Nayla Al Khaja

Just the Job: Producer/Director

16 Jul 2011

Nayla Al Khaja, 32, shares her story of being UAE’s first female producer and setting up D-Seven Motion Pictures

My day actually starts with a bit of a lie-in. I get up around 8am as it takes me about an hour and a half to get ready. I know that seems like a long time but I’m a trained make-up artist so, to me, it’s important that I look my best at all times. I take a long shower, then do my make-up and finally choose what abaya to wear. I love all the different styles and patterns you can get on an abaya now, so I’ll take my time choosing the right one. I live in Mirdif so it takes me 20 minutes to get to work and I usually aim to get there around 10.30am. This might seem late but it works for me as I perform better in the evenings.

Currently, five people work for me and I don’t think we’ll get any bigger as I like small, independent firms. I love being at work because I’ve designed it to feel like someone’s study; it’s cosy and immediately puts people at ease. There’s nothing I like more than spending an afternoon writing away in my corner overlooking the lake in Dubai Media City. Once there, I’ll have a run-through with my team who’ll tell me where they’re at on their separate projects. I hate long meetings and prefer tweet chats where everyone sums up where they are in 140 words or less!

I’ll spend the morning on the phone catching up with clients. At the moment, we’re producing a couple of corporate films and I need to make sure everything is on schedule. Corporate films and photo shoots for ads are our bread and butter, but my dream is to eventually just produce and direct feature films. This was my ambition when I set up my company in 2005 and I think we’re well on the way to achieving it. My last short film, Malal, which I wrote and directed, won The Golden Muhr 1st prize at the 2010 Dubai International Film Festival. It had been a long film shoot in India and winning this prize really made it all worthwhile.

Most of the clients I’ve had have been great to work for, but I’ve had the odd one who will treat me condescendingly because I’m a woman. They either think I don’t know what I’m talking about or will flirt with me in the hope of getting a better price. But I know what to look out for and how to deal with it. I refuse to be priced cheaper because I’m a woman.

I normally have a late lunch and tend to order in. I am lazy when it comes to food, preferring quick and easy meals like pasta as I never have time to cook. This is a big downside to my job. My work life and home life have pretty much become one and the same, with my evenings either writing pitches for potential clients or scripts for my own films.

I’m often asked if I’ve ever fancied taking on Hollywood and my answer is no. Dubai is more open to new things than anywhere else. One of my very first projects was a photo shoot with tennis champion Roger Federer for Vogue. It was at the top of Burj Al Arab and I shot and directed it – where else in the world would a relatively new company have the chance to do that?

I usually get home around 9pm. I’ll make something quick and easy to eat, then sit down to go over my schedule for the next day. At the end of a long week, all I want to do is sleep, but I always make time for my family. I’ll go to my aunt’s who lives near me and spend the day by the pool with all of my cousins and then have dinner with friends. My family hasn’t always been supportive of what I do but, as my company has grown, they’ve been able to see how important it is to me and how much I enjoy it. I think what worries my family most is how much of my time my job takes up. But I’m not married, so why shouldn’t I devote as much time as I can to something I love?

I’m currently in the process of pitching a script to Hollywood actor Andy Garcia, so we’ll see how that goes. Aim high, that’s what I always think. Why not? You ask for the world and you just might get a few countries.