Scriptwriter Tamer Habib has made a name for himself as the pen behind many popular romantic comedies and romantic dramas like Taymour W Shafika, Sahar El Layali and Hob el Banat.
Despite a schedule packed to the brim, he still managed to find time for us. Taking full advantage, we dove right into his new script and probed him a bit about how he’d like to spend Valentine’s Day.
By Mariam Elhamy
You used to work in finance, quite a career shift into film, how did that happen?
I always felt that I would have something to do with cinema eventually because it’s been the love of my life ever since childhood. At first, I wanted to be an actor, then I wanted to become a director. I was really good with literature in school and I used to write. But I wasn’t accepted in the high cinema institute because I didn’t have the right connections.
After I graduated from business school, I worked a regular 9 to 5 job that I hated. For 3 years I was doing something I didn’t like, so I was really depressed. One day I had a nervous breakdown and I decided to try and apply again to the high cinema institute, coincidently it was the last day for applications and I saw it as a huge sign. I was accepted 2 weeks later and it was a new start for me.
What advice would you give to people who want to do the same but are terrified by the idea of starting too late or failing?
Follow your dream. For me it was more like gambling, but I took my chances. No matter how old you are, keep trying and if you really want the dream it will happen eventually.
Do you prefer scriptwriting or acting? Why?
To me, scriptwriting is my job, but acting is the lighter perk that I can have fun with. When I did a few roles I felt I wasn’t that talented of an actor, as much as I was a writer, which I believe is the gift that God gave me.
Being a writer, I get to act out all the characters in the story. I cry when they cry, I laugh when they laugh and so on, this is everything to me.
Has acting given you insight into the effort made by actors when portraying the characters that you write?
I’m the kind of scriptwriter who’s always there on the location from day 1 until the end, starting with the casting until the last day of montage; I’m always there. I feel like my projects are my baby and they need all my care.
When I started going to the location a lot I realized later while writing that some of my ideas are not really doable or actionable by the actors. But I feel I became more reasonable with my writing, I achieved a balance between my imagination and what can actually be done.
What inspires your stories and how do you build the characters?
I’m usually inspired by the people around me. I love it when people tell me that they relate to a character that I’ve written and that they see themselves in them. Like the case in Sahar El Layali and Hob el Banat, many of my friends told me after that they feel exactly the same way the characters felt in the film.
Furthermore, my material comes from my friends and the people around me, and of course, everything I’ve ever read or seen. Being a social butterfly, I easily learn the pattern of how certain people act or behave.
Which film genre do you love the most?
I’m in love with musicals. It started with The Sound of Music, Grease, Moulin Rouge, Nine, Chicago, Rocketman, and The Prom. Even with plays, when I go to London I have to go see a musical every single day.
Why do you mostly choose to write romantic comedies?
I love this genre. I believe that Fatin Abdel Wahab was the first to create it before the term romantic comedies even came along. He did so many romantic comedies like Zizy’s Family, Ah Men Hawaa, Al Zoga El 13, and Eshaat Hob.
A romantic comedy is a feel-good movie that people can watch for an hour and a half and forget all their worries and just feel happy and loving. I even enjoy it when writing, I felt joyful for example while I was writing Taymour W Shafika.
Speaking of Taymour W Shafika, many people disagreed with the way that after all the fighting, Shafika still gave up her role as a governor to stay with Taymour, what made you choose that ending?
I realized way after that I had created chaos without even realizing it. I didn’t intend for it to have this meaning I just wanted love to win.
Right before Taymour W Shafika, I was always told that I write strong and important female roles in films, like in Hob El Banat which is starred by a female cast. For me this wasn’t a mistake, Shafika didn’t become a housewife at the end but love still won.
How did it feel being a jury member of RFF-Revart Film Festival, Egypt’s first online vertical festival, do you believe it was a great success?
I enjoyed it very much, and yes, I think it was a great success. I believe that the cinema industry in Egypt is very important and any chance or event for people to see more different international films – especially since cinemas here only play Egyptian or American films – should be celebrated.
We know that you’re writing the screenplay for the remake of the classic film Anf w Thalath Oyoun, based on the Ihsan Abdel Quddous novel, what can you tell us about it?
Ihsan Abdel Quddous opened my eyes to the world at the age of 13, and surprisingly Anf w Thalath Oyoun was the first novel I ever read. Ihsan is an expert in telling stories about the relationship between a man and a woman, he was able to anatomize it and dissect it. Through his literature, I was able to peak into a secret world I knew nothing about.
I have a very deep emotional connection with Anf w Thalath Oyoun, the characters are very rich emotionally and the story takes place in the 60s, so I have to take all that and transform it into our modern world, kind of like what I did with La Totfee El Shams.
When Khaled El Sawy approached me about making it into a series or a film, I didn’t mind working on something that has been done before, because every piece of literature can be completely different than the other even if the basis of the story is the same.
What’s your favorite book?
I read all of Ihsan Abdel Quddous’s work and I love it all. I also love The Unbearable Lightness of Being and One Hundred Years of Solitude. I feel that European and South American literature are very advanced and daring.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a novel called Shellet LeBon. Seven childhood friends meet every year on New Year’s Eve to play poker at their friend’s apartment in the LeBon building. Now that they’re in their 40s and 50s they reflect on each one’s journey and where life took them.
It’s a social romantic film based on the novel written by Hisham Al-Khishen, and directed by Sandra Nashaat. It has the kind of drama that I like working on because it involves many characters.
Love or hate Valentine’s Day?
Hate. It’s very fake with all the stuffed bears, flowers and hearts. And we don’t have to love each other on February 14th, we should love each other every day.
Have a fun-packed day or get a gift you’ve been wanting for a while?
Fun packed day.
Would you get your loved ones a box of chocolates or flowers?
Stay in or go out?
Go on a weekend getaway or spend it here with your whole family?
Get a gift or get someone a gift?
Get a gift for sure.