Netflix war movies filmed in Jordan and Abu Dhabi
Sand Castle is based on the experiences of Chris Roessner, who served in Iraq during the US-led invasion in 2003.
The film follows a squad of US soldiers who find themselves facing insurgents in a town near Baghdad when they set out to repair a water supply damaged by US airstrikes.
The film’s producer 42 already had experience of filming in Jordan with the military sci-fi movie Monsters: Dark Continent, so they knew they would get good support from the country’s Royal Film Commission, including useful access to military equipment.
“It was essential for the set pieces we were going after,” says actor Logan Marshall-Green, echoing the producers’ sentiments. “We really needed to see the people – the pock-marked neighbourhoods. That’s where this movie was going to take place and I don’t think there was anywhere else that we could shoot this, other than going straight into Baghdad and that’s not going to happen.”
Jordan’s heat was a challenge for the cast and crew, but the diversity of locations available within a relatively short distance of capital Amman was a big benefit.
“They have a lot of different landscapes and they are very close to each other,” says Fernando Coimbra, the film's director.
“Jordan is small – you travel 40 minutes and you have something that’s completely different. We were all based in Amman the whole time and we’d travel 40 minutes, one hour, one hour-and-a-half, and you were in a completely different place. We could do everything there.”
Despite its advantages as a filming location, Jordan’s international production popularity is erratic, partly because of security concerns relating to its proximity to Syria and Iraq.
Nonetheless, the country’s deserts did double for the surface of Mars in parts of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi survival hit The Martian.
More recently, the Royal Film Commission Jordan assisted Lucasfilm for scenes in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the commission was recognised for its efforts at this year’s Location Managers Guild International Awards.
War Machine is also drawn from true events and tells a satirical story of Brad Pitt’s US Army general as he is assigned command of America’s combat operations in Afghanistan. The film is inspired by non-fiction book The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan.
Director David Michod and Pitt chose Abu Dhabi as their location double for the war zone.
“Producer Ian Bryce initially reached out to Paul Baker (executive director of service company twofour54) about the availability of military equipment,” says Michael Flannigan, head of production with twofour54 film and TV services, in comments to KFTV.
“We were involved with all parts of the project from scouting locations, hiring local crew and suppliers through to the shoot itself – the production team set up in our production offices.”
War Machine’s Abu Dhabi shoot was entirely on location, with some of the city’s more distinctive landmarks becoming movie sets for the film.
“Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre became an airport,” Flannigan says. “It’s a great location and a lot more practical than filming in a real airport, where obviously security is much more of a concern.”
The emirate city has studio facilities but they are designed for TV production and are mostly used for smaller-scale regional shows.
War Machine spent about three weeks filming in Abu Dhabi overall, recreating the Afghan capital and recruiting more than 2,000 extras.
“Heat can be the biggest challenge, especially when you work at the height of summer,” Flannigan says, echoing familiar sentiments. “On the other hand, the military really gave us phenomenal support throughout the shoot.”
Hollywood productions have tended to prefer Morocco as an international filming location for stories set in Iraq or Afghanistan in recent years. New Mexico has also proved a suitable domestic choice for US shoots, hosting films like Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Lone Survivor and Horse Soldiers.
Sand Castle images: Nick Wall Photography/Netflix. War Machine image: Netflix