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Production chill in Mideast

Major studios shying away in recent years

Ongoing unrest throughout the Middle East, spotlighted by weeks of violent protests in Cairo, has added a new chill to the already limited prospects for shooting films in the region.

One production that had been planning to do second-unit shooting in Egypt decided in the past week to go elsewhere, according to Doug Turk, exec VP of broker-risk consultant Aon/Albert G. Ruben.

“We’re not aware of any blanket exclusion currently by insurers in the Middle East,” Turk said. “But for any company that’s observed any kind of turmoil in a country, I’d be surprised if they’d go ahead. If you wind up losing a week, it’s a considerable hit to the budget.”

Major studios have been shying away from Middle East shoots in recent years; the escalation of protests throughout the region has merely exacerbated the situation. Few Hollywood films lense in the region, particularly outside the Persian Gulf and Morocco, site of Atlas Studios. Morocco’s been home to Ridley Scott’s “Body of Lies,” Paul Greengrass’ “Green Zone” and Mike Newell’s “Prince of Persia.” Jordan’s hosted Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” Brian De Palma’s “Redacted” and Nick Broomfield’s “Battle for Haditha.”

Production has been largely limited to independents following in the footsteps of “The Hurt Locker,” which shot in Jordan.

“Black Gold,” the Jean-Jacques Annaud-directed film starring Antonio Banderas, Mark Strong and Freida Pinto, appears to have been unaffected by the area’s troubles. It was shooting in Tunisia during the revolution there and is now in Qatar. And Disney recently started production on an Arabic-language film in Amman, Jordan, directed by Amin Matalqa.

But insurance companies say that filmmakers and production companies now have to consider all options in their palette.

“We see productions in the Middle East when a location is essential to the story and look of the film,” Turk said. “But in the world we live in today, a filmmaker can often go to California, Arizona and Utah to get that look.”

Lloyd’s VP Kiran Bhovan said insurers are still willing to provide coverage — “I’ve checked this out with a few film and contingency underwriters in the Lloyd’s market, and no one has any sense that the market is moving away from insuring productions in the region,” said Bhovan — but they are keeping a close eye on developments.

Fireman’s Fund, one of the larger production insurers, said it continues to monitor the situation in the Middle East and work with policyholders to ensure the safety of the film production, cast and crew.

“Shooting a film in a foreign location could be risky depending on a number of factors, including the political climate of the country, potential for crime, theft of equipment or kidnapping and the possibility of the cast and crew getting ill,” the insurer said. “Fireman’s Fund stays updated on these risks so we can appropriately underwrite the films to ensure the safety of everyone involved.”

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