x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Getting in on the act

The Life: Cracking into the movie-making business may seem like an impossible mission, but local experts say there is plenty of blockbuster potential within the emirates. Here is where to look.

Nayla Al Khaja is a film-maker and chief executive of the production company D-Seven Motion Pictures. Galen Clarke / The National
Nayla Al Khaja is a film-maker and chief executive of the production company D-Seven Motion Pictures. Galen Clarke / The National

Cracking into the movie-making business may seem like a mission impossible in Hollywood, or even Bollywood for that matter.

But what about budding James Camerons, Aishwarya Rais or aspiring crew members who are looking to be a part of box office success from within the UAE's film business?

Experts say the local industry has plenty of blockbuster potential, but it is still very much in an early phase of development. "The industry has only really existed four or five years [in the UAE]," says Chris Newbould, the editor of Digital Studio Magazine, a publication for the Middle East's film and TV industries.

"It's still growing," added Mr Newbould, who spoke this week at Tamakkan, a monthly seminar for developing entrepreneurs.

Nayla Al Khaja is a local producer, director and chief executive of the production company D-Seven Motion Pictures. Even though she acknowledges the industry is still in its embryonic stage, Ms Al Khaja says "that's exciting, because you can pioneer it".

Ms Al Khaja has already worked on three short films and recently shot a local reality TV show, where she follows a Dh100 note as it passes through the hands of various people. She is now working on her first feature film, which is to be shot in Sharjah.

But Ms Al Khaja and others note that securing funding for a new film project is one of that hardest tasks while getting started here.

Some residents have successfully turned to the Emirates Foundation, a government initiative that created a public-private fund linked to specific sectors such as the arts. Khalid Al Mahmood, an Emirati, recently voted among the "top 10 Arab film-makers to watch" by Screen International Magazine, has turned to the foundation to back some of his latest projects in recent years.

Even so, the financial support has not guaranteed Mr Al Mahmood success with audiences. "Until now, I've been making short films and trying to sell them through TV channels, but I haven't made any money," he said last week at Tamakkan.

"I think that we're still trying to build interest in [local] films."

Mr Al Mahmood and others in the industry say there is a growing need for independent film funds that could invest in local work during the early stages, regardless of the subject matter. That might include a higher-risk investment when a script is still in development, or a heftier sum once a director is ready to start shooting.

Mena CineFinance, which is set to open next month, is a new film fund with a budget of about US$100 million (Dh367.3m) and will be managed by United Investment Bank in Dubai. While its focus will be on finding investors from the region who want to put money behind various films in more established movie markets, "there is an opportunity to pitch things [locally that] can be developed into an international project", says Michelle Nickelson, who created the fund and previously developed business for an Academy Award-winning visual effects studio in the US.

Still, Ms Nickelson warns, investors will have a strict set of criteria and rarely back projects that tend to sell fewer theatre tickets, such as documentaries and short movies. "I like short films, personally, but it is not something you can sell to investors," she says.

Others who want to get behind a film, literally, by helping with behind-the-scenes work - such as animating, shooting cameras or applying make-up on actors - should consider approaching Image Nation or the Abu Dhabi Film Commission (ADFC). Both organisations run programmes to help young talent get on to movie sets.

The ADFC also keeps a database of working professionals from this region so that outside films which shoot in the UAE can more easily find local talent. Other recent initiatives have included a screenwriting competition for Arabs based anywhere in the world, with an award of $100,000.


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