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Dubai Film Commission Tailors Its Perks to Foreign Projects

One-stop permit shop with customized incentives lures overseas shoots

Dubai set up its own film commission in May 2012, but it had already been luring foreign shoots, including “Syriana,” “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” and “The Bourne Legacy,” which helped spread the word about what the Persian Gulf state can deliver.

The Dubai Film Commission has now become a one-stop permit shop with a system of soft incentives tailored to each shoot rather than the fixed 30% production rebate launched in September by Abu Dhabi.

Here’s how Dubai’s perks worked for big Bollywood laffer “Happy New Year,” which recently wrapped there, marking the first Hindi feature shot almost entirely in the Emirates. Pic was produced by Red Chillies Entertainment.

“We customized their hotel requirement, their airline requirement, their logistics in Dubai, the equipment that they wanted, and took care of their visas — we saved them a lot of hassle and cash,” says commission topper Jamal Al Sharif.

The production, for example, saved on accommodation by getting free rooms at Atlantis, the Palm resort, which was featured in the pic, for almost a month.

And while foreign shoots have increased, so has the number of trained locals. In 2010, “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” used about 60%-70% imported crews; that fi gure was down to 40% for “Bourne,” and about one year later, for campy Chinese spy blockbuster “Switch,” shot in 2012, imported crews were just 10%-15%.

The Dubai-shot sequences in “Switch” include a memorable car chase through the futuristic Burj Al Arab, sometimes referred to as the world’s only seven-star hotel, and frequently used by foreign crews given its striking design.

Locations range from space-age architecture to regal palaces and other buildings that can double for India and Pakistan, plus sand dunes, and the Persian Gulf and its quays. There’s also the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, which Tom Cruise rappelled from in the last “Mission: Impossible.”

But Dubai recently built the largest soundstage in the Middle East — 50,000 square feet, which can be split into two 25,000-sq.-ft. facilities, designed and built by Los Angeles-based studio Bastien and Associates — plus two water tanks for shooting.

There is an additional 15,000-sq.-ft. soundstage for TV, featuring a large greenscreen from Stargate Studios, which in December 2012 partnered with broadcaster MBC to open a virtual studio. And Dubai has a Deluxe Studios post-production outpost.

But not all subject material is suitable to be shot in Dubai, still a conservative Muslim country. The racy “Sex and the City 2,” which featured a storyline set in Dubai, had to move its shoot to Morocco after being turned down by both Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

But if there’s no religious issue with a pic’s topic, Dubai will bend over backward for producers. For “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” 10 kilometers of steel fences were removed from around highways in the desert overnight to accommodate director Brad Bird.

(Pictured: “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” made thrilling use of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.)

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