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Abu Dhabi: Twofour54 Thrives as Mideast’s Content Capital

Since it was set up in 2008, named for Abu Dhabi’s geographic coordinates, Twofour54 has become a multifaceted media zone with the purpose of growing Abu Dhabi into the region’s leading content creation hub.

“CNN has a building in Dubai Media City with their big logo; but that’s their ad sales office. Their editorial office instead is based in Abu Dhabi at Twofour54,” proudly points out Jamal Al Awadhi, head of commercial for the company’s Intaj production arm.

Fox Intl. also airs out of Twofour54. A Ubisoft gaming academy in the zone recently spawned popular Las Vegas-set “CSI: Hidden Crimes” mobile phone app, the first mobile game developed, written and designed out of Abu Dhabi.

“The big differentiator for us is that we’re focused on content,” says Intaj executive director Paul Baker, a former U.S. sales exec for Blighty’s Pinewood Studios. “Abu Dhabi wants to be the home of content, from apps through feature films.”

In 2012 Baker launched Abu Dhabi’s 30% production rebate, which played a crucial part in Disney and director J.J. Abrams picking Abu Dhabi and Twofour54 Intaj for the UAE shoot of “Star Wars: Episode VII,” one of several Hollywood and Bollywood films that have come through. Among other benefits, the ramped-up production activity is prompting growth of the local crew base and development of production skills.

“Within the guidelines of being able to receive the rebate you have to have Emirati interns operating on the production,” says Baker, who adds that a key advantage of the Abu Dhabi rebate is that flight costs and international crews qualify for the incentive.

High-profile films recently lured include Sony’s “Deliver Us From Evil,” Universal’s “Fast & Furious 7,” “Bang Bang,” (pictured) which is a Fox Star Studios’ remake of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz action/romancer “Knight and Day,” and, most recently, Bollywood megastar Akshay Kumar action vehicle “Baby.”

On the TV side, displacement due to the civil war in Syria is turning Abu Dhabi into a production hub for that country’s dramas. Syrian producer Asem al Awa has relocated hit show “Hammam Shami,” about a Damascus bathhouse, to a set in Twofour54’s Studio B, where he re-created a fictional block of Damascus’ old city. Syrian TV outfit Clacket Prods., maker of hit Ramadan drama “Al Ikhwa” (“The Brothers”), are shooting 30 half-hour episodes on Abu Dhabi sites and studios.

“We are working toward making Abu Dhabi a regional center …  across all platforms,” says Twofour54 CEO Noura Al Kaabi. One goal: find “partners who will contribute to our efforts of creating content for the Arab World and beyond.”

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