It has been a high-profile couple of years for the United Arab Emirates capital of Abu Dhabi. The iconic Etihad Towers played a starring role in one of the most spectacular chase scenes of Fast And Furious 7, in which the characters of Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker drive a sports car from one of the eight skyscrapers to another.
In 2015, Abu Dhabi’s desert landscapes formed the backdrop for the frontier planet of Jakku in Disney/Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, while Netflix spent 22 days shooting in 20 different locations across the territory for David Michod’s War Machine. Abu Dhabi stands in for Afghanistan in the satirical comedy, which stars Brad Pitt as a US general.
In addition to Hollywood, some 25 international productions have chosen to shoot in Abu Dhabi. These include the Indian action comedy Dishoom and the emirate’s first Telugu-language title, DJ, directed by popular Tollywood filmmaker Harish Shankar, which brought in 120 crew members and 40 dancers.
Abu Dhabi has worked hard to attract these international productions. It offers a generous 30% tax break and has created an audiovisual sector aimed at serving local and international productions. Like Morocco, its main regional rival for Middle East and desert-set works, the territory is characterised by political stability and a culture of law and order.
Abu Dhabi Film Commission (ADFC) is the first port of call for incoming films, overseeing the incentive as well as connecting productions with relevant local bodies and services. Alongside the commission, the film and TV services department of Abu Dhabi’s twofour54 media hub supports the logistics of incoming productions, providing office space, production and post-production services, location scouting, help with permits and access to local crew and talent.
As well as being a tax-free territory, Abu Dhabi also runs one of the only audiovisual cash rebates in the Middle East and North Africa, offering 30% on all production spend in the emirate. This also covers travel and accommodation when the booking is made through the Abu Dhabi Media Zone Authority travel agent. Although the production does not have to be set in Abu Dhabi to qualify for the rebate, the emirate takes care to select projects that are good for its global image. In addition, Abu Dhabi will also help fund set builds, especially if these facilities or backlots can be re-used or the infrastructure is beneficial to the overall audiovisual eco-system.
Full details on financial incentives in Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi Film Commission
Abu Dhabi spans 970 sq km. There are plans afoot to build a proper metro system but in the meantime the emirate is served by a comprehensive public bus system. Visitors tend to hire drivers or take taxis, which are plentiful and relatively cheap. Official metered cars are silver; pink cabs are for women and children.
Infrastructure and crews
The twofour54 media zone has 11 stages and studios. There is growing expertise in large-scale set construction and as the size and number of productions shooting in the territory increases, Abu Dhabi is fast becoming a regional hub for local and international crews.
Harish Shankar, writer-director, DJ, says:
“I particularly appreciated the close assistance offered by ADFC, who helped me to discover different locations to support the storyline and facilitated the filming process for us. I found the whole experience to be very smooth and everyone was very co-operative.”
Rohit Dhawan, director, Dishoom, says:
“It was a memorable time filming in Abu Dhabi. Working with the ADFC has been very streamlined — they delivered what they promised. On top of that, Abu Dhabi has fantastic locations that have given us beautiful scenes.”
First person to call
Mohammad Khawaja, Abu Dhabi Film Commission co-ordinator
Tel: +971 2 401 1917
Need to know
- DO work closely with Abu Dhabi Film Commission and twofour54.
- DO take time out to visit sites including the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and soon-to-be opened Louvre Abu Dhabi.
- DO dip into the local talent pool. Alongside international crews, Abu Dhabi is home to a growing pool of homegrown technicians.
- DON’T be scared to ask for what you want. Abu Dhabi remains a relative newcomer to the international locations scene and is eager to please. War Machine benefited from the support of the Abu Dhabi military, for example.
- DON’T forget your sunhat and sunscreen — it is hot. The best time to shoot is October through to March.