Last Friday I was invited to the launching of Shankaboot, the first web drama series in the Arab world, which took place at Art Lounge Karantina, where we were introduced to the project by the producers and also got to exclusively watch 3 episodes of the series (Episodes 1, 2, & 6).
This webseries tells the story of Suleiman, a 15 years old boy running his own delivery business in the streets of Beirut, who one day accidentally bumps into Ruwaida, a young beautiful girl dreaming of becoming a star, and his friend Chadi who got him into a trouble.
Here’s a video of the producer Katia Saleh introducing the project, recorded using my phone.
And below is a summary of the project taken from the press pack distributed at the event.
Shankaboot is a collaboration between four organisations based in Beirut and London. In mid-2009, the BBC World Service Trust teamed up with Batoota Films, Zico House and the Welded Tandem Picture Company to develop the project. The idea was to create a fresh and challenging drama for young Lebanese audiences; the vehicle was to be the Internet.
Web drama remains new and relatively uncharted territory. Whilst several UK and US productions have gained massive followings, there is no established recipe for success. From the outset, there were clear risks attached to making an Arabic web drama. Would it take off with a young Lebanese audience? Could local Internet connections cope? At first, the answer was “we hope so”. Six months down the line, with some of Lebanon’s leading creative talents on board and growing interest from web users across the country, the answer is most definitely “yes”.
A well established producer and filmmaker, Katia Saleh was the obvious choice as the driving force behind the series. She has been assisted throughout the development process by Welded Tandem’s Chris Carey, who brings nearly two decades of drama and reality-TV experience to the project. The BBC World Service Trust provided the funding as well as a long track record in devising socially responsible media content. Over the past six months, the production has been based at Zico House, one of Beirut’s leading creative arts agencies.
The first challenge was to source a writer or, preferably, a team of writers. The makers’ determination to uncover and mentor fresh talent led to the decision to invite young writers from across the Arab world to pitch their ideas. The response exceeded expectations and a small team was selected to take part in an intensive story-lining workshop in Beirut. It was here that Shankaboot was conceived. Following the first workshop, six young writers from Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine were commissioned to write the first episodes of the series.
The idea had always been to exploit the internet’s potential to facilitate interactivity and audience participation. Shankabooters will not be passive viewers. Through Shankaboot’s bespoke, bi-lingual website users will be able to communicate directly with the characters; propose solutions to specific challenges; and help to develop future storylines.
The first season will comprise around 30 webisodes of 4-6 minutes each. The episodes will be released on an ad hoc basis – dates and times will be published on the website. Shankaboot’s audience will be largely responsible for shaping the second season.
I leave you now with the first episode, don’t miss checking the website www.shankaboot.com.