x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Movie mogul calls for incentives for UAE film industry

Government-funded financial incentives would help the UAE’s film industry become more competitive, according to the producer of the box-office blockbuster Paranormal Activity.

Government-funded financial incentives would help the UAE's film industry become more competitive, according to the producer of a recent box-office blockbuster. 

Jason Blum, the producer of Paranormal Activity, a horror film that was shot for US$15,000 (Dh55,000) but grossed almost $200 million, said that a structured incentive scheme would be "valuable" for the country's fledgling film industry.

Tax breaks, subsidies and rebates are common in many other film markets, and are often run by national or local government agencies. The schemes are set up on the assumption that filmmaking attract wider economic benefits. The introduction of such an initiative would help the film industry blossom, said Mr Blum. "The world competes by giving subsidies for production. The more that happens, the more competitive it will be. And it feeds on itself, so the more movies that come … the more attractive it is for studios and outside production to come here," he said.

Mr Blum, who is also president of Blumhouse Productions, was speaking on the sidelines of the Circle Conference in Abu Dhabi, which is concerned with film production and financing. The US producer said financial incentive schemes were usually generous at the beginning. "But once you establish enough business you can pull back a little on the incentives," he said. Discussions are under way for incentive schemes in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

David Shepheard, the director of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission (ADFC), told The National this year that the ADFC had been in discussions over a "framework for our various government partners to discuss" such an incentive programme. While tax breaks would be irrelevant in the UAE, possibilities for incentive schemes include free air tickets and hotel rooms, and a reduction in fees to film in particular locations. Some have suggested a dedicated "incentive fund" that could be used to encourage film production here.

Mr Blum produced and helped to secure the distribution of Paranormal Activity, the spooky story of a young couple haunted by a supernatural presence. He said the lesson of the film for UAE filmmakers was that "you can really do a lot with a little". "Often the hard thing about film or TV is that it takes a lot more capital than painting a painting or writing a book. But I think the great lesson is that there are ways to do it,"  Mr Blum said.

"If you have what you feel is a fun, compelling story to tell, it showed that there is a way to do that with very little money. It could definitely happen anywhere. It's good to tell stories that are close to your heart," he said. "When you're starting out, the cheaper you can tell them, the more time you'll actually get to spend making them, as opposed to raising money for them." 

bflanagan@thenational.ae