Morocco has a long and illustrious history as a filming location, hosting classic movies such as Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, The Mummy Returns, Hidalgo, Kundun and Prince of Persia. Director Ridley Scott has filmed in Morocco on numerous occasions while Oliver Stone and Mike Nichols have also taken advantage of the fact that Morocco’s desert locations can double for Middle Eastern trouble spots.
Good deserts are a big factor in attracting filmmakers – but so is the great light, long shooting days and the fact that Morocco is a tolerant, non-censorious culture. Outside war films, the country is also capable of replicating the poolside atmosphere of California or Florida. Morocco will launch a 20% cash rebate as a filming incentive in March 2016.
Morocco stands at the 'gate' of Africa and Europe, making it ideally located for filmmakers from across the world. The Centre Cinematographique Marocain (CCM, or Moroccan Cinema Centre) is a state institution which develops and promotes the Moroccan film industry. This is where you need to go for permits, professional identity cards for technicians and collborators and practice licensing.
While Morocco has been a popular location for decades, it has started to promote itself much more effectively in recent years. In 2008, Ouarzazate (the de facto capital of the film business in Morocco) established a Film Commission. Located in the beautiful South, Ouarzazate wants to establish itself as a major production hub and claims to be able to knock between 30-50% off the price of production (compared to developed filming markets). Currently able to host 11 productions a year, it wants to improve its infrastructure so that capacity is more like 35-40 films p.a.
Also active is the Northern part of the country. At MIPTV 2012, Abdelhaq Mantrach, President of the Rabat Film Commission, told delegates that the Rabat-Sale region is able to offer tax incentives, great locations and efficient production crews. Tangiers and Marrakesh have also prioritised production and location services as a potential area of growth.
In 2009, Variety conducted an online poll among location managers, unit production managers, cinematographers, directors and assistant directors asking them to rate their favourite locations according to visual appeal, incentives, film-office support, production resources, and ability to substitute for another location. The winner? Morocco.
AMC PIctures' and the BBC's international TV drama The Night Manager, starring Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie, used Morocco to double for Egypt in 2015. In the same year, war movie Yellow Birds doubled Morocco for Iraq, as did the Clint Eastwood-directed American Sniper.
2014 shoots included Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and the mini series King Tut. The 2011 film Hanna used deserts scenes around Ouarzazate but also employed tourist resort Essaouira (near Marrakesh) to double as Spain. More recently, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen also used Ouarzazate – underlining the way in which Morocco’s desert can mimic the Middle East. Both productions were serviced by Moroccan firm Zak Productions.
Increasingly, Morocco is also appealing to TV firms. In the spring of 2014, Red Planet PIctures chose Morocco as the main location for The Ark, a feature length drama for BBC One starring David Threlfall. Also in 2014, Morocco provided one of the locations for the feature film Our Kind of Traitor, starring Ewan McGregor and Damian Lewis, directed by Susanna White.
In 2013, HBO shot some scenes for the third series of Game of Thrones in the Moroccan city of Essaouira [Northern Ireland, Croatia and Iceland are the other main filming locations]. High end TV historical documentaries involving lots of sand also favour Moroccan shoots. [Rome, Egypt, Bible, Crusades etc].
Commercials producers have also made use of Morocco. Recent brands to visit Ouarzazate include Coca-Cola for its commercial Border. Produced by Furlined for Wieden & Kennedy, Morocco was chosen to give the ad a timeless and exotic look. Local servicing was done by Dune Films. Companies from across Europe use Morocco though French commercial producers dominate in terms of volume of production.
Permits are compulsory and are granted by the Centre Cinématographique Marocain (The Moroccan Cinema Centre or CCM), a public entity which acts under the authority of the ministry for information. To obtain a permit for film or TV, producers should apply two weeks before their first shooting day, providing a completed permit form, a copy of the script, credentials and a list of Moroccan technicians. Some forms of production also require a shooting schedule with exact locations.
It’s a similar process for commercials, though the CCM only requires five days notice before shooting. Moroccan production companies also need a special permit if they want to take charge of the executive production of foreign films shot in Morocco. So it is important for foreign producers to know that all of their paperwork is legal and in order as well. The CCM is a great place to start if you want a smooth experience.
With the volume of movies being made in Morocco, it’s no surprise that there are good studios. One of these is Ouarzazate-based CLA Studios, a joint venture between Dino de Laurentiis, Cinecittà and Sanam Holding. Capable of hosting 3-5 large productions a year, it has 2 shooting sets, 20 make up rooms, set construction workshops, an art department, a back lot and much more. Christopher Nolan’s Inception and US mini-series Ben Hur filmed here. Also in Ouarzazate is the iconic Atlas Studios. Founded in 1983, it claims to be one of the biggest studios in the world and has hosted films like Black Hawk Down and Alexander The Great. It is also a tourist haunt because the grounds are littered with old movie sets.
Still around Ouarzazate is Kanzaman Studio which has been used for filming movies like Kingdom Of Heaven and Gladiator. Also significant is the Casablanca-based Cinedina Studios which provides very good sound stages in the Northwest of Morocco, near to Rabat and equidistant between Marrakesh and Fes.
The Centre Cinematographique Marocain (CCM) has a post-production department within its cinema complex.
Morocco has very varied locations. While deserts and oases are a big draw, the Atlas Mountains, beaches, plantations and historic monuments are also significant attractions. Casablanca, Fes and Marrakech offer interesting and unique cityscapes while Ouarzazate is the centre for desert and oases shoots.
Four hours from Ouarzazate, Erfoud on the Ziz River is a popular film location and tourist spot. For a Spanish feel, the North Coast cities of Tangiers, Tetouan and Chefchaouen have architecture that is reminiscent of the south of Spain. One useful website to look at is http://moroccofilmlocations.com.
Moroccan companies have a good work ethic and have developed a range of skills down the years including location scouting, equipment and office rental, crew hiring, arranging shooting permits, transportation, catering and accommodation. Established equipment rental companies include Zak in Marrakesh and Mia and Cinetelema in Casablanca. Check in advance what is available, because some producers report that high-end equipment needs to be flown in from countries like Spain and Italy.
Within the country, the top talent tends to be based in Casablanca and Marrakesh – which means the logistics of transportation to Ouarzazate (3-5 hours away) also needs to be thought through carefully. The good news is that most crewing requirements can be handled from within the country.