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United Arab Emirates

Overview and productions

It is just under two decades since the United Arab Emirates (UAE) set out to become a major film and tele­vision shooting destination. The seven-­emirate state is now home to a buoyant international production scene, welcoming Holly­wood, Bollywood and a growing number of Arabic-language films and TV shows.

The return of Denis Villeneuve with Dune: Part Two marked a major milestone for the territory. “For us, it is testament to the ease of production and the unique offer that Abu Dhabi has as a location that major productions and studios return time and again,” says Hans Fraikin, commissioner at Abu Dhabi Film & TV Commission (ADFC). “At the same time, we are seeing an increase in Arabic films and TV shows being shot, including the Arab world’s first soap opera Inheritance, which has now passed over 250 episodes.”

For Dune: Part Two’s 27-day UAE shoot, Abu Dhabi once again stood in for the desert planet Arrakis, as Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic filmed at multiple locations across the Liwa desert with a crew that featured both local and international members. ADFC offers support in providing vehicles and constructing camps with sets, costume rooms, canteens, production equipment storage and Covid testing facilities.

The success of Abu Dhabi as a filming location is a combination of factors. “Firstly, there is the 30% cashback rebate which is a huge attraction when you consider the size of budgets today,” says Fraikin. In addition, there are diverse locations, experienced crew, a film-friendly environment, a supportive government and the weather. “Abu Dhabi provides year-round sun,” continues Fraikin. Mid-September through to May is the peak season for production, mainly because of the cooler weather. July and August are the UAE’s hottest months with temperatures hitting 500C (1220F). 

“We are no strangers to servicing in such temperatures,” explains Robbie 

McAree, one half of leading boutique film production company Epic Films led by Irish managing partners and producers McAree and David Murphy, has offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. “The safety of the cast and crew is first and foremost [in hot conditions], but we’re human and we adapt,” says McAree. 

In 2022, Epic serviced two large, overlapping movies: Dune: Part Two in Abu Dhabi and Gran Turismo, the Sony-backed big-screen feature inspired by the PlayStation game, in Dubai. “It was a bit of a stretch, but we managed both without jeopardising quality of service,” McAree says. “The UAE seems to be getting even busier and more sought after, so it’s sensible to plan ahead to ensure there is enough local support available.”

With state-of-the-art infrastructure, roads and access, Dubai has been dubbed the “20-minute city” because most locations are usually 20 minutes apart by car.

Abu Dhabi is grander and spans a larger landscape that includes places such as garden city Al Ain — the UAE’s ‘oasis’ — and Liwa, the mostly untouched area of sand dunes known as the ‘empty quarter’.

The UAE has plenty to offer, from modern business districts to untouched sand dunes, alongside urban residential areas, pristine beaches, mountainous roads and Arabian cultural sites.

Joy Films' managing director, Ali Azarmi, notes that the film production industry is fresh, but as with the entire country, it is "growing and developing at an unprecedented pace." 

For instance, the outfit have been involved in some of the most iconic productions marking the kingdom’s epic transformation — the global launch of NEOM and subsequent brand films for example. The many diverse projects of Riyadh and its rise to become among the top cities of the world which is all part of KSA’s 'VISION 2030' manifesto.

"All our productions for KSA’s various entities and ministries were successfully completed despite very challenging timelines. We are looking forward to open our offices in KSA and help develop the industry," adds Azarmi.

Overview and productions

Locations and permits

UAE is the filming hub connecting Asia and Europe. Within 300kms radius, you can find everything from modern cities to rocky mountains, and beaches and dunes.

"It boasts modern city skylines with clean, new city roads, desert dunes and huge sandy flat areas less than one hour from the city, dramatic mountains, and beautiful green parks with beaches close by," says Central Films' producer Ian Ross

Abu Dhabi’s attractiveness as a shooting location was clearly on display as the backdrop of Michael Bay’s slick action thriller 6 Underground. The production touched down in 2019 and shot in 25 locations across the emirate, which appeared both as itself and stood in for a variety of other places, including California, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

The high rises of the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) financial quarter and Al Reem Island stood in for Hong Kong. The landmark Etihad Towers, which also featured in Fast & Furious 7, doubled for Las Vegas, while an imaginary country called Turgistan was created in the backlot of state-backed media and entertainment hub Twofour54, which has provided infrastructure and incentives to more than 500 entertainment companies.

Dubai is rich in its locations as it provides all types of scenery along with the trademarks of Burj Khalifa, The Palm, Burj Al Arab, and Bluewater Islands amongst others. The overall planning of Dubai can cater to scenes of a futuristic nature, urban subcultures, desert landscapes, luxury lifestyles and along with humbly lived areas that are full of stories and texture.

Beyond its wealth of locations, other major draws are the emirate’s 30% cashback rebate for all productions and the burgeoning services and facilities offering that Abu Dhabi has worked hard to build over the past decade.

“Creatively, Abu Dhabi offered us what the script called for and the great tax incentives and overall infrastructure was appealing,” says 6 Underground executive producer Garrett Grant.  

The neighbouring emirate of Dubai is also drawing international productions with its futuristic buildings and luxury hotel complexes, such as the palatial Atlantis, The Palm. There are plenty of locations to choose from and the weather is constantly good. It is also one of the safest places to shoot these days as it has put very strict rules in place from the start.

One of the most stunning locations just outside Dubai is Hatta, which offers massive desert mountains, with turquoise waters calmly resting between them at Hatta Dam. There’s also the Wasit Nature Reserve in Sharjah; the Hajar mountains; and the desolate Snoopy Island in the Emirate of Fujairah, where the mountains meet the sea.



To prove how much can be taken in on a shoot, 6 Underground filmed in 24 locations across Abu Dhabi over the course of a 27-day shoot, as well as the oasis city of Al Ain and the northern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah.

Examples include George Clooney’s Syriana, which doubled Dubai for the Iranian desert, Brad Pitt’s Netflix film, War Machine, used Abu Dhabi to represent Afghanistan, and Bollywood film Baby used the city as a double for Turkey.

Just be aware that a sub-tropical, arid climate dominates the United Arab Emirates. Summers tend to be hot and humid, and there’s only marginal respite in the winter months. Thunderstorms can also strike during the summer and sandstorms are an occasional threat, which can have a dramatic effect on visibility.


Permits are easy to get provided you have a local based production service provider, insists Tamba.

In Abu Dhabi, there are two classes of permits for filming: ground permits and aerial permits. While in Dubai, the Dubai Film and TV Commission (DFTC) is the sole entity authorised to issue media shooting permits.

Most locations are easily accessible. Price and permission depend on the location and the type of production. For more details on procedures and costs in Dubai, go to…

The UAE requires an entire script to be approved by the relevant authorities, not just the segments to be filmed in the UAE.


Central Films' Ian Ross and Karen Coetzee say Dubai boasts many unique locations. “We have very diverse landscapes like beaches, deserts, city and mountains -- all within a 30 to 60 minute travel of the city. The city areas are beautiful, clean and with wide roads.


He adds: “The UAE is underutilised and, unlike L.A. and parts of Europe where you can recognise the same streets and corners in films, we continuously have new locations to offer as the city expands.“


Infrastructure and crew

In Abu Dhabi, the emirate’s twofour54 free zone, serving media and entertainment companies, moved to its new home, the Yas Creative Hub, in 2022, which includes virtual production facilities. Studio City at Mina Zayed is nearing completion and its vast Kizad backlot has been upgraded with the construction of six new sets, offering in-demand stock backdrops such as a police station and an airport.

"The UAE has already attracted and retained an experienced and talented crew base in all areas of film production, and boasts incredible locations, state of the art equipment," says Epic FilmsRobbie McAree.

Dubai’s main facility, Dubai Studio City, includes production services, three soundstages, backlots, water tanks, production offices and recording studios. Crew wise, the pool of freelancers with specialist skills, including make-up, visual effects and stunts, is growing, particularly in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi Film Commission runs an online local crew directory.

Central Films has facilities in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, who offer full production services across the UAE for TV commercials, feature films and corporate films.

Ian Ross and Karen Coetzee, producers and owners of the company say that the country has an “excellent range of hotels with the best service in the world combined with well-established taxi and metro services.“ There are international airports in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi and the travel into the city is 20 minutes.

Joy Films for instance, are a full-service film production company providing creative services, advertising concepts, script writing, editing, animation, CGI and VFX management, photography production. 

According to the outfit's managing directorkey to the kingdom's evolving success is its "ambition to transform and become a leader in every field."

Size matters

The largest of the United Arab Emirates’ seven states, Abu Dhabi covers more than 67,000 square kilometres. It is a two-hour drive to Dubai and a 40-minute drive to the city centre from Abu Dhabi International Airport on a modern road system. Dubai is the second-biggest emirate at 3,900 square kilometres. It is an international transport hub, well connected to the rest of the world.

First people to contact

Abu Dhabi Hans Fraikin, film and television commissioner, Abu Dhabi Film and TV Commission:

Dubai Iman Al Zaabi, assistant manager, Dubai Film and TV Commission:

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