Ooredoo’s recent video commercial based on the popular Netflix series Money Heist has become a hit among viewers – and two alumni from Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar) have played key roles in its success! VCUarts Qatar is a partner university of Qatar Foundation. 

VCUarts Qatar Class of 2018 co-Valedictorian Dimitri Yuri developed the script and directed the filming, while Class of 2016 alumna Saadia Khabab designed the costumes for the cast.

Prior to directing the commercial, Yuri, who currently works at The Film House, the company which produced the film in partnership with M&C Saatchi and Ooredoo, had already established himself as a local film director. One of the films he directed, ‘Falling Leaves’ was screened at the Ajyal Film Festival in 2019 and won the Best Narrative Award under the ‘Made in Qatar’ section.

According to Yuri, the Ooredoo commercial was exceptional – and not merely because his crew were challenged by pandemic-imposed social restrictions.

When we shot the scene outside Ooredoo Tower, I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is so cool; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

He said that to be able to take inspiration from a popular series such as Money Heist, and blend that with Doha’s skyline, is a creative process that most filmmakers dream of.

Photo by: Talha Belal (www.TAL7A.com)
Photo by: Talha Belal (www.TAL7A.com)
Dimitri Yuri
Dimitri Yuri

Yuri – who was also the Assistant Director for Champions of Hope, a short film produced on the occasion of the inauguration of the Education City Stadium – was only 12 years old when he first aspired to be a filmmaker. Yet, when it came to choosing a major at university, he opted to study Art History.

He said that even before he joined VCUarts Qatar, he had his heart set on filmmaking. He said that he wanted to study something that would give him a different perspective of the world in general – so that when he eventually started working in films, he would have a different interpretation on a scene or story. He said that studying Art History seemed the best pathway for that.

One of the benefits of studying at VCUarts Qatar in Education City, according to Yuri, was the access it gave him to students in other universities.

As it was clear that I would be making films, it helped that I could make friends with students at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q); I could discuss my ideas, and work with them on short films and other media content.

Yuri has built a network of friends – and future collaborators – across Education City. Today, if he is working on a project that requires the services of a graphic designer or a software developer or dubbing editor, he knows exactly who to approach. That’s a tremendous advantage that he wouldn’t have, had he studied elsewhere.

Saadia Khabab
Saadia Khabab

In fact, it was that network – an NU-Q alumna and friend – which would help him land a job as a project manager at The Film House. A few months into the job, though, he started creating story boards and proposals for a few clients. The clients loved his work, so much so that within two years, Yuri had transitioned into a full-fledged writer and director at The Film House.

The Ooredoo commercial’s eye-catching costumes have been another reason for its popularity. Inspired by the iconic red jumpsuits worn by the cast in the Netflix original, the wardrobe was developed by fashion design alumna Saadia Khabab.

Khabab had already completed half a dozen projects with The Film House, when she was approached by the filming company to design the costumes for the Ooredoo commercial.

 Being offered the opportunity to design costumes that had such popular references is a dream come true for any fashion stylist. I was delighted, as the show itself was a favourite of mine.

For this specific project, she said that the challenge wasn’t so much in designing the costumes, as it was in having the costumes ready amidst the pandemic-imposed restrictions.

I still managed to source the textiles and have them tailored within the deadlines, and the cast were pleased when they tried them on – they looked as if they had stepped out of a Money Heist episode!

As she talks about her years following university, Khabab says that costume design was hardly on her mind when she graduated from VCUarts Qatar. Like most new fashion design graduates, she was keen to work with a local or regional fashion brand.

After a stint as a freelancer for various local fashion enterprises, she received an opportunity to design costumes for the Al Jazeera TV series ‘About Cinema.’ She said that the opportunity at Al Jazeera took her back to her training in university. Her brief was to design period costumes for the series.

Designing period costumes requires an immense amount of background research, a skill that my undergraduate studies had ingrained in me.

My instructors had emphasised the need for every detail – from the purpose of the design, through the tailoring methods, to the way a garment fit the historical context – to be explored in depth.

She said that she didn’t realise it then, but today she knows for certain that she would not have been able to traverse such a variety of projects, had it not been for the rigorous mentoring – and confidence – that she received at VCUarts Qatar.

For more information about VCUarts Qatar, visit qatar.vcu.edu.