Abu Dhabi eyes greater role in film industry

While already an established location for regional productions, a growing number of international film and television projects are taking place in Abu Dhabi, as major Hollywood and Bollywood franchises are drawn to the emirate by government incentives and an expanding production base.

Attractions and incentives

The broad range of locations available, including cityscapes, desert, beaches and highways, is a major draw for producers. However, support from the emirate, primarily channelled through Abu Dhabi Film Commission (ADFC), represents another key contributing factor to Abu Dhabi’s growing popularity.

Incentives include a rebate of up to 30% on production costs across a range of formats, such as film, television series, documentaries, post-production work and digital content services. Advertisements and music videos also feature in the rebate scheme, which was introduced in 2012.

Other support, including fast-track permit approval and local post-production capacity, has also played a part in attracting international industry players.

In the works

The Indian action thriller Dishoom is among the latest international projects to come to the emirate, with filming scheduled to take place over a five-week period in the coming months.

Mini Sarma, general manager of 7 Media, a production company which will be involved in the Dishoom shoot, said the incentives have played a key role in attracting Indian filmmakers.

“I think Abu Dhabi was chosen by the makers of Dishoom because the government was fully supporting the project,” Sarma told local media in September. “The rebate was a major factor.”

One of the emirate’s biggest projects to date, the blockbuster will be shot in sets and on location across the emirate. A crew of 90 is travelling to Abu Dhabi for filming, though the shoot is also set to create opportunities for local film actors and support services.

Noura Al Kaabi, CEO of twofour54, Abu Dhabi’s media free zone, also sees the scheme as an important tool for building a larger industry in the emirate. “The rebate policy attracts international filmmakers to shoot and produce prominent movies in Abu Dhabi,” she told OBG.

New projects, old favourites

Scenes for the latest instalments of the Star Wars and Fast and Furious franchises were among the recent productions to be shot in Abu Dhabi, along with a number of Indian-backed movies.

Regional productions are also increasingly choosing the emirate as a base, due in large part to twofour54’s mandate to promote Arabic-language media and entertainment.

The re-launch of "Iftah ya Simsim", the Arabic version of "Sesame Street", is proving to be a high-profile project. Off air since 1990, the popular programme returned to the Middle East’s television screens at the beginning of September. The show is currently airing on 16 television stations throughout the region, as well as on social and digital media platforms, with 26m views and 92,000 YouTube subscribers to date.

Cairo Arafat, managing director of Bidaya Media, which produced the reboot of "Iftah ya Simsim" at twofour54, believes such projects offer accessible educational programming for the broader Middle East. “The region is starved for educational programmes in Arabic, so to now have 'Iftah ya Simsim' available on multiple platforms should have a significant impact on the media offering for today’s youth,” she told OBG.

While international productions often grab the headlines, regional producers remain the mainstay of Abu Dhabi’s film industry, though the ratios could shift as the industry gains further international traction.

Knock-on benefits

The financial benefits to the emirate of attracting overseas productions are likely to be considerable. Longer-term crew stays could provide a boost for Abu Dhabi’s hospitality sector, while local contractors in the logistics, services and technology sectors could find their skills in greater demand.

Mick Flannigan, head of ADFC, said Abu Dhabi was sharpening its focus on developing related infrastructure for the film industry. The nuts and bolts of the sector, he told OBG, covered a broad spectrum ranging from costumes, hair and make-up to equipment supplies.

The pool of available regional talent can also offer substantial cost and time savings, according to Paul Baker, executive director of film and TV services at twofour54. “Given Abu Dhabi’s proximity to India, we can leverage the skills and experience of Bollywood to help develop the skills of locally based professionals. India is just a three-hour flight away,” he told OBG. “The Star Wars set, for example, was built by a team from India and completed ahead of schedule.”

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