Dubai looks to lure Hollywood filmmakers

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Dubai Studio City (DSC) has challenged the biggest names in the movie industry to produce their films in the desert city as it gears up to become the largest production hub in the Middle East.

Two 25,000 sqft sound stages due to open in September will be the largest recording facilities in the region and demand already has DSC considering developing another one, managing director of DSC and Dubai Media City, Jamal Al Sharif, told Arabian Business.

He is in discussions with several Bollywood movie producers to be the first to use the sound stages – which are 10,000 sqft larger than the first, which opened last year - with sights set on eventually attracting an American blockbuster.

“We’re hoping to have a Bollywood [movie] to start the studio and maybe after that [a] Hollywood [movie],” Al Sharif said.

“There’s big demand from [the] TV production [industry] for a long-term TV drama series to be shot here. However, we’re… really keen on supporting the film industry.

“We’re thinking of leveraging that demand, which might allow us to build one more [sound stage] in 2014, but that’s still under study. As we’re going ahead the demand is growing in terms of TV, we feel we’re going to be able to [also] build more TV studios soon.”

Production in Dubai has boomed since DSC opened in 2008 and scenes from Hollywood blockbuster Mission Impossible IV were filmed in the emirate in 2010-11. In particular, Tom Cruise, who plays the main character Ethan Hunt, scaled the outside of the Burj Khalifa in what appeared to be free solo climbing.

In 2012 - the first full year after the movie was released - applications to film in Dubai rose nearly 20 percent to 1,100, while the industry contributed more than AED150m (US$40.85m) to the emirate, according to DSC.

Nineteen movies from around the world were shot in Dubai last year, including 12 from India, two from the UAE and one each from China, the US, Belgium, France and Germany.

In addition, there were 16 TV series, with the rest of the filming made up of advertising, commercial photography and documentaries from around the world including Asia, the Middle East, South America, Africa, Russia, New Zealand and Australia.

“Mission Impossible IV had a big role in putting Dubai on the map and setting an example that Dubai can hold a Mission Impossible IV level [movie] or even bigger,” Al Sharif said.

“Demand has grown and allowed us to expand our facilities and services. Our plan of having the sound stages really came at the right time.”

But he is not satisfied with one Hollywood blockbuster – challenging producers worldwide to use Dubai.

“I think we’re ready. If anyone wants to challenge us, this is my message to you: come to Dubai, we’ll make it happen,” he said.

Al Sharif expects production to increase by at least 10 percent this year, before rising even further in 2014 after the new sound stages open.

Six Indian films already have filmed in Dubai this year, with another to start this month and two more scheduled for July.

Al Sharif said the emirate’s landscape varieties and DSC’s ability to coordinate everything from hotels and visas to post-production and security within days made Dubai an attractive production location.

It also was up to 40 percent cheaper than Bollywood.

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