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Hollywood classes in Dubai

We find out what it takes to break into film

‘Given the choice, every single person would rather work in Hollywood than any other job – even the president of the USA.’

We’re not sure what Barack Obama would have to say about that, but Kam Junejo has a point. As vice president of talent development at the LA-based American Film Studio, he’s a man who knows the allure of Hollywood well. Arriving in LA in his early twenties, he learned the tricks of the trade working as a producer alongside Dov Simens, the man who taught Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan and Guy Ritchie. Now he tours more than 40 countries across the globe passing on those skills to aspiring actors and directors.

On previous visits to Dubai he coached top Emirati directors Ali F Mostafa (City of Life) and Nawaf Al-Janahi (Sea Shadow), so when he returned to the emirate to tutor a recent Hollywood acting masterclass, Time Out Dubai sat down to hear his top tips for would-be actors. But before we start – is there actually any work for actors in Dubai?

‘Lots,’ grins Kam, a 37-year-old originally from Pakistan. ‘In Dubai everyone is an expat and everyone has to have a visa – but you can’t get a visa as an actor. This is a big problem for studios – but it’s amazing for actors. At any moment in Dubai there are more filmmakers than actors. Anywhere else in the world you have 500 actors chasing every part, but not here. If you want to be an actor in Dubai, there are opportunities here.’ So what other tips does Kam have for aspiring Brad Pitts or Martin Scorseses?

You don’t need to be good looking.
‘There’s a misconception that you have to be good looking to be a movie star – not true. You have to be normal. People like to relate to characters like themselves. If you’re extraordinarily good looking you won’t get cast.’

You don’t need to be talented.
‘My job is to get you in front of the camera on a set, and I don’t care if you’re good or bad as long as you’re out there saying your lines. You don’t have to be a good actor to be a good movie star. Meryl Streep is an amazing actress, but you don’t need to act like that. We want you to act like Adam Sandler, and he is a horrible actor, but probably makes more money than anyone in Hollywood right now.’

Don’t bother going to film school.
‘We have a history of people that have no formal education getting into the industry. I never went to film school – you don’t need that to get into Hollywood. When you look at the people on the Oscars red carpet, they don’t even have high-school diplomas.’

But you do need determination.
‘You need to be in the right place at the right time. No one invites you to Hollywood, you have to do it on your own volition, and you have to have guts. There are some really mean directors in Hollywood and you have to grow a think skin.’

Ditch your artistic pretensions.
We teach people how to get into the business, and show business is a business: a little show, a lot of business. It’s not about art for us. It’s a business and if you want to succeed you need to realise it’s all about money – you go to a cinema and you expect to be entertained. Our job is to provide the entertainment.’

Don’t worry if you’ve never worked before.
‘As a director, I want to discover you – it doesn’t matter how little you’ve done, that’s fine with us. We just want to see what you look like and that you have the confidence to face the camera.’

Above all, be confident.
‘The one thing standing between you and your acting career is your fear. Film actors seem larger than life because we see them on big screens. In reality they’re very, very normal, and most of them aren’t very good.’
For more information on the American Film Studio Corporation, see www.hollywoodsessions.com.
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By Rob Garratt

Time Out Dubai, 27 March 2012