New York Film Academy Alumnus Yassin Koptan Brings Cairokee’s “Layla” to Life

January 11, 2018

New York Film Academy filmmaking alumnus Yassin Koptan has done what many young filmmakers dream of doing: he made a music video for his favorite rock band.

Cairokee is a band pushing the boundaries of censorship in their native Egypt. When the General Authority for Censorship of Works of Art would not release the album, the band circumvented their authority and posted “A Drop of White” on YouTube on July 11, 2017. Their song “Al-Kayf” has over 53 million views.

In the fervor of that historic release, NYFA alum Koptan wanted to participate in the moment and make a video that would bring the band to a more global audience.

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Cairokee is well known for their unique style and their political message, so it may seem strange that Koptan opted to make a music video for one of their more intimate tracks. “‘Layla’ is one of the first Cairokee songs with a personal feel to it,” Koptan explained. “I love art driven by political expressions, but I wanted to be way less on the nose about things. ‘Layla’ was one of the few songs where I was able to do that. I wanted to approach things creatively and universally without interfering with the band’s current image.”

The band’s current image is sleek and clean, and Cairokee frequently appears in coordinated outfits. In the first music videos they released for “Drop of White,” each member is dressed entirely in black and performs in a circle. Koptan subverts this imagery in his interpretation of ‘Layla.’ He chooses instead to use bright, almost neon, colors.

Koptan believes a large part of the album’s success was due to the permeating themes of young love. “Everyone I spoke to about ‘Layla’ saw bright visuals when listening to the song. It is the classic boy meets girl love story,” he said.

But the introduction of a bright color palette wasn’t enough of a change for Koptan. His story focuses on an elderly man who wakes up to discover his partner has passed in her sleep. Unable to accept the loss, he does everything in his power to bring her back. At first, he splashes her with water. Then, he tried to jump-start her heart. Eventually, the old man decides he does not care if she’s dead. He’s going to love her anyway.

Koptan elaborated on this decision saying, “I discouraged myself from the safe choice. I decided to make something that truly represented the test of eternal love. What is more painful than accepting the loss of a soul mate?”

The choice turned out to be a rather controversial one. “Audiences in Egypt are not used to stories that mix love and death,” said Koptan.

Even so, many Egyptians’ tagged their friends in the comments section of the YouTube video. According to Koptan, a common discourse was whether or not the video could be considered art.

“No matter which way they felt, I was flattered,” Koptan explained. “The video has over 10,000 views on YouTube and more people watch it every day.”

Specifically, Koptan credited NYFA Instructor William Dickerson with a motto he was fond of using on set. “(Dickerson) told us limitations breed creativity. When we didn’t have enough dresses and suits for the mannequins on set I simply asked my crew, ‘What would our limited protagonist do?’ He would improvise! This philosophy was the heart of the production.”

As with most independent productions, money was a constant struggle. “I did not have all the funds to make the movie until the day before we were scheduled to film,” Koptan said. By working as an editor for a marketing company and freelancing in his spare time, Koptan was able to pull together the $6,000 needed for the two-day shoot.  

Koptan described the work as rewarding. “I had to balance not just earning the finances, but managing them for the film as well. I was the director, producer, and the writer. Each job requires extensive preparation before we could begin production. But, it was all worth it. These are the challenges all independent filmmakers face.”

The New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Yassin Koptan for all of his success. We look forward to the next project.