Mideast rebellions scare off H’wood

Producers of many high-profile projects have pulled back

The “Arab spring” has turned out to be more of an autumn for filming in the region.

Hollywood has often traveled to locations stretching across North Africa to the Persian Gulf. Although World War II-era “Casablanca” didn’t venture far beyond the Warner Bros. lot, later movies set in the Arab world went there to capture its atmosphere and textures. “Lawrence of Arabia” filmed partly in Morocco and Jordan. More recently, the region welcomed pics such as “The Kingdom,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “Sex and the City 2” and “The Hurt Locker.”

But now as the whole area is being rocked by turmoil ranging from social unrest in some countries to outright civil war in others, several producers of high-profile projects have pulled back.

“The conversations I’m having are about where we can find the architecture, the vibe and the extras to duplicate the Middle East without going there,” says Rich Klein of Washington, DC-based consulting firm McLarty Associates, who advises studios and producers.

Tony Mark, who was exec producer on “Hurt Locker” and is doing R&D work on a future Kathryn Bigelow project, is also working on a film he described as “dead-set in Baghdad during the second Gulf War.”

“Jordan is the perfect place to shoot the movie, but I’m not sure anybody will want to go there,” Mark added. “It could also shoot in a place like New Mexico, but then you would have to weigh how much more it will cost to turn New Mexico into Baghdad.”

Sensing Hollywood’s wariness, other areas are aggressively offering themselves as Middle East substitutes.

“I’ve talked to producers who are uncomfortable shooting (in the Middle East) and thinking of going to other countries,” said production manager Angie Vlaisavljevic. She suggests Turkey and Macedonia as substitutes for places like Pakistan and Afghanistan. “You have Muslims and mosques, so it’s possible to replicate the Middle East there.”

As expected, filmmakers working in some parts of the Arab world belittle the impact of social unrest on production in their territories.

“You’d be surprised, but it hasn’t affected us much,” said Jordan-based location manager Fawaz Zoubi. He cites productions coming to Jordan from Hong Kong and Sweden, but admits that nothing from Hollywood is on the horizon. Films said to be reconsidering shoots that have been slated in volatile regions include Ben Affleck’s Iran-set “Argo” and Sasha Baron Cohen’s “The Dictator.”

An important factor in such decisions is the ability to get insurance. “In conversations I’ve had with producers and directors, there’s concern as to whether insurance is plausible in the Middle East these days,” Mark said. “And if you can’t get insurance, you’re not going to go there.”

For indie helmers, options are even more limited. “I really wanted very badly to shoot in the Middle East, and begged my producer to make it work, but it’s just too risky. … He couldn’t get insurance,” said Toronto-based Ruba Nadda, whose latest feature, “Inescapable,” has just been greenlit and will shoot in South Africa. “As an Arab, I hope this unpredictability will, in time, (give way) to new opportunities.”

Bookings & Signings

GSK & Associates booked d.p.’s Jaime Reynoso on USA movie “Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe,” Andy Strahorn on Jeff Burr’s “Alien Tornado” and Suki Medencevic on Disney Channel pilot “Madison High”; editors Michael Ornstein on ABC pilot “Partners,” Shannon Mitchell on CW pilot “Cooper & Stone” and Showtime’s “Californication”; and producers Joe Boccia on David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis,” Cheryl Quarantiello on Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” and Ed Tapia on A&E’s “The Glades”; and sound mixers Mark Ulano on Stephen Frears’ “Lay The Favorite,” Richard Lightstone on “Madison High” and David Kelson on A&E pilot “Big Mike.”

Datner Dispoto booked d.p.’s Trevor Forrest on Jesse Harper’s “The Knot” and Bobby Bukowski on Jay Alaimo’s “Chronicle” and costume designer Mary Claire Hannan on David Ayer’s “End of Watch.”

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