A blueprint for Abu Dhabi's film industry
John Hadity is the CEO and president of Hadity & Associates, a firm specialising in film and TV production planning and financing. He is the former executive vice president of motion picture and television production finance for Miramax Films. He lives in New York City and recently attended the 2008 Abu Dhabi Film Circle Conference. I was born in upstate New York and I've always lived in New York. I was originally pre-medical, but when I finished my education, I knew I really wanted to be in film. I started like everyone else - knocking on doors and asking for a job. I began working for a specialty distribution label called Orion Classics, and I was very lucky because I was doing what I actually wanted to be doing.
I remember travelling with the director Anthony Minghella when he was preparing for The English Patient. The degree to which he prepared for that film was pretty extraordinary. I've never seen anybody do that much prep; the detail was incredible. That's something I carried with me and remembered as a studio executive. One of the great things about this business is that it is a very intensive training program for people who may not have necessarily known a craft before. When I went to Romania for the first time, I was a little nervous because no one had any technical experience. So we brought out some department heads from the UK and trained everyone. It was great. It was so good that we went back to film five more times, including the shoot for Cold Mountain.
Some of my favourite pictures to shoot have been Shakespeare in Love, Good Will Hunting and The English Patient. From a production perspective, they were really well-made films. We had good management and really great technicians. Creating a film industry in Abu Dhabi is really about promoting a film and the filmmakers outside this region, as well as promoting the region as a filming destination to the world. There aren't a lot of people who know that this place exists yet; there are people that are shooting Morocco who could be shooting here. A way to change that would be to have a presence on the Association of Film Commissioners International (www.afci.org), the website where all companies who want to shoot internationally go. Jordan is still the only country in the Middle East and North African region that has a registered film commission on the site. So anyone in the US who wants to shoot in the Middle East only sees the number for Jordan.
It takes a couple of years to get to a point where you have a sustainable film business and a real crew base. You can't just have one movie come in, shoot, take off and be done. You need movies to come in consistently to keep the crew in shape and the industry moving. Since shoots are generally three to four months long, you would need a dozen movies or so a year. Part of my job involves talking to governments about the change that happens when a country decides to create a local movie industry. As a studio executive, I need to convey that we will come in, we will hire a lot of people, we'll create a lot of new jobs, we'll pay people very well, and then we'll leave. This changes people's expectations and behaviour. The larger the budget, the better the deal, and people come to expect a steady stream of movies to keep the industry alive and their new-found craft and positions going.
I remember that this happened with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They came into New Zealand and created a booming economy. After they wrapped, I went down with a franchise, planning to shoot two to three movies. The government refused to give us an incentive to shoot on location. It was an uphill battle. I told the government that if they didn't create incentives, nobody would come shoot. Sure enough, a year later I went back to the same area and stores were boarded up. It was very sad. Within the month, the government had passed a tax break law for filming.
I've seen the worst-case scenarios, where business is thriving and then suddenly - as it happened in New York - the industry shifts because another place (in that case, Canada) has provided more attractive incentives for the studio. I have seen people lose their homes, their cars and their livelihood. Studios will not go to shoot on location for nothing; they expect something in return.