Egypt

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Overview and productions

Egypt has one of the biggest local film and TV industries in the Middle East and its mainstream action pictures, comedies, romances and Ramadan series are among the most exported and watched across the region. International productions have largely steered clear of the territory in recent years, however, due to a combination of fears over terror attacks and political instability following the popular uprising of 2010.

The last time the territory regularly hosted international shoots was in the late 2000s, with incoming features including Michael Bay’s action film Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, which shot by the pyramids and Luxor in 2008, and Doug Liman’s political drama Fair Game, which had scenes set in Cairo University. The last sizeable incoming production dates back to 2014, when Tom Tykwer’s Saudi Arabia-set drama A Hologram For The King, starring Tom Hanks, shot in the Red Sea resort city of Hurghada. 

Ahmed Sami Badawi, general manager, Services Center for International Productions at Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC), wants to bring back international production. EMPC is a vast media, film and TV production hub, situated about 20 kilometres from Cairo and spanning some 2 million square metres.

It boasts 80 studios as well as several permanent sets including a replica of the Pharaonic city of Tell el-Amarna, an Islamic area featuring the ornate architecture of the Ottoman and Mamluk eras, and a backlot recapturing the look of the city of Alexandria in the 1940s.

Facilities also include pre-production workshops, a Dolby Atmos studio and other post-production suites. There is also a hotel on site. A quirkier offering is its collection of vintage cars dating back to 1919.

“There are 16 separate outdoor locations,” says Badawi. He suggests a key deterrent for incoming productions has been the complicated process around shooting permits, especially to film at the country’s ancient sites. “Any production can go to the interior ministry and get a permit to shoot in the country, but they will need to secure another permit from the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities to shoot on an ancient site and even military intelligence if they’re filming near sensitive sites,” he explains.

In response to this, the Egyptian minister of media & information Osama Heikal spearheaded the creation of the EMPC Services Center for International Productions, which Badawi describes as a one-stop shop for permits, location advice and even sourcing crew and equipment.

“Last year the Egyptian government granted us the authority to issue shooting permits for any foreign production company shooting in the country, which makes us the main authority for issuing permits for incoming productions,” he explains.

Under the initiative, Heikal created a committee for international productions, featuring representatives from EMPC, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the Ministry of the Interior and military intelligence, to process shooting requests as smoothly as possible. “The idea is that when we get a request, we can process it via the committee and get all the approvals we need in one go,” says Badawi.

Permits

Filming permits are required and can be obtained from the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Defense. Often filmmakers would also do well asking the permission of local tribe heads to ensure a smooth journey and local cooperation. Specific permission (and sometimes fees) may be needed on top if requesting to film at sites of cultural or historic significance.

Ahmed Sami Badawi, general manager of production at the country’s Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC) has set up EMPC’s service centre for international productions, which he describes as a one-stop shop for permits, location advice and even sourcing crew and equipment.

Permits for shooting against the backdrop of one of Egypt’s ancient sites start at $3,000 a day for basic establishing shots, but tariffs are lower for non-historic sites. So far, three documentaries have tapped into the support of the service centre for international productions.

“Last year the Egyptian government granted us the authority to issue shooting permits for any foreign production company shooting in the country, which makes us the main authority for issuing permits for incoming productions,” he explains.

Under the initiative, Badawi has created a committee including representatives from EMPC, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the Ministry of the Interior and military intelligence. “The idea is that when we get a request, we can process it via the committee and get all the approvals we need in one go,” says Badawi.

Studios and infrastructure

Ahmed Sami Badawi, general manager of production at the country’s Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC) wants to bring back international production. EMPC is a vast media, film and TV production hub, situated about 20 kilometres from Cairo and spanning some 35 square kilometres.

It boasts several permanent sets including a replica of the Pharaonic city of Tell el-Amarna, an Islamic area featuring the ornate architecture of the Ottoman and Mamluk eras, and a backlot recapturing the look of the city of Alexandria in the 1940s.

Facilities also include pre-production workshops, productions, a Dolby Atmos studio and other post-production suites. There is also a hotel on site. A quirkier offering is its collection of vintage cars dating back to 1919.

“There are 16 separate outdoor locations,” says Badawi. He suggests a key deterrent for incoming productions has been the complicated process around shooting permits, especially to film at the country’s ancient sites. “Any production can go to the interior ministry and get a permit to shoot in the country, but they will need to secure another permit from the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities to shoot on an ancient site and even military intelligence if they’re filming near sensitive sites,” he explains.

Locations

Egypt has much to offer as a shooting location with a surface area of 1 million square kilometers, that’s double the size of France. And it’s not just about the well-known desert landscapes and famous historical landmarks, there’s also “the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Nile and the Upper Egypt area,” insists Badawi.

“Egypt does not only have one of the most stable climates in the Middle East and Mediterranean region, but also the real treasure is its rich variety of locations and its exceptional ability to ‘clone’ or provide replicas of other parts of the globe. Whether you need to replicate a foreign location, or you need something new, the chances are that you can find it in Egypt.”

Egypt has notoriously been doubled elsewhere over the years, but Badawi hopes to bring more productions home.

Highlights: Cairo

Recently, Netflix decided to shoot its six-part Egyptian TV series Paranormal in the capital city, doubling it for Cairo of the 1960s. The production team managed to remodel the streets to look more vintage. The series also shot in Giza and Fayoum, 60 miles southwest of Cairo, and despite COVID disruption, completed filming in mid-2020.

Egyptian writer-director Ayten Amin’s Souad, chosen for the 2020 Cannes Film Festival official selection, also filmed in Egypt in Alexandria and Zagazig.

Size matters

Egypt spans 1 million square kilometres, about twice the size of France. Domestic flights out of Cairo are plentiful, connecting to cities such as Alexandria and Luxor as well as the Red Sea resorts. The country has a comprehensive rail system. Drivers and taxis are easy to find.

First contact: Ahmed Sami Badawi, general manager of production, Egyptian Media Production City: ahmedsambad@gmail.com

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