Abu Dhabi is projected to become a global production hub for film and television within the next five years, and the coronavirus pandemic may have played a key role in accelerating that process.
"As you can imagine, this has been a very difficult time for our industry because production around the world has basically come to a hiatus," Michael Garin, chief executive of Image Nation and Twofour54, said during a panel discussion on Tuesday, as part of the Culture Summit Abu Dhabi.
However, Abu Dhabi was one of the few jurisdictions in the world that has managed to maintain production throughout the pandemic, he added.
“It has been a real boost to us. As a result, we have a robust pipeline of production that will continue throughout this year and well into the future.”
It is not simply a display of perseverance and discipline that is convincing more global players to come to the emirate to produce, Garin said, but also stringent health measures that ensure a Covid-19-free environment.
'$100 million worth of productions in 2020'
During the same talk, film and television commissioner of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, Hans Fraikin, said the emirate was able to position itself as a dependable production hub during the pandemic as "the result of a rapid and carefully thought-out response strategy by the Abu Dhabi government".
Fraikin said this efficient response strategy allowed the film and television industry to feel secure while continuing to work in the emirate.
"At the time, we still didn't really understand what it was and how it was going to affect anyone," Fraikin said. "But the government took no chances. Before we knew it, there were Covid stations set up all over the place and the Ministry of Health communicated information updates on a daily basis.
Building a new film and TV production infrastructure
Besides the production opportunities, Fraikin said the pandemic also offered perspective and time to lay down the strategy of building Abu Dhabi’s new production ecosystem, which includes location, rebates, infrastructure and crew.
Abu Dhabi already has a good foothold on the first two factors, Fraikin said. “There are plenty of good locations and you can count on Abu Dhabi for the rebates.”
He said a big part of what the film commission is trying to do now is grow its production crew base. There are two ways of achieving that: to import the talent and expertise, and to train local creatives.
“Importing these experts from around the world has two benefits,” Fraikin said. “They work in the productions we attract, but they also train the students in academic institutions and universities.”
An internship programme has also been created whereby every production working within Abu Dhabi has to hire an intern to shadow various staff members, including those in cinematography, set direction, art direction, gaffing and even accounting.
“We have also waived the fee for two years on a freelance visa, meaning experts from around the world can come here and work on a freelance visa.”
On top of this, in order to build a viable production infrastructure, Fraikin said it is important to direct efforts not only at building the studios and warehouses needed to film interiors, but also the creation of a visual effects hub and a virtual production hub.
“This is important because it’s really the future of the technical aspect of filmmaking and this is what will make Abu Dhabi a global hub versus a regional hub.”
After all, the production industry is one of the most economically viable of all cultural sectors, Fraikin said, especially in terms of job creation and inward investment. The past year has brought a stroke of good fortune for Abu Dhabi’s production industry and Fraikin said there is a strategy in place to ensure the growth of the sector.
“In the past year, being busy with productions has allowed us to really narrow this strategy,” he said. “I think we’re really set up for Abu Dhabi to be a global production sector within the next five years.”