Even without a pandemic, shooting a blockbuster film is a formidable endeavour. Throw the threat of the coronavirus into the mix and trying to ensure a virus-free environment for a cast and crew of hundreds seems like a forlorn goal.
Yet, when the production team of Mission: Impossible 7 arrived in the capital in February, that is exactly what the Abu Dhabi Film Commission and twofour54 Abu Dhabi managed to do. Up to a week after shooting wrapped on February 13, and the cast and crew flew back to the UK, not one person involved in the filming tested positive for the coronavirus.
"We had over a thousand people on set in a single day," said Michael Garin, chief executive of Image Nation and twofour54, during a panel discussion on Tuesday, which was a part of the Culture Summit Abu Dhabi. "Now that they're all back safely in the UK, we've had no Covid incidents."
So how did they manage to do it?
"We devised a protocol where we divided the team into five bubble zones," Abu Dhabi's film and TV commissioner Hans Fraikin said during the talk. "So these five zones could never interact. They also stayed in five different hotels. And the staff of those hotels could not leave their bubble either."
Every individual involved in the project – including the 300 extras – was tested every other day up to a week after the production concluded. "I think we fared really well," Fraikin said. "This production not only spent millions of dollars in the Abu Dhabi economy but it's going to be seen by millions of people around the world."
More importantly, Fraikin added – unlike a few other productions that shot in the emirate but were used as other locations in films – the scenes shot in Abu Dhabi will be fully represented in the Tom Cruise-starring film.
“Abu Dhabi would be part of the storyline,” he said. “I can’t say where it was filmed but when the film releases around the world, audiences will be astounded by what they see.”
After production concluded, Christopher McQuarrie, the director behind Mission: Impossible 7 thanked the Abu Dhabi government, as well as a number of companies, including Abu Dhabi Film Commission, twofour54, and Etihad Airways, as he departed for the UK to continue filming.
"What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well," McQuarrie wrote on Instagram alongside a behind-the-camera shot during filming in the emirate's dunes.
"Grace and graciousness, magic and majesty, hospitality and hope. Of the many challenges we’ve faced on our journey, none will be greater than outshining the gifts Abu Dhabi has given us.
"Thanks to our extraordinary local cast, crew and the very fine people of Abu Dhabi. We shall most sincerely miss you until we see you again."