Dubai is setting itself up to become a magnet for film and TV production to generate Dh1 billion (US$272.2 million) for the local economy by 2014. The newly launched Dubai TV and Film Commission, which authorises audio and visual media production permits for TV, film and commercials in the emirate is expecting the sector to contribute 1 to 2 per cent to GDP.
The Commission, set up through decree number 16 issued by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, is promoting Dubai as a filming destination to attract producers.
"The vision is to bring in a large amount of film and TV production to Dubai and help the growth of film development," said Jamal Al Sharif, the chairman of the Dubai Film and TV Commission.
So far this year the commission has helped to generate Dh150 million for the emirate, with another Dh5m expected before the close of the year. The aim is to reach Dh250m by 2015.
In 2010, Dubai made Dh165m from film and TV production, helped largely by Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, which chose the city as one of its shooting locations. Scenes of Tom Cruise escalating Burj Khalifa placed the emirate as a valid shooting destination for big-budget films. The four-week shoot brought in $28m for Dubai.
The commission is offering incentives of up to 50 per cent in rebates to lure in producers away from other filming centres around the world.
"We are offering soft rebates and we customise it [to each project], for hotels, cargo, airline tickets, wherever we feel," said Mr Al Sharif.
But there is still a long way to go because of a shortage in local skills, and the high costs of hotel accommodation, travel and food.
"We could have shot four times the amount we did [last year]. We lost about 40 films last year because of cost and censorship factors. That's why the commission's incentive is to attract these films and to start making things cheaper," said Tim Smythe, the chief executive at Filmworks, which works with the commission to help bring in film and TV productions to Dubai.
Mr Smythe says he is in talks to bring four international feature films to shoot here.
More than 6,000 applications have been processed and accepted since 2006 and it has been growing at a rate of about 8 per cent this year, reaching 1,060 so far. In 2008, at its peak, the sector contributed Dh400m through 1,112 different productions.
Mr Al Sharif is working with his Abu Dhabi counterpart to provide a more seamless and united platform for productions in the UAE. He is also keen to develop the commission's role to reach a wider network beyond the country and has been in discussions with Oman, Morocco, Jordan and the GCC to work together on becoming a bigger representative body for the region as whole.