Building a Biz from Scratch

By Vivarelli, Nick | Variety, October 14, 2014 | Go to article overview

Building a Biz from Scratch


Vivarelli, Nick, Variety


ABU DHABI - WHICH RECENTLY lured shoots of the new "Fast & Furious" and "Star Wars" installments and Bollywood's "Bang Bang," while also spawning road movie "From A to B" - the first Emirati pic ever to open the Abu Dhabi Film Festival - is fast becoming a textbook case in how to build a film and TV industry from scratch.

In less than a decade, a concerted effort has fostered what Abu Dhabi fest topper Ali Al Jabri calls the "Abu Dhabi system," in which separate but synergic government-backed entities are laying the foundations of a nascent film and TV industry, now starting to gain traction. In this process, a key socio-economic function is being fulfilled, as the young nation strives to reduce its reliance on oil and fortify its future economy and self-identity.

One building block is Twofour54, Abu Dhabi's media zone, which now hosts more than 300 media companies, including CNN, the BBC, Fox Inti. Channels and Cartoon Network. It also runs training programs, state-of-the art studio and post facilities, oversees the film fest and operates the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, which has launched a 30% production rebate that is proving to be a game changer.

The other is Image Nation, the production shingle with close Hollywood ties and smart local projects including Emirati helmer Ali F. Mostafa sophomore pic "A to B," about three Western-educated Arab youths who travel 1,500 miles from Abu Dhabi to Beirut, passing through Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, to mourn a deceased friend, and "Abu Dhabi Judicial," a local adaptation of "L.A. Law," now in the works, with U.S. scribe William Finklestein and a local team transposing Sharia, or Quranic law, into the storylines.

"Image Nation and Twofour54 are complementary. We work hand-in-glove, almost as though we are a single organization," says U.S. exec Michael Garin, who is Image Nation's CEO.

"The media zone's primary responsibility is to ensure that there is critical mass in infrastructure and human and organizational resources to support a sustainable industry. Our job is to utilize those resources and create content."

Production in Abu Dhabi has seen a major growth spurt since the 2012 launch of a 30% rebate, applicable to below-the-line-spend, the first of its kind in the region and which is proving a magnet for producers.

Since 2013, some 14 productions have been lured to Abu Dhabi, including several high-profile pics, like "Fast & Furious 7" and "Star Wars: Episode VII."

"The biggest movies that shot in 2014 shot in Abu Dhabi, which is not a bad "These guys are shooting 30 half-hour episodes for $2 minion."

Paul Baker

start," boasts Paul Baker, exec director of Twofour54's Intaj unit, which is dedicated to production services. …

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