Parisa Siddiqi is the Founder & Director of Doorway Entertainment. She is a TV Producer & Script Writer and has produced amazing projects such as the first season of Masterchef Pakistan on Urdu1. We were able to ask her a few questions and get some insights into her career and find out, how she works! You can follow her on Twitter @ParisaSiddiqi
Tell us a little about your background?
I’ve always been interested in writing but when I went to Canada as a student, I had absolutely no idea what to really pursue. Media wasn’t really a great choice in Pakistan and I ideally had thought of getting a business degree such as a BBA. While studying there, I realized I was a lot more interested in other elective subjects. A cousin in America who was a documentary filmmaker suggested that New York film academy offers a generic film making diploma course that could help me decide what path to take. That was precisely what I wanted to do. The media scene in Pakistan meanwhile had started to pick up.
After I returned, I began my journey from A&B Entertainment. I wrote a script for their project and a year down the road they offered me the “Head of content” position. Taking that job was the biggest shift in my life. The system is different abroad. Here in Pakistan the format, process and language were new for me. My grasp on writing Urdu wasn’t the greatest and this is where that learning curve became visible. My boss, Babar Javed told me I’d have to eat, sleep, think and write in Urdu in order to make a mark as a content producer in Pakistan and his words always stuck with me.
Initially, I used to read scripts and give my observations. Then I moved on to editing. Eventually, I got to a position where I felt confident writing my own scripts. During my time there, I supervised around seventy scripts and produced four of my own. I ended up writing the sequel of the hit drama Mera Saayin.
What inspired you to start your own company?
I had always been enterprising or entrepreneurial in some way. Pakistan had an abundance of production houses producing content but the one thing that even they were always in search of, was a good script. I thought of a possibility of that one place that could offer a one-stop solution for screenwriters, producers as well as channels and founded Doorway Entertainment. This company became a hub for whoever needed quality scripts. It also broke the conventional process of scriptwriting in Pakistan. Here, it’s usually an individual art. While my idea was inspired by what happens internationally. I fancied how a team of writers collaborated and put scripts together for a single project, whether it was TV or Film. It’s broken down into pieces, and each person is given a character or episode to develop. I believe it gives us room for fresher ideas. Monotony is broken and it’s a possible solution for writer’s block. The more minds come together on a story, the better it turns out to be.
Doorway Entertainment was the first of its kind in Pakistan. Nobody was doing this when I founded it in 2014.
How does the work process transpire?
It works in a bunch of ways. We put together a team of writers that brainstorm for newer stories and later assign two to three people to collectively write it. We are cognizant of our client’s demands or preference. At times, if we watch, read or witness something, ideas spark. The basic idea is moulded into a storyline. We pitch it to the channel, and if they approve of it, we develop the episodes. Other times, the channel gives us a theme to work on, for example, a social issue or a love story.
What other challenges did you face in the job?
When I started ten years ago people were willing to try out different stories and there was more variety. Creatively, there was more freedom as compared to now. The entertainment industry has always been very cautious about what to put out there and what could aggravate. We always receive guidelines from the channels. When it comes to a general tone, I feel that writers have lost their creativity simply because of being restricted too much. I’ve literally heard from channel heads not to show powerful women as they often make a show “lose its audience”. We are told about a certain target audience that can relate to the content.
We knew the demands of the masses, but we also found out a solution by producing at least two or three offbeat projects to strike a balance. It’s a commercial field and we are bound to look after the interest of our clients, running a business. However, if some instances really throw you off, you straight up refuse to work on it.
Who are the people working for you?
Inhouse, I have about 5 to 6 co-writers who brainstorm ideas with me. How the model works is mostly based on outsourcing writers. I have over thirty writers on my outsource panel to whom I assign different stories. If I feel a specific writer could write well on a particular subject, I hand the idea over. I match writers with the ideas they are better suited to write on. We introduce writers to the industry. New writers who don’t get a chance and whose work gets ripped off, we provide them with a platform and the security that their ideas will remain confidential.
How is your work setup like?
It’s not a very extensive one. Our writers are spread out pretty much all over Pakistan. So meetings are rarely conducted in our office and usually take place on calls and video calls. Anybody who wishes to write can come and connect with us, even homemakers. Now with Doorway, they’ve found this avenue through which they can work from home.
There is a widely known belief that scriptwriting is stressful and writers work relentlessly without breaks. How much of this is true?
To some extent yes, the problem with our industry is that is still very small. Teams are small and resources are limited. Some days you can even work up to 12 to 16 hours a day. If you are required on the set of a project, it gets stressful. When I was working on Masterchef, we met 3 to 4 months of extensive labour since it was a reality show of a very large magnitude.
However, unless you have a project or a deadline to meet, it’s not that crazy. We get ample amount of time to devote to one project.
What book are you reading currently?
I just finished reading Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. Currently reading Dongri to Dubai by S. Hussain Zaidi. It’s a history of the Mumbai underworld and I’m actually working on a script of a similar genre so this one is more research/inspiration.
Any specific software or gadgets your work requires?
For Urdu scripts, we use Inpage. And for English scripts, I use Final Draft. Gadgets wise, I’m very technically challenged. I have a basic laptop and luckily my software needs don’t require something too specific.
How do writers co-ordinate with directors? Are there conflicts?
If you’re lucky as a scriptwriter you’ll get an understanding director willing to communicate well with you. Usually, you’ll find them having issues with the script and you tend to get into debates. It can transform into a healthy debate too if you welcome their suggestion and feel it enhances the script. A lot of times though, especially nowadays with the number of productions and change in culture, nobody really sits together for a discussion of that sort. The script gets changed a lot on set and sometimes we’re not asked. Writers, I still feel have not received their due importance or relevance, usually dictated by content departments in channels.
The trickiest part of your job?
Writers are sensitive souls. When you’re head of the company and tell the writer what’s wrong with the script, they’ll be taken aback. They will sometimes defend it to death and I know where they are coming from, being a writer myself. Trying to keep an open mind and keeping everybody happy in that situation is the trickiest in my job. I must convince either the channel to accept the writer’s piece of art as it is or try to convince the writer to make amendments. Keeping that balance is tricky. Every time I hire someone, I warn them how it can be taxing to manage writers and it’ll have to be the hardest job you’ll have to do because you’re basically dealing with very sensitive souls, very passionate about their work.
The biggest mistake you ever made?
So many! To be honest, it’s a series of a lot of small mistakes along the way. Right at the beginning of my career, in my learning phase, I was asked to supervise a script. My boss asked me what I thought of it and I said it’s a good, decent story, still doubtful in my head. He read the script and found it absolutely ridiculous. It was funny but embarrassing and he was immensely disappointed in my judgment. After that, I really started to understand what a good script feels like. Something or the other keeps challenging me along the journey but these mistakes help me hone my skills.
What advice do you have for people opting for this career?
If you believe in something, then keep going at it. I feel I was able to stick it out in this industry because I was adaptable. This can be followed by working hard. There is no substitute for working hard, whatsoever. The biggest part of a writer’s life is facing rejection, as well. You would cheerfully take up your idea to a producer or a channel that would conveniently rip it apart. It’s shattering, You’re connected to your idea. But you have to stand back up and get over the rejection. My film school directing teacher had said make whatever you want and go crazy with your ideas. Because once you go out of here, you’re going to have to make what people want you to make. I understood it years later when I got on the field. So keep going in the face of it to get the results. Eventually, you’ll become thick-skinned.