As one of the few stable countries in the Middle East, Morocco has become an important destination for international productions set in the region.
The country has doubled for Egypt, Afghanistan and Libya in recent times. Swedish director Tarik Saleh’s thriller The Nile Hilton Incident, for example, is set in Cairo but was shot entirely in Morocco’s largest city Casablanca in January 2016, after Stockholm-based production company Atmo decided to drop plans for an Egypt shoot due to security concerns.
The territory’s popularity as a location has been further stoked following the introduction at the end of March of a 20% cash rebate on all eligible expenses.
Productions taking advantage of the new incentives include Universal Pictures’ reboot of The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise, which touched down in Ouarzazate in June, French director Lisa Azuelos’ biopic Dalida, as well as high-profile TV dramas Prison Break, Vikings and Homeland, which shoots in the country in October.
This all follows a busy 2015 that saw Morocco host 20 international feature shoots, including Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi, as well as high-end TV shows including The Night Manager, Midnight Sun and Odyssey (aka American Odyssey).
Morocco’s 20% cash rebate on eligible spending was introduced at the end of March. Approved expenses include hotels, transportation and equipment hire — or anything on which the government is likely to receive tax income.
Local cast wages are not eligible, mainly because these are generally paid in cash. Productions must spend at least $1m (mad10m) and at least 18 working days in the territory.
Full details on financial incentives in Morocco: Centre Cinématographique Marocain
Infrastructure and crews
The steady flow of international productions passing through Morocco over the past decade has resulted in a growing pool of experienced crew. Film-makers can generally rely on local hires for all positions below assistant director. The territory’s growing popularity, however, has prompted reports of a shortage of experienced crew to meet demand.
Arabic and French are the first languages spoken by crew and production staff, although English is increasingly prevalent. Most production meetings end up being trilingual. Producers note that a local Arabic-speaking assistant director is essential for scenes that require a lot of local extras.
Morocco is compact with good rail, road and air networks. Moving around is relatively straightforward, but the roads in big cities such as Casablanca can become congested.
Kristina Aberg, producer, The Nile Hilton Incident
“Local crews were of a really high standard. Even their extras are like actors. It was a different way of working. In Sweden, we’re very organised and try to plan and solve problems before they become a problem. It’s the opposite in Morocco. They often solve problems when they become urgent. It’s just a different way of doing things.”
Would she come back?
“Yes, if I can work with producer Karim Debbagh at Kasbah Films again. He’s one of my heroes.”
First person to call
Laila Tounzi, chief production control services, Moroccan Cinematographic Center
Need to know
- DO take cash. Morocco is still a cash-based society, with wages and bills traditionally settled on Friday. Producers coming from ‘cashless’ European territories or the US need to think about making a provision for cash payments.
- DON’T go it alone. A local line production company is essential. Key companies include Kasbah Films Tangier, Dune Films, Zak Productions, H Films and Agora.
- DO check your line producer speaks English — many are used to working with French production companies. If you don’t speak French, check your line production company has some good English speakers. Trilingual production meetings in English, French and Arabic are the norm.
- DON’T shoot only in Ouarzazate and Marrakesh. Morocco has a wealth of locations and Casablanca has doubled for Middle Eastern backdrops.