Breaking the barriers

Four industry insiders discuss the challenges film makers face
Zakir Hussain says more skilled professionals are needed in the region.
Zakir Hussain says more skilled professionals are needed in the region.

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Digital Studio asks four industry insiders about the challenges young film makers face and why a related shortage of skills may also be holding the industry back.

DS: What are the biggest challenges holding back regional film production in your opinion?
Danish Mumtaz: The hard truth of the matter is revenue generation. You need box office revenue to make a profit and there just isn’t enough of a population within the GCC countries to do that. We need to look at producing films that can excite audiences in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan for local film production to really take off.

Mustafa Abbas: We live in a time of technology where everything has become quick. Shooting digital is faster and cheaper than shooting on film. So there are are no more excuses for films not to be made, especially as they don’t cost as much as they used to. Talented filmmakers need to get out there and do what they love.

DS: Governments, especially the UAE, are making big efforts to encourage local production. But what else needs to be done, and could any of the current policies be improved or modified?
Mustafa Abbas: Honestly, I believe we are moving in the right direction, and it’s very exciting to see how it will continue to evolve in the next five years.

Danish Mumtaz: Personally, we seem too obsessed with making one or two feature films a year with multi-million dollar budgets. If you want to encourage local production, we should be making 30-40 short films a year with budgets from $50,000 - $150,000. We need to get young talents used to the idea of telling stories, writing great screenplays and working with actors.

You can’t do this when you make one or two grand films a year. We need to have a grant system where film makers can come and pitch their ideas and special screenings throughout the year for these films. We need to do many small things, rather than one big initiative.

DS: Is funding for home grown films a major barrier? How can it be addressed? Where can aspiring film makers go to present their plans and seek funding?
Danish Mumtaz: Funding is a problem, because profit is a problem. Other nations fund films though their arts and culture budgets. It’s not based on profit. We need to have more national and regional grants institutions that can foster and encourage interesting ideas. There are currently good initiatives such as the Arab Film Studio from Imagenation Abu Dhabi, but we need to amplify these initiatives to really see in an impact in the next 10 years.

Mustafa Abbas: Normally, it’s privately funded or through a film production company.

DS: Is there a noticeable skills shortage in any areas of the industry?
Marwan Hamed: Yes, whether on the shoot or post production, there is a big shortage on special effects.…any kind of special effects, there is a big shortage. As you can see the industry here does not really go into these areas. In special effects, it needs to be pushed.

It’s important to work with other experienced people on that, from anywhere in the world. And by this you can pass on the knowledge. It is important to do that. If you bring in for instance a Korean standpoint – I am sure he is going to teach three or four people from the local industry and then it goes on and on.

Zakir Hussain: They [young people keen to enter the industry] often don’t have the knowledge. Some think you just take the camera and go and do it. This is a specialised industry, you need expertise. You cannot say just because you know how to use the tools it means you know the culture.

If you want to be the best in the industry you have got to bring the best from the table whether it’s the editor, script writer or music. Even a simple runner on the set plays a very important role, so every element of this industry is so important. Even if you have a bad story, if you have good visuals, people will watch.

Bring the best on the table and do one project and make it perfect. That one project could make your career. First impression is the last impression in this industry. If you want to do it right, involve the right people.

DS: Technical processes: Is there enough assistance for aspiring film makers throughout the film making process (including selecting the right technology, post production tools etc)?
Mustafa Abbas: Definitely, TwoFour 54’s Creative Lab helps talent grow and develop through many different practices.

Danish Mumtaz: This is one area where we’re doing well. The UAE has world class talent with the ability to attract more talent as well, and we love using the latest technology out there whether in production or post.

DS: How is the quality of local film courses? Is it best to study film abroad?
Danish Mumtaz: I think many of the film courses here teach technical production more than the theory and craft of film making. In the US and Europe, students in an undergraduate program will spend at least two to three years learning the history and theory of film and storytelling before they pick up a camera or sit in an edit suite.

It teaches them to think deeply about content and how they want to produce it. The tools needed to produce a film will constantly change but if a person is grounded in theoretical knowledge, then they can adapt to any changes in technology.

Mustafa Abbas: No one can teach you talent. Whether one prefers to study abroad or locally is a personal choice. On another note, it would be interesting to have some more talent agencies or managements in the region such as WMA or ICM. But for that to happen we need more films to come out not just from the UAE, but also the region.

The Experts
- Danish Mumtaz, executive producer, The Goldmine Films
- Mustafa Abbas, writer and film director
- Marwan Hamed, film director
- Zakir Huassain, business director, Icon Art Production

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