By: Jumana al Tamimi
Dubai: Whether it’s Tom Cruise scaling up and down the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest man-made tower, or the cast of Star Wars filming in Abu Dhabi desert, the UAE has firmly positioned themselves as ideal locations for film-makers looking to cut down on production costs and reduce paperwork.
A number of movies, both Hollywood and Bollywood films such as Star Wars VII,Fast and Furious 7, and Bollywood movie Bang, have been filmed in the UAE over the past few years.
It’s for a good reason: the top of which is the comparative advantage of easy access, advanced infrastructure and scenic landscapes.
Abu Dhabi, whose movie sector is overseen by the Abu-Dhabi Film commission (ADFC), has a rebate system that offers up to 30 per cent payback for film-makers. Dubai is also discussing such a move.
According to estimates, the two emirates have witnessed good returns from film shooting. “In a study commissioned by ADFC earlier this year, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) estimates that for every Dh1 invested in the production rebate programme, Dh4.5 of GDP will be generated within Abu Dhabi,” said Paul Baker, executive director of Abu-Dhabi-based twofour54 intaj. a production facility and production services company.
“Because of this so called ‘multiplier effect’, PwC expects the total economic impact of the rebate programme in 2014 to be Dh180 million,” Baker added in an email-interview with Gulf News.
While he said film and TV production will contribute to the growth of media industry and economic diversification in general, Baker noted that “those who come to Abu Dhabi for the duration of a production are just as valuable to the economy. For example, Star Wars brought along several hundred cast and crew who stayed in hotels and dined at restaurants in the emirate, which in turn contributed to the local tourism market and boosted hotel occupancy.”
He added that the filming experience also helps local talent interact with some of the world’s best producers on set.
New Year, is studying a rebate system to attract more film makers to the emirate, a film commission official said.
“We are still new, and we don’t have a rebate system,” said Saeed Janahi, head of operation at the Dubai Film and TV commission, which started its mission in 2013.
However, “we are working on it and will announce it soon … because the system exists everywhere in the world.
“But at the same time, all other cities have taxes, and Dubai has zero tax,” he added.
It was the Tom Cruise blockbuster Mission Impossible which gave Dubai a major “push” as a film location, Janahi said.
Dubai is one of the favourite locations for Bollywood movies and many Bollywood movie premieres are also held in Dubai after the city’s “exposure” and because it has “become a brand”, Janahi said.
Just like Abu-Dhabi, Dubai’e economy has also benefited from filming of movies and TV episodes.
“When they [crews] arrive, there are airline tickets, accommodation, job opportunities and tourism,” Janahi said.
While no figures are available to determine how filming movies in Dubai has supported tourism, many filming locations noticed an increase in visitors seeking to see where scenes in movies were shot.
Jumeirah Zabeel Saray is one such hot spot. The resort, which is located in the Jumeirah Palm and has an exquisite interior design resembling the Ottoman Sultans’ lavish way of life, was one of the major locations where Mission Impossible was filmed.
Fernando Gibaja, general manager for the resort said: “The filming of Mission impossible greatly impacted Jumeirah Zabeel Saray’s exposure to local and international markets.
“The resort has also benefited from the many tourists who come and view the film location including the memorabilia in the resort lobby,” he added.
In the hotel’s lobby one can find a glass showcase, which houses the suit wore by Tom Cruise and the suitcase he carried in the movie.
Zabeel Saray is also one of the venues for upcoming Bollywood movie Welcome Back, which will be released in 2015. A major part of the movie was filmed in Dubai.
Janahi said it took some 100 days to complete the filming, noting that promoting Dubai as a filming venue has led to more business.
Earlier, film-makers used to film for some two or three days. Now the stay is for a few weeks. “The longer the days are, the more benefit to Dubai,” Janahi said.
“I must thank Dubai Film and TV Commission for going all out and supporting us in getting locations and permissions. Similar was the case with Abu-Dhabi film Commission,” said Arjun Kumar, associate producer for Welcome Back.
Kumar’s company has, so far, filmed seven movies in UAE in the past 10 years and is planning to do more due to the ‘excellent infrastructure’, which he noted is “one of the best in the world”.
“Look at everything, it is so scenic, it is so convenient, it is a two hours and half flight from Mumbai. For us, it [Dubai) is a posh Indian suburb,” Kumar added.
“We have shot all over the world, in places like Cape Town, Thailand and the US, with the UAE definitely brilliant. However, the equipment cost is sometimes a little expensive,” he added.
According to him, the daily cost of Helicam, which is used for aerial filming, can range between Dh35,000 and 40,000, and the cost of renting the big equipment, such as JimmyJibs (a camera crane) and a camera trolleys, are also relatively high.
Kumar noted in some countries, like Malaysia, a 50 per cent discount is offered to film makers and expressed hope to get more incentives in terms of rebate in the UAE, especially Dubai, noting that Welcome Back, which was filmed mainly in Dubai, has cost nearly $17 million (Dh62.44 million).
“I would not say I am not happy. I am very happy with the way the film commission is going, but I feel we can probably get a more detailed rebate system,” Kumar said.
Commenting on the incentives offered, Janahi said it is still premature to say how the rebate system would be. While acknowledging prices might be more than other places, he added, “the services are faster”.
Movies, he said, do have an impact on people and consequently on tourism.