Twofour Arabia - an insider's guide
With the announcement in May that independent production company Twofour Arabia had appointed Paul Harper as general manager, KFTV thought this would be a good time to take a look at life inside the Abu Dhabi-based office.
Head of Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Jonney Steven tells us about TwoFour Arabia’s aims, challenges and what it’s like to work in the emirate.
How long has Twofour had an office in Abu Dhabi and what led the company to expand into the UAE?
We opened an office in Arabia in 2010. We felt that it was an exciting time for a company at the crossroads between broadcast television production and content production for brands to be exploring the MENA market.
Abu Dhabi was the obvious choice as a hub with the launching of the coincidentally named Twofour54 Media Freezone as part of the Abu Dhabi’s government’s commitment to growing the media sector in their 2030 Vision.
What kind of services do you provide?
We supply to brands and the public sector a raft of content ranging from enhanced internal comms to viral campaigns, with the rapidly evolving area of branded content sitting between the two. In short, we use film and video to tell stories, whether that’s for broadcasters, brands or governments.
Would you say the broadcast and production market is growing rapidly in the region and, if so, why?
Broadcasters, brands and the public sector are crying out for original content, particularly Arabic language content. That might be for traditional linear broadcast, for online distribution, or simply for internal communication.
It’s an exciting time to be a part of this industry and demand for good quality, engaging, and (where appropriate) entertaining, Arabic language content is far outstripping supply at present. So growth is inevitable.
Can you describe the average working day in Abu Dhabi?
I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as an average working week in our industry. One day we might be sitting in our office thrashing out ideas for a new television format we’re trying to create, the next we might be in the Arabian Desert with the temperature nudging 50 degrees trying to capture illusive wildlife.
The hours are often irregular as we work to meet challenging deadlines and we shoot at whatever hours the project demands. The weather does bring a whole set of problems to be overcome, but we get round that by shooting at first light before the temperature gets too hot and by having an amazing, patient crew who are willing to go the extra mile for their art.
Are there any cultural differences that visiting crew/companies need to be aware of?
There are many cultural differences and local variations. It is for this reason that we have opened an office in Abu Dhabi and we work with many skilled locals for whom the culture is second nature. This gives us, and our clients, the best of both worlds, the best international expertise, and credible local knowledge and understanding. It’s not the kind of region you can breeze into and expect to start shooting, like in London or New York.
Is it straightforward to get permits and to work in public places in Abu Dhabi?
By working with the team at Twofour54 the visa process has been made a lot easier. It still takes a fair amount of advanced planning, but most obstacles can be overcome.
Similarly, Twofour54 has simplified the process of filming in public places. It still takes time and expertise to plan, but is entirely do-able.
Can you tell us about any challenging jobs you’ve done?
One of our biggest challenges was filming a series of high-end natural history films on location in the Arabian desert during the summer. The amount of invoices for crates of the vitamin replacement drink Poccari Sweat I had to sign off, you’d have thought we were opening a supermarket. And I never did find out what a Poccari was or why its sweat was so tasty…
Moving TwoFour Arabia further to the future
On top of the exciting changes already discussed, Twofour and Abu Dhabi Media recently announced a long term partnership which begins with the commission of original content for the Abu Dhabi TV Network.
The deal will see TwoFour Arabia produce a tranche of features and factual programming in time for the scheduled grid re-launch on 2 December. Series lined up include one on inspirational places and people in the region, and another examining the world of professional chefs.
Charles Wace, group chief executive,of Twofour, said of the partnership: “This is massively exciting for Twofour – we’re delighted to expand our international output by working with Abu Dhabi Media on fresh new formats. We look forward to growing our creative team to produce a new and returnable slate of programmes in the Arabic language.”
KFTV would like to thank Jonney Steven for his time and for answering our questions. Twofour Arabia are expanding across the world – last year they launched a distribution arm, Twofour Rights and an LA base, Twofour America. They already have offices in the UK and Philadelphia.