Middle East and North Africa

(Mission: Impossible – Fallout image courtesy of Tom Cruise/Twitter)

There is plenty of competition between the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as well as Morocco and Jordan, to attract international productions, which means the financial incentives they all offer are becoming increasingly attractive.

Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is emerging as a major film and TV production hub in the region. It has hosted a number of big-budget international productions over the past 12 months, including Bollywood blockbuster Tiger Zinda Hai, Paramount’s Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Bollywood action thriller Race 3 and 30-episode Riyadh-set Al Asouf. The latter is among a raft of high-end Arabic dramas heading to Abu Dhabi to use the facilities of its twofour54 subsidiary, which provides production services, state of the art studios and a new 20,000 square metre backlot facility, originally constructed for Tiger Zinda Hai. Productions are also drawn to the emirate for the backdrops of its desert landscapes, futuristic cityscapes and luxury hotels.

The country’s armed forces are also an increasing draw for productions featuring complex action scenes and stunts. The Abu Dhabi air force recently collaborated on Tiger Zinda Hai and also gave support for a complex aerial stunt performed by Tom Cruise for Mission: Impossible — Fallout.

The neighbouring emirate of Dubai also offers a desert landscape, futuristic buildings and luxury hotel complexes, such as the palace-like Atlantis The Palm. The film and TV industry is centred around the cutting-edge Dubai Studio City (DSC) facility, encompassing production services, three sound stages, backlots, water tanks, production offices and recording studios. The emirate does not run an incentive scheme although it gives discretionary support on flights with Emirates Airlines and hotel accommodation.

The lack of transparent incentives, however, is likely the reason Dubai has lost out to Abu Dhabi in terms of attracting big-budget international productions in recent months.

Cruise helped to put Dubai on the map as a shooting location with his daring stunt at the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in 2011’s Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. But he headed to Abu Dhabi for a key stunt shoot featured in 2018’s Fallout, the sixth film of the franchise. The production accessed Abu Dhabi’s 30% rebate.

Just a handful of feature productions have set down in Dubai over the past year including mixed martial arts film Twisted Blues.

The emirate also seems to have diverted its attention away from cinema to focus on other types of audiovisual content. It recently opened the first YouTube Space in the Middle East. Based at Dubai Studio City, it offers production facilities and supports networking opportunities to successful YouTube content creators in the region. Dubai also remains a key regional hub for the advertising industry in the Middle East.

Sense of history

Morocco has had a virtual monopoly as the go-to territory for international productions set in the Middle East in recent years, thanks to its reputation for relative stability amid social unrest and conflict in other parts of the region. While Abu Dhabi in particular is emerging as a credible shooting location, Morocco offers backdrops of historic souks and oriental-style architecture and more varied landscapes encompassing the Sahara desert, Atlantic ocean and Mediterranean coasts and the majestic Atlas mountains.

According to figures released by the Moroccan Cinematic Centre, the country welcomed 27 international feature shoots in 2017, against 24 in 2016, many of which were French productions. Further projects included Dante Lam’s Operation Red Sea.

Although Jordan’s popularity as a Middle Eastern location dipped in 2016, due to its proximity to the conflicts in neighbouring Syria and Iraq and the arrival of some 600,000 refugees, the country saw a number of high-profile international productions touch down there in 2017. They included 20th Century Fox’s All The Money In The World, directed by Ridley Scott, and The Walt Disney Company’s live-action version of Aladdin, directed by Guy Ritchie, as well as French productions The Apparition by Xavier Giannoli and Maya by Mia Hansen-Love.

The country has also introduced a financial incentive offering a 10%-20% cash rebate, capped at $1.4m, on spending in the country. To qualify, a production needs to spend 20% of its budget in Jordan, employ at least 60 local crew and train another 20 interns. Aladdin was one of the first productions to tap into the incentive.

Incoming productions have long come to Jordan for its Wadi Rum desert, ancient ruins and iconic sites such as Petra and the Dead Sea but a number of recent productions, including The Apparition, have also shot against the backdrop of its refugee camps.

The Royal Film Commission (RFC) is a one-stop shop for access to Jordan’s locations and offers a full range of production services.

The Lowdown – Morocco

Financial incentives

Morocco recently launched a new 20% cash rebate on expenses for international productions spending a minimum of $1m (mad10m) in qualifying expenses — including travel costs, accommodation, equipment and studio hire — and shooting for at least 18 days in the territory. All expenses are exempt from VAT, which ranges from 14% to 20%. Social charges for crew are also waived for shoots lasting less than six months.

Infrastructure and crews

CLA Studios and the Atlas Studios, close to Ouarzazate, and Cinedina Studios in Casablanca. The country boasts a pool of experienced crew although most productions bring in heads of department. There are a number of well-regarded line production companies, including Dune Films, Zak Productions, K Films, Kasbah Films Tangier, Agora Films, H Films, BO Film Services and Ali N’ Films.

Size matters

Slightly larger than California, Morocco is a compact country with a good rail, road and air networks.

First person to call

Laila Tounzi, chief production control services, Moroccan Cinematographic Center
Centre Cinématographique Marocain

The Lowdown – Abu Dhabi

Financial incentives

Abu Dhabi Film Commission (ADFC) offers a 30% cash rebate on production spend in the emirate.

Size matters

The largest of the UAE’s seven states, Abu Dhabi covers 67,340 square kilometres. It is a two-hour drive to Dubai and a 40-minute drive from Abu Dhabi International Airport to the centre of the city on a modern road system.

Infrastructure and crews

The twofour54 Film & TV services subsidiary provides studios, production support, post-production, and playout and broadcast capabilities. Abu Dhabi’s production capacity is set to grow further with the upcoming opening of twofour54’s new 300,000 square metre Studio City at Mina Zayed, incorporating old warehouses around Abu Dhabi’s oldest port area.

First person to contact

Abu Dhabi Film Commission: info@film.gov.ae

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