Morocco has eclipsed the rest of the Middle East and North Africa as a shooting location in recent years and its popularity shows no sign of abating.
State body the Moroccan Cinema Centre (CCM) signed off on a record 700 shooting authorisations in 2016 and more than 20 international feature productions filmed in the territory over the year.
The country’s relative peace and stability makes it an obvious destination for any productions with a Middle Eastern setting when so many other territories in the MENA region are out of bounds. In 2016, the country stood in for Iraq in Per Fly Plejdrup’s Backstabbing For Beginners and Jason Hall’s Thank You For Your Service; Egypt in Lisa Azuelos’ Dalida; Lebanon in Brad Anderson’s Beirut-set High Wire Act and Afghanistan in Anca Damian’s Moon Hotel Kabul.
Further productions passing through included Anurag Basu’s romantic comedy Jagga Jasoos, Kim Nguyen’s drone pilot romance Eye On Juliet, Arnaud Desplechin’s Ismael’s Ghosts and Mathieu Turi’s sci-fi horror pic Hostile. High-end TV shows stopping off included Prison Break, season two of The Missing, Sherlock and Vikings. It has been just as busy in 2017. The country has so far housed French comic-strip adaptation The Adventures Of Spirou And Fantasio and Jackie Chan-starrer Desert Storm, the biggest Chinese production to shoot in the country to date.
As with everywhere, Morocco’s popularity has its pros and cons. On one hand, it means an ecosystem of good crew and services has taken root. On the other, it has driven up their cost and put pressure on availability.
None at present. The introduction of a 20% cash rebate announced in 2016 is on hold amid debate over whether or not beneficiaries should promote a positive image of the country on film. CCM argues such a stipulation does not make sense given 90% of incoming productions are not set in Morocco, but outgoing ministers thought otherwise ahead of elections in October 2016. The incentive remains in limbo until a newly installed government tackles the issue. Requirements that a production spends at least $1m and 18 days in Morocco will also put the rebate out of the reach of many incoming shoots.
Full details on financial incentives in Morocco: Centre Cinématographique Marocain
Infrastructure and crews
A strong ecosystem of line production companies and crew has taken root in recent years. Producers say technical expertise is good but note there tends to be a higher headcount on Moroccan crews. The country’s two main studios are situated in the southern province of Ouarzazate: Atlas Studios, which is spread over 20 hectares, and bills itself as the largest such complex in the world, and the newer CLA Studios.
Morocco covers 710,000 sq km, making it twice the size of the UK. It is served by generally good road, rail and air networks although outlying areas can be harder to reach. It is a 70-minute flight from Morocco’s main airport in Casablanca to Ouarzazate.
Eric Gendarme, producer, Full Time Films’ Hostile, says:
“We went to Morocco for the desert landscapes having also considered Spain. Alongside around 12 French crew, we employed 40 Moroccan crew, including electricians, machinists, grips and stuntmen. They were all very experienced. A number of them were also working on Vikings, which was shooting at the same time. By and large we had an excellent experience but you should take into account that Moroccan crews have different workflows and practices. They always find a solution to a problem but they have a tendency to leave things to the last minute. You need to be very clear about your needs.”
First person to call
Need to know
- DO work with a local line producer. Full Time Films was supported by Hicham Hajji’s H Films. Other reputable companies include Kasbah Films, Dunefilms, Zak Productions and Agora Films. Also consider a Moroccan assistant director to instruct the local crew, who speak French and Arabic.
- DO when shooting in Ouarzazate, check out the Fint oasis and the nearby town of Skoura with its 17th century Kasbah Amridil and famous palm groves.
- DON’T forget Morocco is still very much a cash society, if you are handling payments rather than through a local line producer.
- DON’T schedule a shoot for Ramadan, when many Moroccans are fasting and tend to work shorter hours.