Although it has one of the youngest film industries in the world, Abu Dhabi offers exciting opportunities for global productions looking for something different…
As the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and the region’s second largest city after Dubai, Abu Dhabi has ambitions to become the heart of the UAE’s burgeoning film industry. While the UAE has attracted high profile Hollywood productions such as Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, The Kingdom and Syriana, Abu Dhabi has only recently emerged as a production center in its own right.
Acknowledging the region’s potential to lure big budget foreign productions was being hampered by a lack of any central support and infrastructure, Abu Dhabi has begun to take the building and development of its filming infrastructure extremely seriously. At the centre of this initiative is the new Film Commission, established in 2009 headed by commission veteran David Shepheard.
The Commission’s initial goals have been to promote Abu Dhabi as a viable filming location, with Shepheard making the rounds at worldwide festivals and industry events to introduce the region’s possibilities to international productions. But it’s not just a promotional body; the Commission is also heavily involved in the development of local and regional filmmakers—also providing them with a variety of international internships—as well as building the infrastructure of the industry by providing training, advice and support and acting as a guide for filmmakers coming from other countries. This is particularly important given Abu Dhabi’s conservative Islamic culture, which means there are restrictions on the type of content that can be shot on location there. For foreign productions, the Abu Dhabi Film Commission is on hand from the earliest stages, counseling on the feasibility of shooting a particular script in the region and offering advice on culturally sensitive issues before submitting it for final approval.
As the government is now actively promoting filmmaking in the region, Abu Dhabi is opening its doors to productions from across the globe, which are able to take advantage of a mixed variety of locations, wealth of local talent and access to a wide range of funding.
Locations, Permits and Crew
With its subtropical, arid climate, Abu Dhabi and the surrounding area offers rich location possibilities from wild deserts, pristine coastline, modern cities, historic villages and a multitude of parks and gardens, all within a short distance of each other.
There are no restrictions on the number of foreign crew that can be brought in—usually on a 30-60 day renewable visitor’s visa—nor any rules regarding crew ratios, although shooting in public spaces does require a permit, obtainable from the Film Commission and usually granted within 5 working days. A ground permit will be issued within five to 12 days of application, while an aerial permit takes 15 to 25 days. Reassuringly for crews shooting in a foreign country, the Commission is also on hand to act as a liaison between the production crew, the location and any necessary government departments such as police or transport.
While plans for a centralised UAE incentives programme are currently in development, the Abu Dhabi Film Commission is actively involved in discussion with various government departments to ensure the provision of funding and incentives remain central to Abu Dhabi’s ability to attract foreign coin. And a major responsibility of the Commission is the introduction of filmmakers to financial backers, both private, and organisations.
One of the region’s major funding bodies is the government-backed Image Nation, launched in 2008 as a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Media Company. Speaking to UAE publication The National on the importance of establishing an attractive incentive programme for the region, Stefan Brunner, former CEO of Imagenation suggested “Cities like Abu Dhabi and Dubai are in a position in which they could put together a package which could combine in-kind benefits. I personally think it should be indisputable that any incentive triggers a lot of additional economic activity. I always like the models they run in France and Germany, where any incentive links with nationality and cultural identity. The cultural aspects of it should not be underestimated.”
Until such time as a production incentive scheme is implemented, Image Nation works to develop, finance and produce Arabic and international features, and form strategic partnerships with global organisations including Participant Media (with whom they have committed funds to develop, produce, finance and acquire 10 to 15 films over five years from 2008), National Geographic Films, Warner Bros and Hyde Park Entertainment. Recent co-productions under these partnerships include Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, Tate Taylor’s The Help, Doug Liman thriller Fair Game, Peter Weir’s The Way Back and upcoming films The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, written by UK screenwriter Ol Parker and directed by John Madden, and Tobe Hooper’s Djinn, which is currently in post-production.
Image Nation has also teamed with producers and former DreamWorks co-heads Walter Parkes and Laura MacDonald to create an initial $10 million revolving fund, which will invest in Parkes/MacDonald films developed with DreamWorks Studios, Image Nation Abu Dhabi or other major studios.
Facilities and Equipment
Despite its small size, Abu Dhabi is home to a dedicated network of film production individuals and organisations. The ranks of local crew members are swelled by those with international backgrounds and experience, with most originating in Europe, India and South Africa. The Abu Dhabi Film Commission offers an extensive online database of contacts to help facilitate most crewing requirements. Although almost exclusively based in Dubai, UAE rental houses such as ARRI partner Filmquip Media offer a wide range of state-of-the-art equipment (including ARRI 3D rigs), with good relationships with North American and European suppliers ensuring fast shipment of additional or replacement gear if when needed.
As the major regional production hub developing Arab content, twofour54—part of the Media Zone Authority—is dedicated to positioning Abu Dhabi as a regional centre of excellence in content creation across all media platforms. Consisting of three main business pillars; twofourf54 tadreeb, dedicated to skills training; twofour54 ibtika, which promotes innovation and support and also provides funding to young Arab short filmmakers; and twofour54 intaj, which offers state of the art production facilities, including six HD TV studios and 23 HD post-production suites. twofour54 is central to the long term development of the media and film skills in the region.
Taken from movieScope magazine, Issue 25 (Nov/Dec 2011)