Hollywood commits to AlUla in blockbuster expansion for Saudi film industry

Producer behind Batman and Harry Potter franchises teams up with Film AlUla to shoot 10 movies at flourishing complex

The recently opened AlUla Studios Studio Complex. A deal to shoot 10 movies at the site was announced this week. Photo: Film AlUla
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Hollywood production company Stampede Ventures has signed a deal to shoot 10 movies at Film AlUla’s recently opened state-of-the-art studio complex.

In a major boost for Saudi Arabia's filmmaking initiatives, the deal is designed to develop its flourishing production industry – training up local talent in the process – while utilising the expertise of Greg Silverman, a producer behind some of Hollywood's biggest films including Christoper Nolan's Batman trilogy and the Harry Potter franchise.

Silverman, now the founder and chief executive of Stampede Ventures, and his company will team up with Film AlUla for the three-year project.

Announcing the deal at the Red Sea International Film Festival, Charlene Deleon-Jones, executive director of Film AlUla, said: “We've been very busy at Film AlUla, not just on the domestic side with supporting [local] talent and projects, but also with this groundbreaking collaboration with Stampede Ventures, where we’re looking at how to work together."

Silverman added: “As a company, we've done this a few times. We always become a hub for helping local writers, directors and actors. But our programme is specifically to bring Hollywood studio films to AlUla over a three-year period, to train the crew and, at a minimum, with one Saudi in each department.”

The initiative will begin with two films scheduled to start production early next year. These include Fourth Wall, which centres on a former child star who is kidnapped. The film’s cast and director have yet to be announced. However, Silverman hinted that American Horror Story star Emma Roberts is in talks for the lead role.

Chasing Red, meanwhile, will be an adaptation of the romance novel by Isabelle Ronin that features an overachieving student and a carefree rich playboy. Jessika Borsiczky, who has directed hit shows including Lucifer and House of Lives, will lead the film.

“The book is such a huge resonant property with literally hundreds of millions of readers,” Borsiczky said. “[Stampede Ventures] pursued it and developed it. For me, romance is so universal, especially first love, and especially stories about women finding who they are, and then finding who they are in relation to the world.

"This book, and now the script, speak to all of those things in a way that excited me so much. Also, the two main roles in the project are incredible opportunities for young actors.”

The initiative, Deleon-Jones said, is designed to boost Film AlUla’s mission of training local talent. While comparable programmes are prevalent throughout the world, Deleon-Jones said they usually involve people exclusively working on local productions.

“There’s a clear separation,” she added. “When international films come in, they still bring more of their own people.”

Training at Film AlUla, meanwhile, is designed so that local practitioners will be able to work on the international projects that come to film in Saudi Arabia.

“The training and development element of this is immense because it gives us an opportunity to really develop below-the-line crew in somewhere like AlUla, where traditionally the main careers open would have been in agriculture,” Deleon-Jones said. “Lots of people still want to do agriculture, but lots of people want to do other things. And this is one of the options that is available.

"We have a young working population who are vibrant, who are digitally engaged, who watch lots of films, listen constantly to music, and you have this whole new exciting career path and trajectory that you can go on.”

Partnerships such as the one with Stampede Ventures, Deleon-Jones added, will ensure that there are year-round projects that local talents can work on, making the film industry a viable career path.

“Of course, there's a number of things we do to develop talent on the on the other side of things, above-the-line, with creatives, writers and directors,” she said. “We are one of the Red Sea International Film Festival’s partners, and we have eight or nine projects that we are co-funding this year from not just Saudi Arabia, but the Middle East and Africa as well. We have our programmes specifically for female creatives and filmmakers.”

The slate of films planned with Stampede Ventures is designed to ensure momentum within the industry over the next few years.

Silverman’s track record in Hollywood is an illustrious one. In his previous role as production head at Warner Bros he worked on more than 125 films, including all eight Harry Potter films and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, as well as Todd Phillips’s Hangover trilogy and Joker.

With the partnership between Film AlUla and Stampede Ventures, he is now looking to bring his expertise to Saudi Arabia.

While Chasing Red and Fourth Wall are the first tw

o titles as part of the initiative, it is not the first to come about as a result of the partnership between the groups.

K-Pops!, the directorial debut of Anderson. Paak, the Grammy Award-winning musician behind hits such as Come Down and Cheers, has already been co-created by the two.

The film, which is being partly shot in AlUla, tells the story of a musician in Los Angeles who tries to resuscitate his career through his estranged son’s burst into K-Pop stardom.

“That's almost film zero,” Deleon-Jones said. “That is how this whole relationship started. We were looking at K-Pops! and then that blossomed into an opportunity to do more films.”

Updated: December 11, 2023, 6:18 AM