Abu Dhabi has been described as the “next Singapore” when it comes to film and entertainment productions, according to the CEO of TwoFour54 and Image Nation Abu Dhabi, Michael Garin.
While the UAE capital may not be quite at the stage to make comparisons with Hollywood or Bollywood, Garin, who joined Abu Dhabi film production company Image Nation in 2011 and was made CEO of TwoFour54 earlier this year, is expecting “an explosion” of new productions in the emirate after so far successfully negotiating the Covid-19 global pandemic.
Other than Iceland, Abu Dhabi and the UAE was the only jurisdiction to maintain production through the lockdown and movement restrictions, spending more than $100 million as the cameras kept rolling.
“This has been seen and noted around the world, in Hollywood and Bollywood and everywhere else,” Garin told sister-publication Arabian Business.
“As a consequence, we expect an explosion of new production because they understand that Abu Dhabi is one of the safest places on the planet to produce film and television.”
TwoFour54 employed between 600 and 1,000 crew members for work in Abu Dhabi and the surrounding emirates, with strict health and safety protocols followed, including thermal tests and Covid tests for crew and sanitising all equipment on a regular basis.
“It’s a tribute to the UAE because, whether it’s testing, protecting the population, they have one of the best records of any nation in the world. We’re just a beneficiary of that and the professionalism of the team that we have working for us,” said Garin.
As a result, Abu Dhabi has cemented itself on the map for the industry, with “big productions” heading to the emirate later this year and into next year, although Garin was unable to provide details at this stage.
He said: “I think that we see ourselves as the next Singapore, because what’s changed is that people used to think of us as a location, and now they think of us as a home. Companies are establishing their Middle East and North African headquarters here, they see setting up their regional offices here.
“It will not only be production, but development and this will create a very sustainable ecosystem, which is our whole reason for being.”
Twofour54 and Image Nation Abu Dhabi are already hugely successful, screening content at over 400 international film festivals and receiving the industry’s highest honours, including two Academy Awards, a BAFTA and an Emmy.
This year the world’s first Arabic-language US-style, Saudi family drama, Al Mirath (Inheritance), was launched, a partnership between Image nation, twofour54 and MBC; while Abu Dhabi has attracted international film shoots such as Bollywood hit “Bharat” and Netflix actioner “6 Underground”.
Image Nation also credits the currently topical US blockbuster Contagion, which was produced in partnership with Warner Bros. Pictures, Participant Media and Double Feature Films, as one of its many hits.
At the start of the global pandemic, in March, the tilm, which was released back in 2011 and stars Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, was Warner Bros’ second-most streamed film behind Harry Potter – up from 270th in 2019.
Return on investment
Garin added that the economic benefits of a thriving production industry are also huge. According to a study commissioned by Abu Dhabi Film Commission from PwC a few years ago, it was found that for every AED1 invested in ADFC’s 30 percent production rebate programme, AED4.5 of GDP is generated within the emirate.
“The impact on the economy going forward that this will have will be highly significant on several levels. First of all there’s the obvious one of jobs, but people don’t often think about all the secondary and tertiary economic benefits that occur when we bring productions here,” he said.
“We have air fares, we have hotels, we have catering, we have car rentals and then the people that come to live and work here, we have housing, we have schools, so the impact that this sector has is not just one about entertainment, but it’s also about becoming a major contributor to the growth of the economy.