After much speculation, it has finally been revealed that the seventh instalment of the Fast and Furious movies will be filmed in the UAE.
In an exclusive interview with The National, Noura Al Kaabi, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi's media hub, twofour54, confirmed that the movie franchise, starring Vin Diesel, will be the next Hollywood film to benefit from the emirate's 30 per cent rebate scheme.
The financial initiative was launched in September last year as an incentive by the Abu Dhabi government to attract international film and television productions to the emirate, by reimbursing production crews for 30 per cent of the filming budget, tempting more movies to UAE shores.
Al Kaabi says the producers of Fast & Furious 7 came to scout for locations in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but said they were particularly "loving locations" in Abu Dhabi.
"When they announced the film, they started with Egypt. But, unfortunately with what is happening with Egypt, they shifted and now they are looking at the UAE, specifically Abu Dhabi," she says. "That will be our next Hollywood film to benefit from the rebate." It is not clear how much of the film will be shot in the UAE, as preproduction crews are also coordinating with Dubai, says Al Kaabi."They went to see a few places there also."
Fast & Furious 7 will see Vin Diesel reprise his role as Dominic Torretto and will be directed by the Malaysian-born Australian director James Wan, who helped create the Saw franchise. The actors Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham have also signed up to appear in the latest instalment.
The Los Angeles-based website www.acting-auditions.org posted a casting call for smaller speaking roles in the film last month, stating that shooting will take pace in "Tokyo and Dubai" and that principal photography for the film will begin next month. The movie is scheduled to hit cinemas on July 11.
Since the rebate scheme launched, three productions have taken advantage of the financial incentive, one of which was the Hollywood movie Beware the Night, which was shot in Abu Dhabi last week.
The crew used two locations in the emirate; a farm in the Liwa Oasis and twofour54's Mussafah "Studio B", where a cave was built to film some of the scenes in the horror-thriller, starring Eric Bana.
In the movie, due for release in 2015, Bana plays a New York City police officer who becomes embroiled in a bizarre case that has "demonic" elements.
He teams up with a renegade priest played by Edgar Ramirez to battle the paranormal forces and solve the crime.
The film is directed by Scott Derrickson, known for the horror films The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister, and is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, who was behind the hit US television shows CSI and Cold Case and the movie blockbusters Top Gun, Armageddon and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Al Kaabi - who is also a board member of Abu Dhabi Media - says she is expecting more than 10 productions for 2014, which means it is time for expansion.
"Our studios in Mussafah are beautiful, but we are expanding and building more studios for next year.
"When we launched the rebate scheme in September 2012, it started slowly, but as soon as the team started visiting studio houses, we got a buzz."
The twofour54 team is to visit Hollywood studios twice a year to promote the rebate, she says. "This is a magnet for producers, it's about money."
Last year, during the F1 event on Yas Island, twofour54 organised a roadshow for around 15 representatives from the major Hollywood studios, including Universal, Fox, Sony and Warner Bros.
Al Kaabi says they were taken to all the Abu Dhabi sights, from Emirates Palace to the desert and everything in between.
"I met them after they were finished, after they saw everything. They said they would never even have considered coming here [to film], if we hadn't invited them."
According to Al Kaabi, the biggest concern with most American production houses is the proximity of Abu Dhabi to other countries in the region currently in conflict, such as Syria and Egypt.
"Every time I go to the US I get this question, but it's not as much as before. It's not easy to explain how safe it is here."
Dubai does not have a rebate scheme in place yet, but it does offer financial incentives to foreign -productions.
The recently released Chinese-Hong Kong action movie Switch, which was partly shot in Dubai, is one of those films that benefited. Jamal Al Sharif, the chairman of the Dubai Film and Television Commission (DFTC) says Dubai helped lower their production costs by providing visas, discounts, air tickets, logistics and more.
Al Sharif estimates that these services saved the Chinese team up to 50 per cent.
"The Chinese market is very important for us," he says.
However, the most beneficial scenario would be to set up a countrywide rebate scheme, according to Al Kaabi, who says it would increase the opportunities of bringing in more productions.
"It's a dream," she adds.
It is all part of a bigger picture, especially as the main competitor, Malaysia, is flaunting an equally attractive 30 per cent rebate.
"In the future, we want it to be so they can film everywhere in the country. If a Hollywood studio wants something we can't offer here [in Abu Dhabi], we go to Dubai. The goal is that we don't want the studios to leave the UAE."
Developing the industry
Abu Dhabi's media hub twofour54 was set up to create a flourishing media industry in the emirate.
The chief executive
Noura Al Kaabi says that the tax-free media haven, located on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi island, finally has the infrastructure to accommodate large-scale productions from Hollywood and
Since its launch in 2007, initiatives to boost the local talent - such as intaji, the vocational trainee programme - are now bearing fruit.
"We're building a brand, of course, but the essence of the film commission is to develop the media industry and have the talent and infrastructure."
She says the facilities at twofour54 were an expensive undertaking and that it is now time to benefit from them.
"We spent a lot of money and when you spend a lot of money - and want to commercialise your business - it's like, 'OK, look expensive'."
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