The star of a new independent feature film shot and produced in the UAE has high hopes for the movie. Casey Shannon, whose previous work includes appearing as Tom Cruise's double during the Dubai shoot for Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol, a similar stand-in role for Sean Harris on the Abu Dhabi set of Deliver Us from Evil and numerous short films, TV ads, and even a smattering of roles in Bollywood films including Tiger Zinda Hai, claims his latest project could be a watershed for the regional industry.
"When we finish this movie, it will change the region," he asserts. "People will realise that this can be done and that with hard work and talent, you can make a good movie. You don't need a lot of money behind you. You can spend all the money you like, but if what you've produced when it gets to cinemas is absolute tripe, it's just embarrassing. This film is all about passion, even though the budget is microscopic."
Shannon plays an Irish property developer living in Dubai who takes a vow of silence following a personal tragedy in director Jacques Brown's self-penned drama Louder. The film is a passion project that has been at least three years in the making, and although the movie's budget may have been tiny, Brown is not short of ambition.
Louder features a cast and crew of more than 40, including 29 different nationalities, and was shot over approximately a month in May and June at multiple locations across Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Brown, who has previously worked extensively as a director on music videos, commercials and fashion shoots, says he has always wanted to make a feature film, and finally came back to the long-simmering Louder this year, having initially been inspired three years ago by the acting and modelling work of the movie's two female stars Suzie Demetri-Robertson and her daughter Shantilly-Rose.
“I finally came back to it this year and decided to follow my dream and create my own opportunity. It slowly came together, very much as a team effort. Suzie knew some actors, including Casey, and approached them. I’d worked with Zeina [Dahlan, producer] before, and she came on to produce while I got on with the script and approaching locations.”
Brown admits that his approach to writing wasn’t entirely conventional. Rather than beginning the project with a completed script, he wrote scenes according to the actors who came on board and which locations the team could successfully secure at minimum cost: “We did it sort of backwards, I suppose. Normally you’d write the script, then pay for whatever locations you need, but we didn’t have the budget.”
The team had a surprisingly successful time sourcing free locations – Dubai's Five Palm Jumeirah and W hotels and Sir Bani Yas's Anantara resort all stepped up to the mark, while a deal with Dubai developer Ellington Properties provided suitable locations for the film's property developer protagonist.
Robertson, meanwhile, loaned her Ferrari for a touch of glamour on the set, and also brought some Hollywood glitz to the cast: "Angelica Bridges from Baywatch is a friend of mine. She's not what I could call my closest friend, but she's been over a couple of times to visit me in Dubai," she says. "I thought: 'you know what? I'm going to ask her to be in it,' and she agreed."
Robertson admits that, given difficult economic times globally and the team’s lack of budget, she’s stunned at how much they have achieved: “We’ve done something amazing. There are a lot of financial issues everywhere at the moment, so to be able to get the sponsorship we’ve got is a real achievement. There have been a lot of films made here with big budgets and they haven’t really succeeded commercially, so we’re trying to do it on no budget.”
The film is now in post-production, and Brown says he is already in discussions with Vox Cinemas locally, and sales agents internationally, with a view to bringing the film to cinemas in September. For Brown, simply getting through the shoot has been a victory in itself he says: “It’s been very difficult – nearly impossible. Anything could go wrong and some things did. We had to work around a lot of problems.”
The film’s director of photography, Shane Cairn takes up the story: “We had to work around shooting without lights. We’d originally borrowed some from a sponsor, but then someone wanted to pay for them, so we had them taken away. Someone shot the camera with a bow and arrow while we were shooting an archery scene, and filming on Sir Bani Yas is a challenge in itself,” he says. “It’s beautiful, an amazing location and exactly what we wanted, but once you’re on the island, you’re really on the island. One day, I left my shoes in the car on the mainland and you’re talking four hours to go back and get them. If you need anything more complicated, you’re looking at a whole day to get to Dubai or Abu Dhabi.”
The film’s star is confident that despite the many challenges, the finished product will make all the effort worthwhile. Shannon says: “The quality of the film is there, the story’s unique – this self-made millionaire who came to Dubai from Ireland and worked his way up from being on a construction site to being a property investor, then takes this vow of silence and eventually reconnects with his emotions thanks to befriending a famous actress and her young daughter,” he says.
“Once this is finished, it will be a benchmark. No one will be able to say it can’t be done any more. It’s not all about money. We’ve used our initiative and we’ve got the fancy locations, the fancy cars, the Hollywood actress. We had no budget, but it looks like an expensive film. I think it’ll be a blueprint and make people take notice and up their game, and I think that’s what the region needs right now.”