Abu Dhabi looks likely to continue to be used as a location for Hollywood movies

Hollywood studio execs are eyeing up Abu Dhabi as an on-screen location following fact-finding visit
From left, the Hollywood executives Bruce Hendricks, Sara Spring, Ravi Mehta and Kevin Trehy. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
From left, the Hollywood executives Bruce Hendricks, Sara Spring, Ravi Mehta and Kevin Trehy. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
Abu Dhabi looks set to play a starring role in even more blockbuster movies, with major Hollywood studios scouting for locations in the emirate.

With forthcoming sequels Star Wars: Episode VII - which now has a title, The Force Awakens - and Furious 7 filming in the emirate this year, plus several Bollywood movies, a number of key US studio executives were yesterday returning home after a UAE fact-finding mission.

Producers from Warner Bros and Columbia Pictures were among the filmmakers brought over for a week-long tour by Twofour54 and the Abu Dhabi Film Commission.

One was Kevin Trehy, a London-based Warner Bros production executive on films such as Batman Begins, Sherlock Holmes and Syriana, which was partially shot in Dubai.

"The possibilities here are quite sensational," he says. "Abu Dhabi is getting a raised awareness globally - people are starting to look here.

"When you look at the amount of infrastructure that's being built, what's been erected here in such a short amount of time, with that financial clout behind you - and the want and wish to get something done - it's off the scale. It's very, very exciting."

The independent filmmaker Bruce Hendricks, formerly the president of physical production at Disney and an executive producer on the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, said he was seriously considering shooting his upcoming project in Abu Dhabi next year.

He says: "I have a specific movie that I'm developing that could come here.

"It would definitely work here, and work well - right at this moment, Abu Dhabi is probably top of the list."

The visitors agreed the commission's generous 30 per cent cash rebate on production spend, which helped entice the likes of Star Wars to the country, is a major draw.

Sara Spring, a production coordinator at Columbia who has worked on cinema hits such as The Bodyguard and The Doors, says: "We'd love to make a picture here. There's a very attractive financial incentive which is the icing on the top of the cake.

"It's not just our job to make great entertainment - it's a bottom line-driven process and things such as incentives can really attract a studio to different parts of the world."

Meanwhile, the successful experiences of the crews that filmed Star Wars and Furious 7 have helped prove Abu Dhabi can deliver the goods to filmmakers.

"The fact that someone has already made it work leaves its own residue," Trehy says." You're going to have people here that actually have some film experience - that's a major tick. It gets Abu Dhabi on people's radars."

But while the desert took a starring role in both Star Wars and Furious 7, what impressed the moviemakers most during their visit was the diversity of locations available for shooting.

They explored a wide range of locations including Yas Island, Qasr Al Arab, Emirates Palace and Abu Dhabi Marina.

Ravi Mehta, a Warner Bros production executive based in Los Angeles, and the producer behind major movies Grudge Match and The Lucky One, was highly impressed with central Abu Dhabi's modern feel and cosmopolitan make up.

"What surprised me the most is that you know from the pictures you're going to get desert, but it's amazing how close by to that you can also get paved roads and incredible hotels," he said. "The city was surprisingly futuristic and you could play it for a nondescript city. I was pretty ­impressed."

Spring added: "Creatively, Abu Dhabi's biggest draw is diversity - there's far more diversity than I would have imagined.

"The variety of locations is the biggest surprise for me. There really isn't a genre of film that couldn't work here."

While the visitors were generally impressed with the emirate's emerging infrastructure, Trehy said more investment would help the industry progress ­faster.

"They need soundstages here," he added. "That would be a very big help in attracting movies, because the locations are great - but you need to have that option to build your own as well."

Summing up the visit, he added: "Abu Dhabi is on the list now - maybe it wasn't before, but for me, it's now absolutely on the list."

rgarratt@thenational.ae

Published: November 8, 2014 04:00 AM

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