July 30, 2010

Racine cinematographer part of Discovery Channel's 'Shark Week'

Hossam Aboul-Magd
The debut Sunday of the Discovery Channel's "Shark Week" has a Racine connection.

No, there aren't any local shark attacks - or sharks at all, for that matter - on the series of shows dedicated to the ocean's most fearful predator. But one Racine resident was up close, really close, to sharks that will be featured in one of the week's episodes. 

Shark Week
Racine cinematographer Hossam Aboul-Magd was top-side cameraman/director of photography for the hour-long show Shark Bites: Adventures in Shark Week. Hossam joined late-night talk show host Craig Ferguson in the Bahamas to film the episode, which airs Wednesday at 9 p.m.

Hossam lives in Racine, but works around the world as a cinematographer for Discovery Channel, National Geographic, History Channel and other major networks. He moved to our city from Cairo, Egypt, and runs he and his wife's company Soura Films Ltd. from Racine.

Hossam's "Shark Week" show features Ferguson jumping into the water to swim with, touch and feed sharks. During the show, Ferguson has second thoughts about getting in the water with the sharks when he realizes he won't have the protection of a cage.

The show features Ferguson's adventure mixed in with highlights of The Discovery Channel's 20 years of running "shark week."

Celebrities and man-eating predators aside, it was just another day at the office for Hossam. He routinely travels the world to create documentaries for cable networks. Prior to shooting the shark episode, Hossam was in  Egypt, Israel, the Czech Republic, the Netherland, Spain, French Guinea and about 10 more countries, shooting episodes of "Solving History with Olly Steeds" for the Discovery Channel.

He also spent time in Michigan's Upper Penninsula shooting a reality series about a couple that owns a private zoo with over 400 animals. Hossam shot the pilot for the series that ran on National Geographic Wild back in April, and the network liked it enough to pick up three more hour-long episodes.

As a cinematographer, Hossam spend nearly all of his time behind the scenes shooting, directing and editing film. Occasionally he gets on camera, like in an upcoming episode on the zoo when a monkey climbs on his camera and steals his classes.

Hossam said he has no interest in hosting his own show. "I'm more behind the camera," he said.

Hossam did get involved with local politics last year when he followed John Dickert around with a video camera during Dickert's successful campaign for mayor. Hossam's hope was to edit the footage together into an independent documentary, but a busy international schedule has stalled the project.

As for the sharks, Hossam said it was great working with Craig Ferguson over four days in the Bahamas. Hossam directed the "top-side" crew, which means he didn't jump in the water with the 20-30 sharks that at one time came to the surface near their boat. Instead, Hossam shot all of the footage on the boat and when Ferguson surfaced in the water.

"We basically had two cameras, one top side, one bottom, to capture all of the moments diving with the sharks," Hossam said.

They wrapped shooting on July 28 and the episode is scheduled to air Aug. 5. That's a really fast turnaround, Hossam said, noting most episodes take 2-3 months to get ready for broadcast.

He said Ferguson was an "absolute joy" to work with.

"He was a professional," Hossam said. "He was very funny, witty and smart. It was a fun show."