When The Platform premiered on Netflix in September, it was an immediate hit. The show's ominous and riveting storyline took audiences to the front lines of cyber warfare and into the depths of a terrorist cell. It dominated Netflix's trending list within a week of its release.
While the show's success was not entirely a surprise, Emirati producer Mansoor Al Dhaheri says he never expected it to trend in both regional and international markets. It was the coronavirus pandemic, despite all the challenges it has presented for the industry, that brought an opportunity for The Platform to go global.
The Arabic show was initially set to premiere on regional TV channels, but Al Dhaheri says that as stations began to impose budget cuts to weather the hardships of the pandemic, the show was forced to find a new home.
“That’s when Netflix stepped in,” says Al Dhaheri, who is also the founder and chief executive of Filmgate Productions. “I think they made the right choice with our project and, thankfully, it did very well not only in the Middle East but also in the United States and in several European countries, such as Germany.”
However, the show's success and large fan base has also dialled up the pressure on the cast and crew to deliver a worthy follow-up.
The first season of the series – which was the first Emirati production to get a worldwide Netflix release – introduced viewers to Karam, a genius programmer working with a team of hackers to leak classified information to the public through an online portal. However, he soon faces trouble as a number of groups around the world – including a terrorist organisation associated with his father – try to stop him.
Now, as the show begins filming its second season, Al Dhaheri says the team are working hard to not only meet expectations, but to exceed them. The next series will ramp up the tension, deliver more action-packed scenes and introduce several high-profile actors to the show. The team of hackers in the show will also be noticeably larger, Al Dhaheri says.
The show is being produced by Filmgate Productions in collaboration with Al Kalema Productions – both UAE studios – and is being shot in various locations around Abu Dhabi, including a studio in the Khalifa Industrial Zone, where scenes set in the show's fictional Arab city are filmed.
Part of the programme's appeal, Al Dhaheri says, is that there have been few shows in the high-tech thriller genre produced in the Arab world.
Filmgate Productions, which worked on the coming Pierce Brosnan heist film The Misfits, wanted to ensure it brought the same level of craftsmanship and workflow to The Platform.
“It was important that the show reflects the society we live in. We brought on board Hozan Akko, who is one of the best scriptwriters in the region, and he created a futuristic interpretation of the challenges we face in the region,” Al Dhaheri says. “Once we saw the first finished episode, we knew we had something different.”
Another factor that helped contribute to the show's success is its impressive cast list. The Platform brings together a number of celebrated actors from Syria and the UAE, including Maxim Khalil, Salloum Haddad, Leen Gherra and Mahira Abdelaziz, to name a few.
"For the first season, it took us a long time to find the right cast," Al Dhaheri says. "We discussed the script with every actor who auditioned, seeing how they felt about the script and where they imagined taking the character. I'm happy we managed to get some of the best talent in the region."
Some of the renowned actors joining the cast in the new season include Oweiss Mkhallalati, who plays Sakher in the hit show Al Hayba, as well as Dayaa Dayaa actor Bassem Yakhour. Egyptian director Yasser Samy has also joined the production and is set to be one of the series' co-directors.
“They were all fans of the first season and they were excited to get on board,” Al Dhaheri says. “We also wanted to bring several people of determination on board as well. They have been cast in various roles, including as part of the tech team. We wanted to show that people of determination can do anything.”
Among the cast are two winners of the show's TikTok competition that launched last month, which called on fans to act out scenes from the show in a bid to land a guest role in the coming season. Submissions, Al Dhaheri says, were in the millions.
The Emirati director says the team had to get creative with how they marketed the show in the midst of Covid-19 restrictions. "We didn't expect so many people to take part." He says the competition made him realise just how widespread the show's fan base was.
“It certainly puts on some pressure. We want to make sure our fans are just as impressed with the second season,” he says. “But we have a lot of surprises in store for them.”