Bringing Hollywood to the desert

The seventh instalment of Fast and Furious — one of the biggest film franchises in Hollywood — is set to start production in the UAE in April. Local film authorities hope it will finally put the UAE on the movie map but what are the challenges to making this ambition a reality?

A red Porsche sports car speeds down a California street known to be popular for drifting cars. Driven at around 160kmh and with a former professional racer at the wheel, it eventually loses control, crashes into a concrete pole and bursts in flames.

While the scene was caught on film and the passenger in the car was actor Paul Walker, famous as the Hollywood star of the high-adrenalin, billion-dollar Fast and Furious film franchise, this was no film set.

A few hours later, Noura Al Kaabi, chief executive of twofour54, Abu Dhabi’s film and media production free zone, takes a call telling her that plans to shoot Fast and Furious 7 in the UAE may have to be put on hold as one of the franchise’s biggest stars has been killed in a tragic motor accident.

“It was a shock,” Al Kaabi recalls when we meet up a few weeks after the incident. “I received the news early in the morning at the time when Paul passed away. Even when they were shooting in the United States and when they came to look at sites here we were already part of the scene. Now, we just wait.”

The waiting is now over and, after much speculation and initial confusion, the Abu Dhabi Film Commission (ADFC) and Universal Pictures this month confirmed that filming for Fast and Furious 7 will still take place in the UAE and will start next month.

The emirate was already an intricate part of the shoot as crew had travelled to the country in November 2013, when a visual effects team captured helicopter shots, stunt footage and a variety of visual effects scenes at some of Abu Dhabi’s most iconic landmarks.

In April, actor/producer Vin Diesel, as well as actors Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, will join the crew in the UAE, with twofour54 serving as production partner.

“We look forward to welcoming the stars and crew. This is a great opportunity to not only generate international exposure for Abu Dhabi, but to also provide young Emiratis with work experience, which could help them to become the region’s future filmmakers,” Al Kaabi says, her mood a little lighter after the initial cloud which hung over the production.

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