Leading Moroccan film producer Khadija Alami, one of the main line producers for foreign TV shoots, has purchased a plot of land near the CLA Atlas Film Studios in Ouarzazate and plans to build a mini “Skywalker Ranch,” a downsized version of George Lucas’ state-of-the-art facility near San Francisco, which will include studio and post-production facilities and production offices, specifically targeted at foreign productions.
In 2014, Alami line-produced three major TV shoots – “The Ark”, “King Tut” and “A.D. After Death” — and also Susanna White’s spy thriller “Our Kind of Traitor,” based on the John le Carré novel and starring Ewan McGregor and Stellan Skarsgard.
She is confident that the surge in Moroccan foreign shoots in 2014 will continue its upward trend in 2015 and that there will be increasing demand for studio space in Ouarzazate.
Ouarzazate, the “door to the desert,” is the preferred location for foreign shoots, given its proximity to the Sahara desert, the Atlas Mountains, Berber villages, spectacular medieval palaces and Marrakech. Other recent shoots in the zone include Lasse Hallström’s “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” and part of the TV series “Game of Thrones.”
The small city already has a major studio complex – the CLA Atlas Film Studios – that was built by a consortium formed by Dino de Laurentis, Cinecittá and Sanam Holding. But Alami believes that given that the number of foreign TV shoots in Morocco is rising, there is need for further soundstages and production facilities in the zone.
“I’m currently using the sound stages at the CLA studios for ‘King Tut’,” she explained to Variety, “but I also need to find soundstages for ‘A.D.’ so I’ll have to look elsewhere.
She has visited Skywalker Ranch twice, considers it an extremely well-thought-out facility and intends to model her own venture on it.
Alami is a key figure in the Moroccan film industry. She founded her own company, K Films, in 1998, for her own productions and also to service international productions. She also works as a freelance line producer on foreign productions.
Alami is also president of the Morocco’s Meditalents association, which organizes scriptwriting workshops, and is based in Ouarzazate. Her home is in Casablanca, where her husband works and where her 14-year-old daughter attends the American school.
She has worked on over 40 international productions, including Ridley Scott’s “G.I. Jane,” Paul Greengrass’ “Captain Phillips” and Paolo Barzman’s “The Last Templar.” Since 2007 she has focused primarily on international TV shoots rather than feature films, because she considers that a more interesting business model given the faster turnaround. In addition to her aforementioned current TV shoots, her other recent TV productions include “Ben Hur,” “The Bible” and “The Honorable Woman.
Her domestic productions include Nour-Eddine Lakhmari’s “Le Regard” and Tala Hadid’s “The Narrow Frame of Midnight,” which is playing in the Cinema at Heart sidebar at the Marrakech Film Festival and has also played in official selections at Toronto, Rome, Stockholm and the BFI London Film Festival.
On Thursday Alami is receiving a career tribute at the Marrakech fest, alongside another key Moroccan producer for foreign shoots, Zakaria Alaoui of Zak Films.
Alami has also directed one short, “Au Bonheur des Dames,” in 2006. She said that it helped her to understand the concerns facing any director. But she says that it also taught her that she is more suited to producing than directing.
She believes that the high number of foreign shoots in Morocco has been extremely beneficial to the domestic industry, in terms of revenues, projection of the country abroad and above all for grooming local talent.
“Working on foreign productions is the best school you could imagine. As a line producer I’ve learned how to deal with the director and choose between the different problems that arise. It’s my job to handle the logistics and identify the feasible alternatives we have available to us. Essentially, line producers only have something to do when problems come up,” Alami said.
She added: “My long track record on foreign shoots has taught me how to work with the director, find different alternatives, how to reschedule, sometimes at the last minute, how to get the most from our budget, even how to narrow the camera angle to get the biggest impact from the extras we have available.”
The increasing number of foreign productions has effectively helped train local technicians, which means that foreign shoots need only bring department heads. “A few years ago, the majority of the crew had to be brought in from abroad, but now we often only have a foreign head of department and the rest of the crew is locally recruited.”
Alami regularly travels to London and for a few weeks every summer visits L.A., where she schedules interviews on potential projects, saying that word of mouth is the main way that she obtains new work.
She is in negotiations for several major TV productions in 2015, but can’t yet disclose details.
In order to leverage foreign shoots, there has been much discussion in Morocco recently about introducing tax incentives, including by the new head of the CCM Moroccan film agency, Sarim Fassi-Fihri.
However, Alami believes that Morocco already has major competitive advantages that are not always sufficiently well publicized, including exemption on VAT sales tax, absence of withholding taxes, absence of fringe benefit payments and comparatively low crew prices.
She says that the introduction of more extensive tax incentives would be the “icing on the cake.”
Overall she is extremely upbeat for 2015, both in terms of an increasing number of foreign TV shoots and what she sees as rising quality in domestic productions.