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Dubai holds centre stage for global film-makers

Dubai: The city of Dubai as a backdrop for films, TV series and commercials is a common enough sight the moment one flicks on the TV and surfs the channels. Just about every other film from India these days seems to have a few scenes or songs shot with Dubai’s signature landmarks providing the frame of reference.

But, now, some of India’s movie makers are going way beyond that. “Dubai possesses the advantage of being able to make any imagined location a reality and can also double for virtually any place in the world,” said Jamal Al Sharif, chairman of Dubai Film and TV Commission (DFTC), the agency which is responsible for spreading the word about Dubai as a location for film shoots as well as greenlighting what can be shot here.

“Those choosing to shoot in Dubai can take advantage of the locations and infrastructure that we have here, while also shooting the scenes meant to be set in India too — the streets of Satwa and our luxurious hotels have been used to represent Indian markets and palaces, for example.”

Dubai is doing its bit behind the camera as well. Three “recently completed and operational” sound stages have given film-makers another reason to go beyond just filming scenes. According to Adnan Peter Malki, managing director of Flicker Show, “With the sound stages now in place, we have seen an increase in the interest for many big TV format productions to shoot in stages.”

Since 2005, when the Location Approval Services group was established under Dubai Film and TV Commission to facilitate shooting permits, more than 7,000 productions have integrated Dubai into the background. (Think Tom Cruise’s ‘Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol’ or Matt Damon’s ‘The Bourne Legacy’, to name just two.)

“We currently receive on average 100 filming applications per month representing a full range of productions, including commercials, corporate videos, TV shows and feature films [and] from all parts of the world,” said Al Sharif.

“Our tagline — ‘Make Dubai what you want it to be’ — is attractive for international film-makers because in one place they are able to use a variety of different neighbourhoods — from cosmopolitan city to remote deserts — or settings that can stand in for Asian, American or other international locations,” Al Sharif said.

There are fringe benefits too — “With a population of 2 million and 200 nationalities, local and visiting productions enjoy significant casting flexibility… this means they can shoot more in less time, which is a financially attractive proposition for film-makers.

“We understand the significant role cost plays in production decision making; however, this is only one factor and there are others that play a major role in the decision making of a productions’ choice of a location, which Dubai has.

“DFTC is committed to creating an environment that spurs creativity and entertainment without bringing on budgetary constraints by offering unique incentives on a case-by-case basis.”

For the upcoming Indian film ‘Happy New Year’ starring Shahrukh Khan, Dubai’s Film and TV Commission went way beyond its defined role.

During the shoot in September, it collaborated with Atlantis, The Palm, where a majority of the scenes were shot, as well as with Emirates, who flew in the crew to Dubai. Plus, there was a part for Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing by way of “extensive logistical support to simplify the entire filmmaking process for the production team”.

“The key to developing a healthy production ecosystem depends on five major requirements; a versatile offering of locations for background scenes, production infrastructure and support, incentive programmes, city infrastructure and safety, and access to local talent,” Al Sharif said.

Dubai, for its part, is ticking all those boxes.