Hollywood and Bollywood are not the only places taking advantage of Abu Dhabi’s prime locations and 30 per cent production rebate. The capital’s varied geography is increasingly making an impact on the international television industry: back in March, the cast and crew of the long-running American soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful shot part of its eight UAE-based episodes in Abu Dhabi.
The Syrian hit drama Al Ikhwa (The Brothers) – the second season is now screening nightly on OSN Yahala Drama HD – has gone one better by shooting the entire series in the emirate, with locations including Yas and Saadiyat islands, Etihad Towers and the Corniche. While soap opera shoots are renowned for their pace and intensity, since arriving in February the cast and crew have been enjoying their stay in the capital, even if that meant switching a few locations in light of the Abu Dhabi heat.
Produced in collaboration with twofour54's production services arm Intaj and Clacket Productions, Al Ikhwa follows the lives of five expat Syrian siblings based in Abu Dhabi who work for the family business. The series follows the brothers as they attempt to make their mark in the business world, often at the expense of each other. "The thing that I would like to stress about this show is that it is pan-Arab," says Clacket Productions head Eyad Al Najjar.
“We have a cast from different parts of the Arab world and we are shooting it here in Abu Dhabi, where you can find people from everywhere. This makes the show special and I think more than just simply a Syrian soap opera.”
Indeed, Al Ikhwa's stars hail from various parts of the region. Leading the cast are the Syrian actors Taim Hasan and Bassem Yakhour, joined by the Algerian singer and actress Amal Bashousha and Lebanon's Nadine El Rassi.
“In all honesty, I have worked on many projects, but this is one of the largest productions I have taken part in,” El Rassi says. “There has been great care and attention placed on the characters and the locations. Every detail is thought out, from the wardrobe and even to the cars. We have also been staying very comfortably here in Abu Dhabi and that also has a positive effect on the actors’ work.”
Directing the whole affair is Houssam Al Rantissi, who was impressed with the spaciousness of Abu Dhabi. “This is something that has really surprised me and that is very beneficial,” he explains. “You have got the ocean, the desert, these wide open spaces. All of this looks great on screen. Personally, I prefer it here rather than Dubai as over there it is all high-rises and it can be visually quite tight. I don’t experience that when I am driving into Abu Dhabi.”
When the series began its shoot in February, Al Rantissi and his crew experienced a few joyous months of the crisp UAE winter. With the mercury rising since May, Al Rantissi recalls facing a few snap decisions. “It was getting to a stage where it was too hot to shoot outside so I had to change a few scenes from outdoors to the villa where the brothers live,” he says. “This is perhaps the main difficulty about shooting here, but there are always options in terms of the locations.”
The show goes on
With the series being a ratings hit across the region during Ramadan, another 100 episodes of Al Ikhwa have been ordered to capitalise on the success. This is great news for Intaj's executive director Paul Baker. With each series consisting of nearly 100 episodes, Abu Dhabi's prime destinations are set to make a regular appearance on Middle Eastern television screens for some time to come. It is Intaj's hope, he explains, for that visibility to turn into more tourists on the ground.
“This is just an outstanding show to have in Abu Dhabi,” he says. “There is a huge opportunity to make an effect on tourism. The more we showcase the locations, the more we will be drawing tourists to Abu Dhabi to experience them and the many other great places that we have.”
• The first season of Al Ikhwa screened in June; the second season is now showing exclusively on OSN Yahala Drama HD daily at midnight. For details, visit www.osn.com.