New twofour54 Studios sparks hope for local and international creatives

Studio complex may attract international productions to Abu Dhabi, but professionals stress importance of supporting local filmmakers and talents

Behind the scene on the set of Tiger Zinda Hai at twofour54's Kizad backlot. Courtesy twofour54
Powered by automated translation

A new studio complex announced by twofour54 has spurred a wave of excitement among industry professionals in the UAE and abroad – and has also caused many to reflect upon the needs for local talents who face difficulties producing and promoting their work.

Plans for the 40-hectare facility, called twofour54 Studios, were revealed on Tuesday. Projected to be completed by 2025, it will be located in the extended area of Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi. It will comprise soundstages, adaptable sets, office spaces, as well as other facilities equipped for film and TV production, post-production and screenings.

“Make no mistake. This isn’t just good for the UAE or the region, but the global industry,” says Rik Aby, a Sudanese actor living in Abu Dhabi.

Aby has worked on several local and international productions, including the action thriller Saaho, and the Pierce Brosnan heist film The Misfits. He says as uncertainty looms in established markets with the Sag-Aftra strike, the announcement of twofour54 Studios is a “statement”, suggesting a surge of possibilities for film and TV talents aiming to work in Abu Dhabi.

“It couldn’t have come at a more opportune time,” he says. “It shows that there are things happening here. There are more options now, and with more options come more possibilities.”

Ajay Singh, the Bollywood director behind several films including Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga, says the facility will provide the necessary infrastructure for more international productions to make their way to Abu Dhabi.

“This facility will be helpful for filmmakers,” he says. “The experiences I have of filming [in the UAE] is that there are nice locations where we can shoot, but when it comes to building your own sets, there were no proper facilities.

“Once this facility comes up, filmmakers will be able to shoot exterior shots and build sets in Abu Dhabi. At the same time, it will create a lot of jobs. This is a very good idea that is going to help both filmmakers and [the local population].”

Ursula Manvatkar, an independent filmmaker and founder of the UAE company Medulla Productions, also says twofour54 Studios will provide the opportunity for films to be produced in their entirety in the country.

“Having a full-fledged studio with production facilities means that people can actually have not just parts of their film, but an entire movie [shot here],” says Manvatkar. “It will also add value to the already existing rebate structure that is offered for anyone who is filming in Abu Dhabi.

“We are all very excited,” she says. “A facility like this would ease a lot of logistical challenges. [Once the studio is complete], I think I can achieve a lot of things right here in the UAE while taking advantage of the rebate structure offered."

The complex, Manvatkar says, will drive employment in the TV and film landscapes in Abu Dhabi. While these jobs were mostly project-based before, the studio complex could lead to more stable and long term opportunities

“This would boost interest in the region, and attract all sort of people here,” she says. With the projected influx of talents coming to work in the country, Manvatkar says there is a need for developing formal structures and ethical standards for professionals to follow “to ensure longevity of such developments and to grow the UAE as a solid destination for serious filmmakers”.

“But overall this is the first step towards making a global mark in the industry and being noticed as a serious go to destination for all filming needs,” she adds. “It’s important for authorities to come up with a structure … so that we maintain some sort of standard for the Middle East to look up to.”

Veteran Emirati actor Mansoor Alfeeli echoes the sentiment that the new facility project bodes well for the local filmmaking industry and will attract several international productions. However, he also stresses the importance of institutional support for local films and creatives. While a studio facility will fill a necessary void in the local filmmaking landscape, there is still much left to be desired by local filmmakers, he says.

“It is a big project, which will help local productions and encourage more international productions to make their way here,” Alfeeli, who has acted in several local and international films, including Al Kameen, Kaboos and The Misfits, says.

“The studio, however, is just one aspect of how to bolster the industry here. Unfortunately, there isn’t much support for local filmmakers. There needs to be more effort in backing our young talents. The production and distribution costs are an afterthought, which is discouraging many emerging talents.

“Emirati films are also almost an afterthought for cinemas here. Our films screen in the morning or early afternoon when few people attend. The priority is given to foreign films.”

Alfeeli also noted that the project comes as part of a healthy competition between the filmmaking industries of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which has also been working to build a strong infrastructure for TV and film production, including a sprawling studio complex in AlUla.

Alfeeli says he hopes the new twofour54 studio complex will consider the needs and financial capabilities of local filmmakers. He also says he hopes the region's growing infrastructure leads to the establishment of a new international film festival in the UAE.

Now-defunct local festivals, including the Dubai International Film Festival and Abu Dhabi Film Festival, were once a primary avenue for local talents to promote their work. Their cancellation has left many up-and-coming filmmakers without a platform to exhibit their work on an international level.

Emirati director Abdulrahman Al Madani also says establishing a studio complex is only one way of supporting the local landscape. Twofour54 Studios, he says, “is a great initiative that will hopefully attract more productions in the region.”

Al Madani, who is known for his short films The Gamboo3a Revolution and The Monster says he is looking forward to seeing how the complex will influence the local film scene. Although most of the opportunities that are usually offered to local talents are unpaid internship positions, “we have the talent and expertise to take on bigger responsibilities. I hope to see this implemented in future international productions” he says.

“We need more support as independent filmmakers to continue making films as individual efforts alone are not enough. Initiatives like this can support local cinema by making it more accessible and offering incentives for local filmmakers to use their facilities.”

Updated: August 03, 2023, 10:07 AM