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Saudi Arabia is taking vital steps to becoming a leading production force within the Arab region, agreed industry experts speaking at a panel on the topic of international co-production strategies for independent and commercial projects held at the Red Sea 360°.

The Red Sea 360°, co-organized by Winston Baker, is a four-day industry event at the heart of the Red Sea Souk, the market arm of the Red Sea Film Festival. The event hosts a series of talks on the entertainment industry, finance and innovation, and is set to welcome over 50 panellists from all over the world for its 2022 edition.

“We are talking about 350 million who speak the same language, despite different dialects and mindsets, so it’s a huge audience. It’s also a very young population. There is a huge portion of people who are very eager to consume content,” said producer and founder of Egypt’s Film Clinic Mohamed Hefzy.

Livia Van Der Staay, in charge of business development at France’s Wild Bunch Intl., reinforced the importance of Saudi Arabia’s young audiences: “It’s a new market for us and it’s quickly expanding, and it’s very young when compared to European audiences. It’s also interesting from a talent’s perspective because with new audiences comes an emergence of new talent. We’ve worked with Middle Eastern directors many times but never a Saudi, so we are really looking forward to discovering their talent. There is also the tax incentive in the area.”

By incentive, Van Der Staay is referring to the 40% cash rebate established this year by the Saudi Film Commission, something Hefzy is also very interested in. “Everybody knows about the incentives and it’s great to see people taking these opportunities. I am in the middle of a Saudi production where we applied for the rebate, and it’s looking like it will be an efficient system.”

American producer, publisher and media consultant David M. Uslan, son of the originator and executive producer of the “Batman” movie franchise Michael Uslan, stated he and his dad are interested in the area’s potential for original IPs. “I spend a lot of time in places like Saudi looking for content we can build off from. I have been surprised with the quality of what has been created in this region, so that is what we have been hunting down, the next IP to adapt into franchises.”

Uslan emphasized the importance of producing content that has a “natural connection to the region,” building long-lasting relationships with local authorities and possible creative partners. “I come from a niche part of this business the only way for me to succeed is to be here. You got to be here, and you have to make a real effort. There’s the fake Hollywood effort and then there’s the real effort of being here on a regular basis, socializing, making friends with people who you know well and can become real partners. They will be able to guide you through the changes that are occurring on the ground on a regular basis. In Los Angeles we only get information through what we read, that’s not good.”

The panel focused heavily on the importance of establishing local models of production instead of replicating what is done in Western countries. “The idea is not to adapt to other standards, is to see the perception the audiences here have of the films and how we can adapt to the specificities of a region,” said Van Der Staay. “The idea is not to renounce a culture so it fits in a sort of mold.”