An initiative to help filmmakers in Abu Dhabi turn their creative ideas into reality is bearing sweet and silver-screened fruit.
The online membership forum Creative Lab was initially launched by the emirate’s media and entertainment hub twofour54 as a help mechanism for those wanting to delve into film and other types of media.
It provides financial support and tracks down the manpower to bring projects to life.
For the local filmmaker, Mustafa Abbas, the initiative changed his life.
“These people are easily the best thing that happened to the film industry in Abu Dhabi, and probably the entire Middle East. Without them we can’t make our films,” he says.
The 28-year-old Emirati made two short films with the help of Creative Lab, the latest being Sunset State – a drama about two men with troubled pasts who discover they are neighbours.
Sunset State is ready to be released when the film festival season revs up again after the summer.
“Creative Lab acted as a full-on production company. They financed the film, produced it. They even helped me choose my crew,” he says.
In three years, since its inauguration in 2010, Creative Lab has attracted more than 5,000 members, completed 52 projects and received 20 awards.
The initiative’s success spawned the idea to design a physical space for members to meet, collaborate and brainstorm. And so, last month, #TheLab was born.
Based at the twofour54 headquarters on the Eastern Ring Road in Abu Dhabi, the new space offers production facilities, including a sound lab, edit lab, ideas lab, gaming area and desks equipped with computers loaded with creative design software programmes.
The opening event was attended by the likes of the Hollywood actor Navid Negahban and the City of Life director Ali Mustafa.
The Iraqi producer and director Yasir Al Yasiri says the new space is “very helpful” for those dreaming of entering the world of filmmaking: “It’s very important because most of the filmmakers are independent and looking for stuff like that, especially if it’s for free.”
Creative Lab helped him when he made his short film Murk Light, which won Best Short Film at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in 2012 and went on to be nominated at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in 2013.
“Our industry is still raw and not very mature yet. We don’t have facilities available for everyone, but this can help filmmakers who want to do something and pursue an idea,” says Al Yasiri.
He admits he has not used the facilities yet, but says he plans to soon with his forthcoming TV series, 8 Hours.
The TV series is a comedy/reality show, similar to The Office and Modern Family, which Al Yasiri says is "totally new" for the MENA region.
Shooting is expected to begin in October with a plan to broadcast it in February.
Fatima Al Yousef, a community management associate at Creative Lab, says the new space is already seeing an influx of people using the facilities or just hanging out.
“Our job is to stimulate that community,” she says. Her role involves talent development and running outreach programmes to attract budding filmmakers.
The facilities and support mechanisms at Creative Lab are available to everyone and membership is free.
Funding is, however, only given to Arab nationals who live in the UAE and are at least 18 years old.
According to Al Yousef, the services and support Creative Lab offers give people “as many opportunities as possible”.
“We want them to be plugged into the projects and also educate them about filmmaking, like what the difference is between a director and a producer,” she says.
This is the kind of insight Amena Al Nowais needed when she started as an intern at Creative Lab.
The 25-year-old Emirati was initially pursuing a career in diplomacy when she was approached by twofour54 to give filmmaking a shot.
She says she would never look back now.
“There’s a lot of support and opportunities here. They are really trying to get things off the ground. This is the time to get involved,” says Al Nowais.
“I don’t think it’s this easy anywhere else in the world. It’s a great time for film in the country.”
• #TheLab is open daily from 9am to 10pm and is also used for private screenings and workshops. For more information, visit www.twofour54.com/creativelab
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