Build a fictional city and film it in HD ... all in Dubai

The Middle East's answer to the film powerhouses of the US and India may be rising in Dubai.

DUBAI // The Middle East's answer to the film powerhouses of the US and India may be rising in Dubai. Dubai Studio City (DSC), a 22 million square foot facility, is the result of a Dh1.5 billion (US$400 million) investment announced in 2005 as an extension of Dubai Media City. While Media City was running out of space, Tecom Investment, the owners, saw the potential to develop more TV and filmmaking space.

Since then, 59 film and television companies have moved into the studios, based in a sprawling complex by Arabian Ranches about 15 minutes from Media City. When it is finished next year, the facility will offer the region's biggest indoor studios, meaning the UAE's long hot summers will not stand in the way of productions. The indoor studios are big "enough to build a small city", said Jamal al Sharif, managing director of DSC and Dubai Media City. Two 18-by-16-metres long, 4.5 meters deep tanks are also planned for underwater filming.

Mr Sharif said he can currently provide a full crew for one international film, but does not have enough people to run concurrent projects. That is a problem he hopes to rectify in coming years. "In time, we want to be able to have everyone here on hand, to keep business running from local talent," he said. "People coming here want to know you have skilled staff like cameramen, cinematographers and scriptwriters, so you have to develop local business before you go international."

The children's show Freej, now a hit animation series across the region, was launched in Media City. The series, based on the lives of four Emirati grandmothers, embodies the sort of entrepreneurial spirit Mr Sharif hopes will continue at DSC. The studios are also the first port of call for scriptwriters who wish to film in the emirate. Mr Sharif said they receive about 15 scripts a week from around the world, from Bollywood to Hollywood.

It was DSC and its associated body, Location Approval Services, that greenlit George Clooney's Syriana to shoot in the emirate and helped with scouting locations while DSC was being built. They also had a hand in rejecting other scripts, such as the upcoming Sex and the City 2, last month's Matt Damon Iraq war movie Green Zone and Ridley Scott's 2008 thriller Body of Lies. About 95 per cent of submitted scripts are approved, having been deemed not harmful to UAE culture, religion or politics, and have the "right product" with the "right message", said Mr al Sharif.

MTV, Nickelodeon, Indi TV and Summit TV, from India and Pakistan, are among the companies occupying DSC studios. Another, Al Dafrah TV, is producing news and current affairs shows in the only HD facility in the country.