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Robert Gillings: Revealing the Layers of Saudi Arabia through "Paper Empire"

Robert Gillings: Revealing the Layers of Saudi Arabia through "Paper Empire"

In the realm of television, it's rare to find a series that seamlessly merges entertainment with education and social awareness. Yet, Robert Gillings, the mind behind "Paper Empire," has managed to do just that. With the series preparing to film its next season in Saudi Arabia post the SAG strike, Gillings has set his sights on unveiling the cultural and historical nuances of this often-misunderstood nation.

A New Landscape for Filming

Saudi Arabia, once a closed kingdom, opened its doors to tourism in 2018, revealing its rich historical tapestry dating back to biblical times. Gillings equates his role to that of an archaeologist, digging deep to expose the jewels of the past. "I've been given the opportunity to bring new discoveries and understanding of this region's human history to the screen," he says.

Saudi Arabia’s progression towards women’s rights, particularly under Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman, also influenced Gillings' decision. “There was no decision, I’m here!” he exclaimed when speaking of the opportunity to film in a nation experiencing such transformative growth.

Overcoming the Challenges

But filming in a culturally different and deeply religious country does not come without its challenges. Gillings emphasizes the importance of understanding and respecting the do's and don'ts of Saudi society. Fortunately, the linguistic barrier was minimal, with English being an informal second language in Saudi Arabia.

The Royal Commission of ALULa and key personnel like Charlene Deleon-Jones and Rasha AlEmam made the permit process a breeze for Gillings. In his words, the only real challenge was "packing my bags."

A Focus on Authenticity

Gillings’ primary mission for "Paper Empire" was to provide an authentic representation of Saudi Arabia. He conducted extensive studies of the country’s rich heritage and traditions and collaborated with local production houses, Film ALULa and Yellow Camel Productions, to ensure the accuracy of portrayal. Notably, the series was even vetted by Film ALULa, with Gillings making sure to stay respectful in his depictions.

Shattering Stereotypes

With "Paper Empire," Gillings aims to dispel misconceptions and challenge stereotypes about Saudi Arabia. He wants the series to bridge the knowledge gap about a country that's swiftly progressing towards equality and inclusivity. As of June 2023, the kingdom has made impressive strides in women's rights, from dismantling the guardianship system to introducing aggressive affirmative action programs. Gillings works closely with empowered women like Rasha AlEmam, reflecting the nation's progressive stance.

Appealing to a Broader Audience

"Paper Empire" has a multifaceted storyline that Gillings believes will resonate with a diverse audience, particularly given Saudi Arabia's youthful demographic. The series showcases strong, independent female characters, a reflection of the country’s own shifting paradigms.

Showcasing Saudi’s Natural Beauty

Gillings was captivated by the nation's stunning landscapes. From the historical ALUL'a, tombs of Hegra, and the old town founded in 6 BC, to the architectural marvel of the Maraya Concert Hall, Gillings found plenty of inspiration. He recounts traveling back in time, witnessing historic ruins, incredible canyons, and the unique vastness of the Saudi deserts.

A Glimpse into the Future with Crypto

As a forward-thinking creator, Gillings also delves into the captivating world of cryptocurrencies in "Paper Empire." Through the series, he aims to explore the transformative nature of technologies like crypto, and their potential dark side, such as issues of anonymity and misuse.

In conclusion, Robert Gillings, with "Paper Empire," is not just crafting a television series; he’s weaving a cultural tapestry that enlightens, educates, and entertains. As the series unfolds in Saudi Arabia, viewers are set for a journey through time, tradition, and transformation.

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