Hollywood’s love affair with the Emirates
Abu Dhabi - Even the most hardened moviegoer will probably admit to getting a visceral thrill when their home city makes an appearance in a film. For UAE residents, that is becoming an increasingly regular occurrence.
From Tom Cruise trying to outpace a sandstorm and scaling Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, to Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi being the scene of watch-through-your-fingers airborne car stunts in Furious 7 and with cinematic hits such as Star Trek Beyond, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Race, Syriana and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps containing key scenes captured in the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf state is becoming a favoured destination for film crews.
Michael Garin, chief executive officer of Image Nation Abu Dhabi, one of the Arab world’s leading media and entertainment companies, said beyond exposure and enjoyment the movie industry exposure brings economic benefits and creates long-term aspirational opportunities for the UAE.
“The effect of having these productions film in the region not only boosts the industry here, but has a knock-on effect for local creators and local talent,” he said. “A number of our Emirati employees were lucky enough to work on the set of Star Wars and Brad Pitt’s upcoming movie War Machine.
“They provide fantastic training opportunities with local film-makers able to intern on world-class productions, allowing them to hone their skills to then use when working on their own productions.”
This, said Garin, aligns with and supports Image Nation Abu Dhabi’s goal of building “a sustainable Emirati film industry with longevity”.
“Investing in future generations is critical to this,” he said. “We created the Arab Film Studio (AFS) programme five years ago, which offers amateur film-makers world class training to kick-start a career in filmmaking.
“Its programmes cater to narrative and documentary film-makers, scriptwriters, as well as specially designed programmes for high school students in the region.
“We have already seen past AFS students screen their films and win awards at some of the top film festivals around the world.
“This is not just great for the student but incredible for Emirati cinema to be shown on the world stage. Our Arab Film Studio programmes offer some of the best training in the region and it is something we are very proud of.”
While Dubai’s world-famous skyline and landmarks partially explain the emirate’s allure for movie-makers and TV production teams, Jamal al-Sharif, chairman of the Dubai Film and TV Commission (DFTC) said it is about more than face value. Dubai has, he told Emirates 24/7 in a January 2014 interview, made itself an attractive business proposition for the screen world and the DFTC was created to assist and facilitate production companies and film-makers interested in shooting in Dubai.
“Dubai offers a deep talent pool, state-of-the-art production facilities, a smooth permit process and customised soft incentives for those choosing to shoot in the Emirate,” he explained.
As a one-stop shop for producers, DFTC works to streamline the film and TV production processes and helps to find the most cost-effective way of producing projects.
In return, the UAE gets the sort of exposure that defies price tags. Furious 7 — the latest entry in the Fast and Furious franchise — is the fifth-highest grossing film of all time and those who watched it saw about half an hour of the action unfold in and around Abu Dhabi.
Now Voltron Entertainment — of which one of Furious 7’s stars, Tyrese Gibson, is chairman and chief executive — is reportedly looking to build a $700 million film studio capable of filming blockbusters entirely in Abu Dhabi, with studio construction company Pacifica Ventures and Legendary Pictures co-founder Scott Mednick as partners. “We’ll be able to co-fund and become co-producers of these movies and put Abu Dhabi on the map in a very different way,” Gibson told Abu Dhabi TV.
“I want to build a studio on the level of Universal Studios where there’s tourism, residential hotels and we’re shooting the biggest movies in the world in Abu Dhabi.”
Sharif said the film and TV industry has a “vital role in sustaining Dubai’s position as a premier global tourist destination”.
“As Dubai continues to attract more productions and projects, we expect to see an increasing number of tourists travelling to the Emirate for ‘film-induced tourism’ — when film enthusiasts travel to visit the landscapes, locations and sets that they see on screen,” he said in the Emirates 24/7 interview.