Sabri was having doubts about her character and how she was going to approach such a complex character. Marwan Hamed’s comment to her was “it’s not about how you’re going to get in character, it’s about how you’re going to get out of character” It was a memorable funny comment through the entire shooting, and it was based off Khaled ElSawi’s experience during the first installment of the movie … he had a hard time breaking character.
What is it like watching your stories come to life on the big screen for the first time and hearing the response from the audience? Are you ever disappointed by a lack of detail or backstory, or wished you’d gone in a different direction?
It’s an indescribable feeling! I get first row tickets to the movie and halfway through, I like to watch the audience reactions. I could have seen the movie 20 times already by that point, but it’s a euphoric feeling to just watch the audience. I predict when they’ll laugh, be surprised, all their impressions! People laughed when they saw the black dog during Blue Elephant, and that worried me. Turns out, it was nervous laughter and they were calming their fears, because the horror factor took over like expected.
The experience is helpful to a great extent. I never had to go in another direction because the movie is well-researched and planned before we even begin shooting. Overall, it’s an incredible cocaine-like feeling.
There’s a lot of buzz about the upcoming adaption of 1919 starring Ahmed Ezz and Karim AbdulAziz. What can devoted fans of your books expect from this movie?
1919 will be called “Keera Wal Gen”; the names of the lead characters in the book. There are great innovations to the script, a lot of changes and surprises. There will be many helpful details to view Egypt in this troubling time because it’s an action movie taking place in the 1920s. I really hope it’ll be more enjoyable than the novel. I hope the readers of the novel really enjoy these additions.
What are you reading now?
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Something that moved you recently?
I’m bored of …
the lack of people willing to spend more time reading
One subject you’d love to teach?
When I’m feeling spontaneous …
I travel. It’s like cocaine to me.
Last country you visited?
Super power you wish you had?
What bizarre talent you have?
Psychologically analyzing others
Must-have item in your fridge?
Bananas. I am a vegetarian, so I always have fruits.
One thing you CANNOT do?
Send a message to 17-year-old you
Focus, focus, focus
Most prized possession?
Being on stage with a happy audience
One actor you wish to work with?
Movie you wish you wrote?
Palm reading. I actually learned the process for 2 years!
What do we not know about you?
Maybe the fact that I enjoy spending time alone watching movies. I really am a movie addict. I also sing in the shower, I have a nice voice!
Reading. I thought I just enjoyed it as a child, but I really was addicted.
Who did you text last?
One thing missing in your life now?
Dr. Ahmed Khaled Tawfik
Name one thing you had to give up to become where you are today
Anything that wastes my time. When people were going out and taking selfies, I gave that up to read and write.