Morocco’s international shooting scene is gearing up for a busy late summer and autumn after the stops and starts of the last 18 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. BBC-backed Second World War drama SAS: Rogue Heroes — from Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight — is expected this summer, with the territory doubling for Cairo and other Middle Eastern locations. Connor Swindells, Alfie Allen, Sofia Boutella and Dominic West star.
The territory was also primed to host Kevin Scott Frakes’ big-budget live-action adaptation of Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist, about a young shepherd who travels from Spain to the Egyptian pyramids in search of treasure, although production is currently on hold.
Sarim Fassi-Fihri, head of the Moroccan Cinema Centre (CCM), told local media in April the production was set to spend $22.6m (mad200m), making it the second-biggest project in terms of local spend in the territory after Showtime’s Homeland with $31.7m (mad280m).
The Alchemist had reportedly earmarked the red-hued city of Marrakech, the picturesque ramparted Atlantic port of Essaouira, the Sahara desert oasis town of Erfoud and the historic city of Fes as locations.
Producers cite Morocco’s fine weather, great light, network of established line production companies and experienced crew pool as reasons to shoot in the country. The introduction of a 20% rebate on qualifying expenses in 2018 as well as exemptions on VAT, which runs at between 10% to 20% depending on the item, has also boosted its appeal. The country’s reputation for relative political stability in an otherwise turbulent region is also in its favour.
The Covid-19 pandemic took its toll on international production levels in 2020. According to the CCM’s annual report, the total spend for incoming productions fell by 73.5% to $23.8m in 2020, against $89.8m (mad796m) in 2019.
Within this, eight features spent $6.7m (mad59m) against $30m (mad265.3m) by 22 features in 2019, and nine TV shows spent $14.7m (mad130m), against $57m (mad504m) by 16 shows in 2019.
The features included John Michael McDonagh’s drama The Forgiven, starring Jessica Chastain and Ralph Fiennes as a couple caught up in a tragic accident while en route to a house party in a luxury villa. Having shot the bulk of the film in early 2020, the cast and crew were whisked out of Morocco via private charter as the country went into its first lockdown in March 2020. They returned for a final few days shooting in the autumn.
Other features that touched down in the last year included Korean director Kim Seong-hun’s Kidnapped and German action thriller Zielfahnder 3 by Connie Walter.
After a second lockdown earlier this year, the territory was due to start opening up again from May, thanks in part to Morocco’s vaccination programme that has outpaced some territories in Europe. Michael Dreher, co-head of Moroccan line production company Kasbah Films Tangier, reported that despite the restrictions the number of productions hailing from countries with low Covid‑19 rates had increased by the spring.
“I’m not saying it’s easy — it’s a challenge. But we feel very supported by the Moroccan government and the cinema centre. They are putting a lot of effort into making it work,” says Dreher of shooting during the pandemic. “Judging by the emails, I’m pretty confident that sooner or later there will be a massive influx of productions into Morocco again.”
Morocco is one of the most popular destinations in the Middle East and North Africa for international film and high-end TV productions. The country’s key draws include its varied picture-book Middle Eastern backdrops and landscapes, ranging from the historic medinas of cities such as Marrakesh to the teeming streets of Casablanca and Tangier, and the Sahara desert and Atlas mountains.
“There is also the light, which is very good, with longer days and very little rainfall,” says Morocco-based location manager Christian McWilliams, whose recent credits include The Old Guard and John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum. “You don’t go to Morocco to shoot inside; you go to shoot outside. It’s very rare you’ll ever lose a day because of the weather.”
Added to this is the country’s reputation for relative political stability in an otherwise turbulent region, and established production services ecosystem.oting as soon as possible.
CLA Studios and Atlas Studios are close to Ouarzazate, and Cinedina Studios is in Casablanca. Morocco has a pool of experienced crew across all departments including cinematography, lighting, sound, set design, costume and hair and make-up. Most incoming productions bring in HoDs. Line production companies include Dune Films, Zak Productions, K Films, Kasbah Films Tangier, Agora Films, H Films, BO Film Services, Ali N’ Films, Lion Production & Service and Mont Fleuri.
First person to contact
Laila Tounzi, chief production control services, Moroccan Cinema Centre @ L.Tounzi@ccm.ma