In keeping with global trends, the UAE's cultural and creative industries are becoming vital engines of growth in the country. Capitalising on $2,250 billion and nearly 30 million jobs worldwide, the creative economy accounts for 3 per cent of the world's GDP. Creative sectors boost employment and are a critical force in entrepreneurship, innovation and social development.
Leveraging the creative industry's global potential, the existing media landscape in Abu Dhabi has incubated many success stories, such as the Abu Dhabi Film Commission and twofour54 Abu Dhabi. But that is not all. The creative economy's potential for visual storytelling has great power. Unlocking the potential of the cultural and creative industries also means leveraging new technologies that are disrupting the sector and thus catering to the ever-changing demands of global audiences.
A mature film and television sector can help increase tourism as well as promote a city's image overseas – in this case, Abu Dhabi's image abroad, when content is either directly filmed in Abu Dhabi or funded in Abu Dhabi.
Already, we’ve seen big-ticket films such as the Tom Cruise-starred Mission Impossible 4 feature the Liwa desert and Abu Dhabi International Airport’s Midfield Terminal. In an earlier film, Cruise scaled the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
It’s not just Hollywood that has shot sequences in the UAE. Production houses in neighbouring countries, such as India’s Bollywood and many of India’s regional film industries have shot in the UAE. It is frequently also the go-to location for Middle Eastern film industries; Egyptian cinema, Lebanese and Tunisian producers have brought film crews to the UAE to shoot part of their films or TV series aired on OTT platforms.
Given the existing popularity of the UAE as a filming destination, there are at least three ways the UAE"s creative sector can further leverage new technologies.
First, through facilities and infrastructure. Abu Dhabi can look into studios as the next big opportunity to build a more diversified portfolio of content. Also, the availability of post-production services can be further enhanced.
Secondly, attracting and retaining talent to work and live and prosper in Abu Dhabi should be a key growth sector.
Especially considering Abu Dhabi's reputation for ease of doing business and getting required permits, and as the UAE economy continues to diversify, the capital's position as a premiere location for film and television production can be improved by providing infrastructure incentives for producers. To this end, studios across Abu Dhabi can play a crucial supporting role.
As the global film and TV industry grows, and Abu Dhabi increasingly attracts film crews, it becomes even more important to invest in local creative economies through the development of media-related businesses that feed the ecosystem. For example: the creation of local costume houses, post-production facilities, location sound services, location scouting services, etc.
These related businesses play a part in every production unit. For instance, in New Zealand, hiring crew and equipment for the filming of the film The Hobbit trilogy added $261 million to the economy over three years, while adding significantly to tourism. Capturing a destination’s appeal on film can ensure a steady stream of visitors and tourists for decades.
Closer home, in Dubai, film industry professionals are building relationships and interacting with more than 180 production studios with 6,000 media production units filmed in the Emirate in the past 16 years.
Growth in the industry is important to local producers and directors who benefit from lower-cost distribution. This is why we see content from regional producers like MBC contend with bigger studios, on platforms such as Netflix, Prime, Disney+, etc.
As such production budgets have risen sharply, with organisations such as MBC –that recently set up MBC studios to produce content – having allocated large budgets to projects and filming concurrently in multiple locations such as Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and even in the UK.
Increased local revenues, temporary jobs, and increased use of local services – such as using they city's transport system and shopping locally – benefit the city where films are shot. A development strategy could further identify local support services required by the industry to then be expanded.
To underscore the importance of the film business, Abu Dhabi's creative communities can reinforce the benefits of filming in their area, and showcase to the film industry the beauty, diversity and simplicity of shooting in their city.
In addition to strengthening local business, it will also increase the exposure that may encourage other industries, such as tourism, to invest in regional development. The entertainment industry has the potential to become a signature business for the Emirate and a potentially rich source of tourism opportunities.
As Abu Dhabi strides towards becoming a significant centre for filmmaking, film and television should be considered part of a broader strategy – with a focus on proper funding and incentives, training of new talent and building the required infrastructure.
Besides the economic rewards, culture and creative industries generate a word-of-mouth buzz. A city's reputation is thus enhanced and this non-monetary value contributes significantly to achieving people-centred, inclusive development that is beneficial to the country in the long term.