Abu Dhabi is fast becoming a favourite location for film crews
Just when you thought the social-media hype around Abu Dhabi’s role in Furious 7 seemed to have finally died down – after more than a year, from the build-up to the location filming last year, through to the cinema release in May this year – it was rekindled when the makers returned to Abu Dhabi a few weeks ago to promote the film’s home-video release on September 15.
The film was not the first Hollywood blockbuster to shoot in the UAE, with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Deliver Us from Evil and Syriana laying the groundwork. But given its incredible box-office success, it is the highest profile movie yet, and could provide the greatest legacy for filmmaking in the country – at least until Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens comes out in December. Furious 7, the seventh entry in the Fast and Furious franchise starring Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker, is now the fifth- highest grossing film of all time at US$1.51bn (Dh5.5bn).
The exposure the movie gave the emirate around the world is indisputable. About 30 minutes of the action takes place in and around the capital. It includes one of the most daring stunts ever seen in the series, in which a car crashes out of an upper-floor window in one of the Etihad Towers buildings, flying through the air and smashing through the window to land in another of the towers – and then repeating the jump to a third tower for good measure.
It’s a spectacular stunt, albeit one that was actually filmed in Atlanta, but it is the film’s overall legacy – which will live on long after the stunt dims in the memory – that the capital’s movie industry bosses will be interested in.
The movie’s fans and its cast and crew have been tireless in drawing attention to Abu Dhabi’s role, none more so than star Tyrese Gibson, whose endless tweets professing his love for the country and detailing his every move – from getting up close with the native flora and fauna to chilling out in local dress and singing the praises of local hang-outs – could not have been better scripted by tourism chiefs.
On his return to the city for the home-video launch, Tyrese had more than praise to offer. The actor revealed, in his capacity as chairman and chief executive of Voltron Entertainment, that he has a vision to build a movie studio in the capital and hopes to bring a US$700m slate of movies – matching the standard of Hollywood blockbusters such as Jurassic Park, Fast and Furious and Transformers – to the UAE.
Tyrese added on social media that he is partnering with studio builder Pacifica Ventures and Lendary Pictures co-founder Scott Mednick.
“We won’t come here for three or four days to shoot, but we’ll come to shoot the entire movie and with this $700m we’ll be able to co-fund and become co-producers of these movies and put Abu Dhabi on the map in a very different way,” Tyrese said in an interview last month with Abu Dhabi TV, which is owned by The National’s parent company, Abu Dhabi Media.
“I want to build a studio on the level of Universal Studios where there’s tourism, there’s residential, hotels, and we’re shooting the biggest movies in the world right here in Abu Dhabi.”
He also challenged UAE decision makers “to redesign the tax rebate and incentive system”. Abu Dhabi currently offers a 30 per cent rebate to movie productions. “I want to make it more attractive to all Hollywood A-list directors, actors, producers and make it more attractive for all Hollywood to say, ‘We have to get to Abu Dhabi because we get the biggest and the best return on our investment,’” said Tyrese.
“When you see Brad Pitt and Angelina, Will Smith, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Vin Diesel and all of these big movie stars and shows filming here for eight to nine months, that’s also going to start changing negative perceptions of the Middle East. I don’t just want to build it. I want to build it and make sure it’s being used wall-to-wall. I won’t rest until this is done.”
Whether his mention of Brad Pitt was deliberate is unclear, given the subsequent news a few weeks later that Pitt’s new movie, War Machine, will film in Abu Dhabi next month, but the experience the local industry gained last May will stand it in good stead. Filming of Furious 7 and Star Wars briefly overlapped, meaning two of the biggest movies in the world were shooting concurrently in the capital. Next month, War Machine, Star Trek Beyond (being filmed in Dubai) and the Bollywood blockbuster Dhishoom will all be in the UAE at the same time.
It looks like Abu Dhabi will be more than ready for action.
Updated: August 9, 2015 04:00 AM