Lebanon is home to a vibrant and dynamic production community. Better-known for TV and commercials than film, it offers terrific scenery, varied architecture, talented crews and decent equipment – all at a competitive price compared to Europe. As a small country, most jobs can be handled without having to travel too far from production hub and capital Beirut.
Although it is closely entwined with the Middle East region, The Lebanon has many similarities with Mediterranean locations. Its geography is more varied than the Middle East, for example, and its culture is more liberal, making it easy to shoot some scenes that wouldn’t be acceptable in other places. Compared to other Middle East locations, it is also cooler in summer, and not affected so much by periods like Ramadan.
The expertise of Lebanon’s production community is well-known across the Middle East region (leading producers generally also have offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Cairo). But there is not much formal support from the government. With no film commission or rebates, value for money and the quality of crews are key attractions.
Lebanon has long been regarded as the hub of the advertising business in the Middle East and it continues to attract a lot of commercials business because it has professional producers and great locations. Leading production company The Talkies has recently produced ads for brands such as Head & Shoulders, Pepsi, Samsung and Perfetto Spaghetti in Lebanon. It also shoots ads in nearby UAE and Egypt. Other key players include Olive Tree, Beirutworks (the local division of regional powerhouse Filmworks) and Clandestino Films.
In TV, there is a strong domestic/pan-Arabic business – with studio-based entertainment shows regularly produced here. Local film production has also been growing in recent years but there is not much in the way of international film and TV production. Canal+’s Carlos and ARTE’s Beirut Hotel shot here but these are rare examples.
More typical is when Showtime’s Homeland shot Lebanon scenes in Israel. Partly, this is down to the lack of competitive incentives for international film and TV producers. But insurance is also an issue. Producers might want to come here but insurance companies generally won’t cover high-profile acting talent because of the perceived security threat of filming here.
Permits aren’t too much of a problem. Emerge Film Solutions says: “Permits are generally a quick and easy process. B-roll shoots around Beirut require permits from the army and government. These permits take about a week to get. More complicated shoots involving traffic control or large setups require more time and consultation with the police. Shoots involving drones require at least two weeks to permit. Journalists heading to film in Beirut’s southern suburbs will need permission from Hezbollah’s media office and an accompanying escort.”
Sensitivity to the political situation is clearly key. For example, censors may insist on changes to scripts before allowing permission to film in the case of controversial subjects. In terms of other logistics, most nationalities don’t need a visa for The Lebanon -but you will need a valid carnet for any equipment brought in.
Lebanon has a number of international standard facilities. Perhaps the most famous is Studiovision, which handles major productions for the Pan-Arab region (eg local versions of shows like The X Factor, Family Feud and Chance Of a Lifetime). Around for two decades, Studiovision has 20 fully equipped and operational studios, control rooms, edit suites and an in-house design and construction team. It also has a base in Dubai.
Another significant operation is Platform Studios, which has two studios and is also a major supplier of rental equipment. Keep in mind, however, that leading players get booked up quickly by local TV production companies.
Another benefit of filming in Lebanon is the wealth of decent post-production houses which provide a professional and quick service, examples being The Gate, VTR Beirut, The postoffice, Djinn House and Hedgehog.
Lebanon can offer a wide range of locations – all in close proximity. There are mountains, deserts, white sand beaches, forests, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, exotic cityscapes, fertile farmland, vineyards, olive groves and orchards – to name but a few. Between them, these locations can double up for many countries in the Americas and Europe, though there is also plenty of scope for unique, differentiated shoots.
Lebanon has seen many civilisations come and go, so its buildings range from ancient sites to modern cityscapes. It’s also possible to find a mix of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern architectural styles.
Many of these looks can be found within an hour’s drive of Beirut. Beirut itself is a beautiful and vibrant city though this perception often doesn’t carry to the outside world (TV series Homeland, for example, recently depicted it as a hotbed of terrorism - without actually visiting the city). Also of note is Tripoli, with its mosques and crusader castle.
The road network in Lebanon is mostly in good condition and Beirut is serviced by several major airlines.
The summer (June to September) is hot and dry and winters (December to March) is cold and wet. So Spring and Autumn are regarded as the best times to shoot. That said, you might be able to film snow in winter - if you are willing to sit out the occasional rain downpour.
Most cutting edge equipment is available in The Lebanon. As mentioned above, one leading supplier is Platform Studios, which offers film and video cameras, accessories, lighting, grips, crew, transportation. Active across the region, they have supplied films like The Hurt Locker (partly shot in Jordan).
Other leading suppliers include Media Square, Phoenix Eye, Gamma Engineering and Final Cut Equipped, which also cites its access to “multilingual film technicians with experience working with foreign productions”.
Crews in Lebanon are willing to work very long stretches (with overtime) while art departments and set construction are both good compared to the rest of the Middle East region. Also worth noting is that crews can be brought in from Dubai and Europe quite easily. Commercials producers also stress that Lebanon is good for getting diverse casts.