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Sat 9 Jan 2010 04:00 AM

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The main event

Dubai-based Filmmaster Events bosses Piero Cozzi and Pierre Haddad explain why there's no business like the show business.

The main event
Dubai-based Filmmaster Events has worked on the opening ceremonies of three Dubai World Cups, Arabian Nights and KAUST.
The main event
CEO Piero Cozzi.
The main event
COO Pierre Haddad.

In a region known for its lavish launches, Dubai-based Filmmaster Events has staged some of the most spectacular opening ceremonies ever seen. Bosses Piero Cozzi and Pierre Haddad explain why there's no business like the show business.

"Logistics can be a nightmare," grins Pierre Haddad, COO of Filmmaster Events, looking back to September last year, and the inauguration of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).

Dubai-based Filmmaster was tasked with delivering an unforgettable launch event that would match the high standards of the new institution, and the event manager certainly succeeded, nightmare or not. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, 50 other heads of state and 30 Nobel Prize laureates were among the 3,000 guests at a $50m ceremony from which pictures were beamed around the world.

Filmmaster utilised more than 40 cargo jets, 80 trucks, and 900 tons of steel to build a 25,000 sq m tented structure for the event - one that would be dismantled immediately afterwards.

The exhibition and auditorium spaces were host to a huge array of high-tech projection screens, all linked by more than 3,000 metres of fiberoptic cabling. And anyone who couldn't get into the VIP-only bash could at least console themselves watching the opening laser show, or the huge fireworks extravaganza that capped the inauguration.

Parent company Filmmaster International is based in Italy, and best known for its work on the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Turin in 2006, as well as the global launch of the Fiat 500 car. However, its Middle East operation has already notched up an impressive list of achievements, including three Dubai World Cups, Arabian Nights, and KAUST. And film production arm Dolcevita Films has brands such as Aldar, Pepsi, and Aspire in its portfolio.

The firm has core teams at each of its offices in Rome, Milan, Shanghai and Dubai. In the UAE, around 25 staff hunt down new business, engage in creative work, and put together fresh pitches. With KAUST, the pitching process took the best part of six months, as Filmmaster squared off against eleven other companies for the prize contract."We worked for six months on the pitch, and then they left us three months to do it," recalls Filmmaster CEO Piero Cozzi with a rueful smile. "It should really be the other way around, but that's how things work in this part of the world. For the Olympics, for example, we got two years."

Cozzi and Haddad insist that their bid was not the lowest submitted for the work, rather that the decision makers at KAUST appreciated the comprehensive scope of the Filmmaster proposal.

"The price varies on the project, but it's about value for money," says Cozzi. "We make things work; it's impossible to do an event without having problems, but it's your capacity to solve these problems and control the event that makes the difference.

"They didn't even have a date, but the brief was that we have three areas, plus a private area for the King," he continues. "We came up with the whole plan, with a creative concept that included everything down to how the tables should be dressed."

While each pitch can take months to formulate, when one is successful, Filmmaster swells its ranks overnight.

"Once you land the business, you have to get the best people in the world," says Haddad. "They come from Europe, Asia and the US - and they are the very best."

For KAUST, a team of 600 worked tirelessly over three months to pull the event together. "For the technology we used the Germans, for the design the Italians, for the technical the French, and for the construction the English," says Cozzi. "The strength of being an international company is that you have specialised people in all parts of the world. In football the French and Italians don't go together, but in events it's okay!

"You build up a team for each project, and it's not necessarily the same team because different projects have different requirements," he continues. "For the Olympics the most important thing was the scale; it's much more show and less physical construction, because obviously the stadium was already built."

One thing is non-negotiable, whatever the scale of the event: Filmmaster demands control of the project from A to Z."Up to now we have always managed to guarantee a result at a high level, not just matching expectations but exceeding them," says Cozzi firmly. "You are only as good as your last event, and you are gambling with that reputation if you don't have complete control."

"We have just pulled out of another major project in Saudi Arabia," reveals Haddad. "It was a good project and it is an event that the King will attend, but we thought that the timing was bad and decided that the delivery was bad. We didn't think we could live up to our reputation - they were changing things and we were concerned it would not work.

"The people who attend these events around the region are more or less the same, if you are talking at presidential level or corporate level," he continues. "These dignitaries will see your work from one country to another, and so if you screw up once then you're off all their lists. But on the other hand, we now get representatives from different countries approaching us at events, and saying ‘Call us, we want to do something'."

Filmmaster is currently in discussions with the ministries of tourism of a number of Gulf countries; a raft of confidentiality agreements precludes the divulging of further details, but cultural festivals and landmark launches are on the horizon. Furthermore, the company is working with KAUST to promote the university through permanent exhibitions in Jeddah and Riyadh.

Of course, not every project can be underwritten by the oil-rich Saudi government, and demand for Filmmaster's services has slowed along with the global economy. Cozzi speculates that advertising budgets for commercials have slumped by as much as 60 percent in the downturn.

"At a corporate level, things are far more difficult and we are suffering on project launches, new announcements and commercials," he admits.

"The worldwide crisis does make things difficult, but at the same time it makes you more creative because you have to find better ways of working," Cozzi adds. "We're adapting and changing to make the best of the climate, and that's a very interesting process."

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