A 1998 marketing graduate from Bentley College, Boston, Mass., Osama stayed on in the States for a further two years during which time he, together with four fellow Bentley alumni, began a venture capital company.
The ‘dot-com’ bubble was growing rapidly, and it seemed every new technology company that was being established was making for itself and its principals a king’s ransom of greenbacks.
“We decided to dabble in the ‘dot-com’ boom. In doing this, we broke every rule we’d learned in school,” admits Osama. “Where we’d always been told not to put all our eggs in one basket, we did exactly the opposite.”
He and his colleagues funded a venture called Lydstrom, which was a concept developed by MIT and Harvard graduates who together invented a forerunner of what would become the model for today’s iPod. Basically what Lydstrom offered was what they referred to at the time as a ‘song bank,’ on which music could be stored, recorded from a compact disc or downloaded from the internet. The system then categorized this music by artist, album, and genre. It also allowed for different selections of music to be played in different areas of the home.
All was going well until the company, and therefore the concept, got sucked into the black hole created by the implosion of technology stocks. Having grown from a US$500,000 company to a US$12,000,000 company in a little over nine months, the business was soon shattered by a combination of unforeseen and uncontrollable events.
Having got his fingers badly burned in this instance, Osama was left undaunted and was soon on the lookout for other opportunities. Freely describing himself today as an entrepreneur in the purest sense of the word, he’s not a man willing to just sit back and sign the cheques. Instead, he seeks an active contribution in all of the projects he involves himself in.
“There are people who are financers of projects; that’s all they do, provide the money. That’s not for me,” says Osama. He is involved in his businesses to the degree where he wants to understand every aspect of them, and demands an input where he can see opportunities to make things better.
An example of this is a product which is now complete and in production. “With 1.5 billion Muslims around the world, there are many who would benefit from assistance with prayer. This could be either by being reminded to pray, or a reminder as to where they are in their prayer. We have developed a product called ‘Al Munir’ as a support for prayer.”
‘Al Munir’ translates closely to ‘The One That Enlightens’. This was a project that Osama has been very closely involved in monitoring and approving at every stage.
Other opportunities are presented to Osama, and some, as you will discover, he creates himself.
On returning to Kuwait, he found himself too inhibited within the strictures of his father’s thriving aviation-based business. A successful move into corporate finance within KIPCO where he oversaw various mergers and acquisitions was not enough to satisfy Osama’s hunger for creative business.
Ultimately, working within any established business was not going to suit the maverick businessman that Osama had become.
His first business venture in Kuwait was to found Eureka Media Group, now an established advertising firm responsible for premier brands including Audi, Lamborghini, Skoda, and The Royale Hyatt Hospital to name but a few. Alongside Eureka Media Group, Osama has also established a number of complementary media companies, including ‘EPR’ as his public relations company.
There can be few in Kuwait as adept at delivering a message as efficiently and eloquently as Osama Bastaqi is.
His newest choice of media for delivering a message, this time through entertainment, is in his involvement in movie production. It is of this that he currently speaks of with most passion.
His interest in movies was inspired by the lack of quantity and quality of local productions, for which he says there are a number of reasons. “The prime reason is simply the scale of the budgets. When you look at a US production, for example, they may tell you they’ve spent US$18 million on it. That eighteen million will translate to either a multi-million dollar profit, or into losses. The important fact though is that there is a market for it. The success or failure therefore comes down largely to the quality of the product.”
In the Middle East, the business is simply not yet on the same scale.
“If I look at my five prime territories,” says Osama, “the U.S., Germany, France, Italy, and Japan – with a movie which cost US$6 million to produce, I’ll take my largest income from my worldwide sales. The Middle East rights I will sell for perhaps only US$75,000. It’s barely worth the trouble, but we sell it for that amount just to penetrate the region.”
That’s not to say that there aren’t high budgets for locally produced work. The highest budget for an Arab movie was just reported at US$7 million for an Egyptian film. For this film, however, the bulk of the income will be generated from within Egypt itself. Even if Osama should choose to break through into the market there, and there’s no reason to suppose that he couldn’t successfully charm, ingratiate and intimidate the ‘movie-mafia’ controlling the local market, it is not where he sees his prime territory to be. His sights are set firmly on the international movie, TV, and DVD market.
“We have talent in Kuwait, and we do have the resources” says Osama. “Already Kuwait has a number of award winning film directors, but none of them are based here; they are all based in the States.” Explaining some of the reasons for this, he focused on two factors – one governmental, the second financial.
“You can even go to many third-world countries and find that their governments are giving support and incentives to film-makers to shoot in those countries. Here, we’re not even close to that yet.”
He continued on finance, “Today, if I want to build a 100-story building, every single person I speak to knows how much it is worth, how much the cost of building it is, and how much it can be sold or rented for. Using this knowledge, they can evaluate the business. If I tell them today that I need US$25 million for a movie, they won’t understand why. I can show them why it will cost 25 million, and then when they ask me why I think it’s going to make money – that’s the difficult part. However, in the States, there are financial institutions which specialize in entertainment funding in the same way that in Kuwait we have institutions that specialize in real estate.”
Of course Osama hopes that one day we may see funding for entertainment on the scale being generated from within Kuwait, but he doesn’t see it happening any time soon.
“I decided I wanted to do it properly, to penetrate Hollywood. I thought, ‘I’ll either make it big, or I’m not going to do it at all.’”
Initially Osama set out to understand Hollywood. The first thing he learned is that “Hollywood is like nowhere else in the world. It’s a fake universe. When you enter it, it changes you.” He continued, “As a business, it’s like a train. It’s going to keep moving, and if you’re going to be on board, you have to jump on while it is still moving.”
Four and a half years into his experience in Hollywood, Osama has forged alliances with some of its top film-makers. In particular, he has had great success working with George Shamiya, an American of Arab origin.
“I had a concept, not re-inventing the wheel, but just one that I hoped would turn the way it rolled a little bit.” Osama and George met eye-to-eye on this concept, and together they have set about implementing it.
They have formed a Los Angeles-based company, Oasis Entertainment, with the aim of producing good, quality family entertainment. The productions that you will see out of Oasis Entertainment have no nudity, no sexual content, no graphic violence or horror.
“We decided to target what sells biggest: Primetime TV, 8pm to 10pm. So we decided to produce content that would satisfy the networks in their aim to capture the biggest audiences.”
And this is where the fictional Jack Hunter comes back into our story.
Having identified this year’s hottest movie genre was to be the action-adventure treasure hunt, Osama and George developed the theme and scripts for the Jack Hunter trilogy. A good sign that they were on the right track was that eight days into shooting the first of the trilogy, they received the news that Stephen Spielberg had commenced filming the latest Indiana Jones movie.
“So, eight days in we knew we were right on target. We released it on the same day as Spielberg released Indiana Jones. I’m very happy that this happened because we got reviewed by six networks comparing our movie to Indiana Jones. Without this, it may not have been so easy to get such a high profile for Jack Hunter.”
With the current success of the trilogy, Osama’s passion for movie production is on a high. There are already plans to extend the trilogy to parts four and five in the Jack Hunter series.
Not only these. Also scheduled for production through the remainder of 2008 and into 2009 are ‘Bigfoot,’ a children’s production that is being filmed in Los Angeles at the end of July, together with ‘Raging Inferno’ and ‘Retrograde,; both of which are due to be filmed in South Africa.
Osama professes that currently his “suitcase is his home” due to the amount of traveling he does. As he travels, he does so with a message, with a mission, and with a passion.
First published in Men's Passion issue #6 September 2008