In the Middle East, the push to get back into production is best encapsulated by Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates city that’s been steadily growing as a global hub for Hollywood and Bollywood shoots, and where even during the coronavirus crisis production never stopped.
“We maintained full production throughout the pandemic,” says Michael Garin, CEO of Abu Dhabi’s Twofour54, the outfit that provides infrastructure and incentives to more than 500 entertainment companies.
Though Hollywood and Bollywood shoots went on hiatus, it was “Inheritance,” the world’s first Arabic-language, U.S.-style soap opera, produced by Twofour54, Image Nation Abu Dhabi and Saudi-owned MBC Studios, that kept the cameras rolling in dedicated studios where safety measures — such as temperature checks, COVID-19 testing and sterilization of sets and equipment — were put in place in February.
“The difference with us is we really did it immediately,” says Image Nation chief content officer Ben Ross. Roughly 150 episodes of the show about two rival families have now been shot (out of a total 250 planned) for an estimated $100 million-plus in physical production spend. Several undisclosed Hollywood productions are soon expected.
Meanwhile, shooting resumed in Turkey in August on Indian “Forrest Gump” remake “Laal Singh Chadha,” starring Bollywood star Aamir Khan, after its production in Punjab state was halted in March due to the pandemic.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Jordan is hosting the shoot of Korean thriller “The Negotiations” by Yim Soon-rye (“Whistle Blower”), one of South Korea’s best-known female directors. After suspending activities in March, the crew for the pic, about a 2007 incident when 23 Koreans were kidnapped in Afghanistan, arrived in July to prepare for the mid-August shoot being done in accordance with safety protocols of Jordan’s Royal Film Commission.
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This Middle East production hotspot has been gaining traction thanks to its rebate of up to 30% on qualified spend combined with no hassle paperwork and logistical assistance, which has lured Hollywood shoots such as “6 Underground,” “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and also large-scale Bollywood productions including “Bang Bang, Baby” and “Tiger Zinda Hai.” However it’s the Arabic productions that are keeping cameras rolling. Abu Dhabi also recently hired Hans Fraikin, former founding commissioner of the Quebec Film and TV Council, as its film commissioner.
Long a shooting destination for Hollywood productions such as “Aladdin,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and Legendary Entertainment’s upcoming “Dune” thanks to its combination of 25% cash rebate, stunning locations, stability and availability of local crews, Jordan is proudly back in biz. Cameras started rolling on Korean thriller “The Negotiations” in August. “With the current global health situation, the return of such a big production to film in Jordan is a proof that the country is ready and safe enough to open up for filming again,” said the Royal Film Commission’s managing director Mohannad Al-Bakri, in a statement trumpeting the shoot.
Shortly before lockdown in February, Turkey launched a 30% cash rebate on local spend for which foreign productions must team up with a local co-producer or service provider. In July, shooting commenced on TV drama “Yeni Hayat” (New Life), produced by Los Angeles-based Karga Seven Pictures, and in August on Bollywood blockbuster “Laal Singh Chadha,” the Hindi-language “Forrest Gump” remake produced by Viacom 18 Studios, shot in the country.
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