It’s almost hard to believe another year is over. But in the region’s fast-paced film and TV production industry, that’s the way it is, partly because everyone is so busy and partly because – let’s face it – it’s a great industry to work in.
For the UAE in particular, 2015 was a landmark year in terms of film production. Early in the year the UAE was in the limelight with the release of teasers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which was partly filmed in the Abu Dhabi desert. Fast & Furious 7, also filmed in the UAE, was released and smashed box-office expectations.
Numerous big names also visited these shores to film some major films, most notably the cast and crew of Star Trek Beyond. Martial arts giant Jackie Chan was also in Dubai at the same time as the Star Trek team to shoot his film, Kung Fu Yoga, while in November, Brad Pitt was in town to film his latest work, War Machine, for Netflix.
While international productions are always welcome in the region, there is also a need for more local production. This is critical to help build a healthy film ecosystem, and there are growing signs that this is happening. Abdulhamid Juma, chairman of Dubai International Film Festival, told Digital Studio that DIFF’s 2015 selection will showcase a wealth of contemporary Arab cinema, with more than 70 biopics, comedies, dramas and love stories from the Arabian Peninsula, Levant and North Africa.
Looking back over the past year, it’s also fascinating to see just how much has happened. 2015 started with so much promise, with the then-imminent launch of AlarabTV, but despite a multi-million dollar investment, the channel barely made it past its first day. It was, by anybody’s estimation, a debacle. It was also a sobering reminder that making a big investment does not always guarantee continuity in the region.
Following this, 2015 was a year of mixed fortunes for the industry. Like almost every other sector under the sun, the broadcast industry was rattled by the sudden decline in oil prices earlier in the year, which triggered immediate warning lights in terms of investment. This was probably most evident at the Digital Studio & Broadcast Camera Steering Committee in August. At the event, which was held in a roundtable format, respected professionals – mainly camera manufacturers and distributors – spoke candidly about the expectations for the rest of the year. Almost all saw difficult times ahead, with sales expected to decline in 2016.
But elsewhere, other companies involved in the industry still appear to see some room for optimism in the Middle East. This is most evident from the number of companies that have decided to invest in the region by setting up a base here or by expanding their existing presence.
In the past year, each of the following companies has either opened an office in the Middle East or expanded its presence: Rosco, Riedel, SLS Production, Akamai, SNTV, Absen LED, Limelight. I’ve surely missed a few, but you get the point. The economic climate will always vary, there will be ups and downs, but in the Middle East region it is clear that the long term growth tangent is set. Perhaps companies worried about 2016 can at least use the less frenetic pace to take stock of their operations, do important customer research, make plans and innovate. That way, when serious growth returns, they can be better prepared to ride the wave.
All the best from the team at Digital Studio magazine and we wish you a prosperous 2016!