As soon as the world learned Osama bin Laden was dead, risk consultant Rich Klein received a burst of emails from his clients in Hollywood who’ve worked in the Middle East.
They were “happy and proud of the moment,” he says, but their enthusiasm quickly subsided as they absorbed the reality that the killing of the Al Qaeda chief likely would have little short-term impact on the unrest roiling the vast area that stretches from Morocco to the Persian Gulf.
Klein is managing director for the Middle East at Washington, D.C.-based consultancy McLarty Associates (formerly Kissinger McLarty, originally founded by Henry Kissinger), having joined the firm after leaving the State Dept., where he was special assistant for international security affairs for the Middle East during the Clinton administration.
He now advises studios — including Fox, Paramount, Sony and Warner Bros., usually working with the heads of physical production and the legal department — as well as directors and producers on the ins and outs of shooting in the volatile region.
When Klein first joint McLarty, he had no experience with Hollywood. Then one day in 2006, three men showed up who said were making a picture and wanted to shoot it in Saudi Arabia. The film was “The Kingdom”; the men were Michael Mann, Scott Stuber and Peter Berg.
“I counseled them that while we could get them into Saudi Arabia, it wouldn’t be advisable to film there for a whole host of production-predictability issues, but we could find places that looked just like Riyadh, the Saudi capital,” Klein recalls.
“Michael Mann leaned across the table and said, ‘Rich, you don’t know me but I’m all about reality. I need real light, real architecture, real people. If we’re not going to Riyadh, we need to find a place just as real.’ ”
Klein helped the producers scout locations from Casablanca to Dubai; they finally settled on Abu Dhabi, where Klein worked with the local crown prince’s court to get permission to film, smoothed out logistics, helped put finishing touches on the script and coached the cast on the story’s background.
Word got around, and soon other producers were knocking on Klein’s door. He consulted for such films as “The Kite Runner,” helping two child actors escape from Afghanistan when local reaction went awry; “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” which shot in Jordan and Egypt; and the upcoming “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” which filmed in Dubai just before the region’s troubles began.
The “Arab Spring,” ignited Dec.17 when a Tunisian vegetable vendor burned himself alive after an altercation with an inspector, raised security concerns in the region to a higher level. “Filmmakers need predictability and certainty,” Klein says. “Some places like Lybia, Egypt and Bahrain are highly unpredictable and have safety concerns. Other places like Morocco, Jordan and Qatar are safer, but even they have to weigh whether bringing in films with sensitive content could have unintended consequences.”
While Bin Laden’s death doesn’t change the way studios and producers are thinking, it will have a positive psychological effect that could encourage more filmmaking in the longer term, Klein believes.
Plus, the Middle East’s “diverse locations, color, flavor, texture, chaos and movement really add up to something on the screen,” he says. “Those will still be there when order and predictability are back in place.”