What do the latest “Star Wars,” “Fast and Furious” and “Star Trek,” installments have in common? They all recently shot in the United Arab Emirates, where a combination of incentives, security, transportation, state-of-the art studio space, a futuristic skyline and exotic desert ambiance are positioning Dubai and Abu Dhabi as the prime Middle East hub for different types of international productions.
In October, after three months in Vancouver, Canada, Paramount’s “Star Trek: Beyond” touched down in Dubai for a two-week shoot, brought by executive producer Jeffrey Chernov who in 2010 had come with “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” in which Tom Cruise famously rappels down from Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
In September, director Stanley Tong started principal photography in Dubai on Jackie Chan starrer “Kung Fu Yoga,” which will feature several car chases amid its iconic skyscrapers.
At Dubai Studio City “Star Trek” occupied almost all of 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 California-based studio Bastien and Associates.
“The film industry has been rising in this part of the world,” boasts Jamal Al Sharif, chairman of Dubai Film and TV Commission. “Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the UAE in general, have really provided the platform and the infrastructure, and also the talent is starting to grow.”
According to sources, the Brad Pitt satire “War Machine,” a Netflix original production, started shooting in November in the desert near Abu Dhabi, though this pic is being kept under tight wraps.
|UAE lures filmmakers to the region with financial incentives, rebates and plum travel perks.|
|50k||Dubai Studio City boasts the largest soundstage in the Middle East, measuring a hefty 50,000 square feet.|
|30%||The rebate on films shot in Abu Dhabi|
Last year the Liwa desert was also the location of choice for the Abu Dhabi portion of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” as is clear from the trailers.
When he heard that “Star Wars” was ramping up, Paul Baker, exec director of Twofour54’s Intaj unit, dedicated to production services, called up executive producer Tommy Harper and asked him what his plans were.
“They were pretty much set up at another location,” he says. “I said: ‘Look, we’ve launched the rebate here, the infrastructure is starting to build.’ ”
A couple of weeks later he got a call back “and the guys wanted to come in and scout.”
Besides Abu Dhabi’s 30% rebate, applicable to below-the-line-spend, Baker says the clincher is the type of support the UAE can offer in terms of clearing all red tape, including visas and customs.
“We’ve brought enough C-4 explosive into the UAE to start World War III,” he says. To do that, “you have to have very strong connections and commitment from the government.” And as a filmmaker, “knowing that you have access to that means a great deal.”
In Dubai, instead of offering a rebate, Al Sharif has finessed a system of incentives tailored to each shoot. It has an attractive logic. Massive discounts from government-owned Emirates airlines, several hotel chains and Dubai Studio City played “a big role in luring “Star Trek,” he says. To the point that “when you sum it up you find that you are receiving more than a 30% rebate in soft incentives.”
And while there is certainly more than a hint of rivalry between the two cities, which are only 65 miles apart, there are productions that have shot in both, including the CBS soap “The Bold and the Beautiful.”
“There is a great synergy,” says Al Sharif. “Abu Dhabi is more into developing the industry and I salute them for that. But there is also a healthy competition that makes me wake up every morning and run to get more things done. So I know it’s making me stronger.”