The UAE is a federation of seven Emirates - Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al Qaiwan - and is home to the the Abu Dhabi International Film Festival and Dubai International Film Festival.
Perfectly situation between East and West, with direct flights to Asia, Europe, the US and Australia, the country is easily accessible to filmmakers from around the globe and also boasts some of the most spectacular filming locations in the world.
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and contains the Abu Dhabi Media Zone, a free trade zone established to advance Abu Dhabi's status as a center of excellence for entertainment content creation including film, television, digital media, events, music, animation, gaming and publishing. Abu Dhabi Film Commission, which is part of the Media Zone Authority, was launched in 2009 and has a mandate to support the development of Abu Dhabi’s growing film and television industry, and to promote the Emirate as a production and filming location. The film commission offers support in finding locations, obtaining permits, sourcing equipment, experienced crews, studios and high-end postproduction facilities. It also provides advice on script clearances and content approvals, script breakdowns, initial scouting for potential locations, and discounts and special deals.
The Abu Dhabi Film Commission and the Abu Dhabi Film Festival are housed at twofour54º, (named after Abu Dhabi's geographical coordinates), the innovative campus launched in 2008 to provide the infrastructure and support for creative and digital companies under the free trade zone umbrella. Over 180 companies have utilised the opportunities offered by the hub, including CNN, Fox, Sky News Arabia, BBC and Ubisoft. The advantages include: a tax-free environment, 100% foreign ownership, guideance and liaison with UAE regulatory bodies, and full broadcast capabilities.
Dubai is the Middle East’s leading production hub. While the Lebanon and Abu Dhabi are also important regional centres, Dubai is home to numerous advertising agencies and has a wealth of production talent to call upon. Examples of world-class Dubai-based firms include The Company Films, Don Productions, Boomtown Productions, Big Kahuna, Central Films and VIP Films.
A vital placed for filmmakers is the Dubai Film and TV Commission (DFTC), which actively promotes Dubai and the UAE. It is the sole body authorised to issue permits for shooting in Dubai.
Fundamental to Dubai’s success was the creation of the Dubai Media City (DMC), a tax-free zone that acts as the regional HQ for around 1300 companies in sectors such as news, publishing, online media, advertising, production, and broadcast. Founded in 2001, the DMC was extended in 2005 to incorporate Dubai Studio City (DSC). Spread across 22 million sq.ft, DSC features pre-built studios, sound stages, warehouses, workshops, office spaces, satellite communications and backlots. In other words, it provides a comprehensive infrastructure for producers.
In terms of locations, Dubai may be more limited than countries like the Lebanon. But it can still offer deserts, rugged mountains and amazing architecture. With its excellent transport links, it’s easy to get from sand to city in a short time.
Like Qatar and Abu Dhabi, Dubai can be hot in summer, but its crews are skilled in dealing with extreme temperatures and the kind of sand damage that can affect equipment in deserts.
If there’s an issue for Dubai it is that the country is not cheap to shoot in and it doesn’t offer production incentives. With nearby Abu Dhabi now offering incentives, Dubai may have to do the same if it doesn’t want to see work migrate in that direction.
Abu Dhabi's recent shoots have included Michael Bay's Netflix action movie 6 Underground, which also filmed in the city of Sharjah next to Dubai, and in Liwa, 150 miles south of Abu Dhabi, Al Hamra further west along the Arabian Gulf Coast and at Al Ain near the country’s eastern border with Oman.
Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie used Abu Dhabi as a base for a Halo jump, filmed as a key stunt sequence for Mission: Impossible - Fallout.
Bollywood movies are more common visitors to both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as the UAE cities offer exotic visuals that are more easily accessible for the Indian production industry. Jackie Chan spent several weeks shooting action comedy feature Vanguard in Dubai in March 2019.
In Abu Dhabi there are two classes of permits for filming in Abu Dhabi: ground permits and aerial permits. Ground permits include filming and/or photography, specific shooting locations, road blocking/car chases and police support and equipment. Ground permits do not cover private property. Aerial permits include aerial filming and/or photography and specific shooting locations but do not cover private property.More information can be found here on the film commission's website.
The Dubai Film and TV Commission is now the sole entity authorised to issue media shooting permits in Dubai. The Location Approval Services office, which has supported the growth of the local media industry since 2005 through Dubai Studio City, now falls under DFTC. For information about the DFTC or to request shooting permit applications, contact them via email.
The Abu Dhabi Media Zone features state-of-the-art production services and facilities including sound stages and broadcast studios, post-production suites, visual effects facilities a stereoscopic film lab, and offices occupied by leading media companies from around the world.
As mentioned before, Dubai is home to Dubai Studio City, which says its “sound stage infrastructure is the first of its kind in the Middle East region”. Designed to meet the sophisticated needs of a fast-growing entertainment industry, the complex accommodates up to 14 state-of-the-art sound stages. In addition to the development itself, productions have easy access to all amenities. According to DSC, “Producers of films, commercials and TV productions have embraced the city’s eclectic mix of traditional and modern locations, calling it the ‘largest open air studio in the world’ and often increasing their planned shooting days once they see what it has to offer.”
Twofour54 intaj in Abu Dhabi has six fully equipped High Definition (HD) production studios that are ideal for large studio productions, dramas, news and sports coverage. These range in size from 60m2 to 650m2.
Complementing the studios, twofour54 intaj has a total of 23 HD server-based, post-production suites: 13 for video editing; 4 for audio post-production; 5 for graphics including one dedicated to high-end finishing and compositing and a Baselight colour grading suite for film work up to 4K.
More studios can be found on our directory.
Abu Dhabi’s Western region includes 60,000 square kilometres of desert featuring some of the tallest dunes outside the Sahara, as well as nature reserves, historic sites, a dazzling coastline and oases. The city of Abu Dhabi offers ultra-modern buildings, like the Capital Gate, a skyscraper that is a steel-and-glass engineering marvel leaning 18-degrees to the west; Masda City, the first zero-carbon, zero-waste city on the planet; and Ferrari World, the world’s largest indoor theme park including a Formula 1 track. A real mix of striking natural landscapes and ground-breaking modern architecture.
Dubai can offer deserts, rugged mountains and amazing architecture (both Arabic in style and modern). Its cityscape has proved very popular recently, with the iconic Burj Khalifa tower proving to be a much-filmed feature. Other iconic locations include the Palm Jumeirah, the Hatta Desert, Dubai Creek and the Godl, Textile and Spice souks.
Dubai can cater for pretty much any production. While it is sometimes necessary to fly in specialists in production design, most other artistic and technical skills are readily available via the kind of companies outlined in the introduction. A lot of production companies in Dubai have been launched by producers from other parts of the world, which means they are often multilingual and have a good grasp of the standards expected by the international production community.
In terms of equipment rental, there are very good companies such as Filmquip, which works with Arri in the AUE, and Cinequip - which is very experienced in providing kit for tough commercial shoots such as off-road car ads in the desert. Filmquip provides kit from a wide range of leading equipment manufacturers.
Not to be overlooked either is that Dubai is a cosmopolitan place, so it is possible to find different faces when casting.