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ARABIAN MAGIC

My eyes were open, but I felt like I was dreaming. The Steadicam Operator chatted with my Clapperloader, their silhouettes etched against the radiant sky. The occasional voice pierced the silence as we rigged for an exhilarating night shoot. It was one of the most magical moments of my life. At 18:06, in the peak of summer, the sunset was ablaze. I'll never forget it, and I have a time-stamped photo to prove I was there.

I’ve always cherished diversity and culture, but pursuing my passion in a unique and traditional Middle Eastern country, surrounded by fellow creatives, and getting paid for it was a dream come true. We faced challenges, but we also shared laughter.

 

"Rise of the Witches" tells the epic tale of two rival witch covens in ancient Arabia. Da'ja'a and Afsaar, daughters of powerful wizards, grow up in a world dominated by male sorcerers determined to keep magical powers from women. Both girls struggle to learn the magical arts, forming their own covens to protect themselves and gain power and control over their lives.

 

Playing a technical role in this massive MBC production was surreal. I never imagined that my human body could endure such extreme heat and still function—45 degrees was the highest I recorded. The crew depended on dedicated people to bring water to set, circulating hundreds of bottles of natural spring water daily. In the middle of a desert, this was nothing short of spectacular.

Two dome-shaped studios marked the production site, catching the eye of passers-by on the highway. Ignorant of its purpose, they likely assumed it was a military operation. Saudi Arabia’s forces are powerful, and each morning we navigated through a checkpoint where cars were occasionally stopped for thorough checks. Driving through at a snail’s pace, we often received curious glances from Saudi officials, who were bemused by our distinct appearance compared to the thousands of passing locals.

A peculiar phenomenon marked our journey. Approaching the checkpoint, we had to make a U-turn and take a new road—the highway simply ended without warning. You had to physically turn around, make a right turn, and continue toward Tabuk.

Visiting the country was an incredible experience that I'll be forever grateful for. Of course, there are many differences in culture to that of Western civilisation, and being surrounded by it was a blessing. I was fortunate to find a local guide to show me around on days off, and overall, my experience was positive. Contrary to the often negative portrayal in UK media, these assumptions are misleading and false. Saudi Arabia has a different perspective on life, just as they might find our way of living rather strange, but the country and culture I witnessed was inclusive, community-based and welcoming.

The production itself was extraordinary. Most days, the stunt team catapulted themselves into the air or performed backflips into the sand, reacting to imaginary blasts of magic. Green screens, JCBs, and impressive rigs filled the set, making it an impressive spectacle, and that’s just for the crew. I can’t wait to see the finished product on screens in the future.

 

Based on the best-selling books by Saudi author Osamah Al Muslim, "Rise of the Witches" is set to be a 10-part adventure-fantasy series shot on purpose-built sets in Neom, a $500bn megacity that is under construction in the northwest province of Tabuk, and holds the largest ever budget for special effects for a Saudi production. 

Graham Hebron

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