NEOM sets stage for the future of filmmaking

Sponsored Content: Saudi Arabia's NEOM will reimagine what a city can be - a car free urban centre run on renewable energy and home to a state-of-the-art regional production hub

By NEOM . 16 Dec 2021

NEOM sets stage for the future of filmmaking
The first phase of NEOM's media hub will be fully operational by mid-2023

In the northwest of Saudi Arabia, an entirely new region is being built that will not only transform the way we see urban development but features a world-class media hub that encompasses the cutting edge of filmmaking technology surrounded by stunning locations.

NEOM will be a semi-autonomous region that stretches for 100 miles along a perfectly straight line from the north of the Red Sea. It will consolidate the region’s industry as it looks to establish itself as part of the elite network of global media hubs and provide everything from a wealth of production facilities to spacious film soundstages.

“NEOM is about redefining every aspect of life in a broader context,” says Wayne Borg, managing director of media, entertainment, culture and fashion at NEOM. “It’s trying to understand what are going to be the breakthroughs in five or 10 years and how we can bring those to market within the next two to three years."

NEOM is at the heart of Saudi Vision 2030, which aims to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation and tourism.

A major part of NEOM is the creation of a regional media hub integrating physical and technology-led production across film, television, games and digital publishing, which will be home to sustainable productions from the region and internationally.

While some aspects of NEOM are still under construction, the media hub is already running and open for business, providing studio space and production facilities.

There is also a raft of spectacular and diverse locations within easy reach, the vast majority of which have not been filmed before. These include deserts, mountain ranges — from sandstone ridges comparable to Jordan’s Wadi Rum to 2,500-metre peaks covered in winter snow — as well as areas of lush vegetation and greenery, palm trees and oasis-style settings. NEOM also has around 300 miles of coastline running up the Gulf of Aqaba, as well as the Red Sea, with its crystal-clear waters, stunning reefs and abundant marine life.

Open for business

Construction is underway on two 2,400 square metre soundstages with facilities to support this, located next to the NEOM Community where its employees live. The stages will be completed by the end of January 2022, when they will become home to the production of two significant regional soap operas. This provides further evidence that NEOM’s regional media hub proposition is resonating with industry and their confidence to support this ground breaking initiative. There are also two modular 3,000 square metre soundstages in use, creating an initial footprint of 8,400 square metres of stage space.

The initial phase will feature six soundstages and several smaller TV studios plus support spaces across all key aspects of the production value chain from writing and producing right through to post and VFX. It will total around 23,000 square metres, when it opens in mid-2023, along with a 10,000 square metre backlot, 7,000 square metres of dedicated gaming space (including a AAA game studio), 2,000 square metres of coworking space and more than 6,000 square metres of commercial office space. It will also house the first phase of the region’s most comprehensive industry learning proposition.

Some 75 production trailers will be available as well as two nearby hotels for cast and crew, although 100 accommodation units are also in the works. By 2026, the studio capacity will have increased even further. “We’ll probably end up with over 25 soundstages and as many support facilities across film and television,” says Borg. “The size of the media hub will be between 850,000 and a million square metres.”

International profile

NEOM is playing host to its first international feature. Hollywood star Anthony Mackie takes the lead in Desert Warrior, directed by UK filmmaker Rupert Wyatt (Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes).

Filming Desert Warrior, starring Anthony Mackie, NEOM’s first international feature / CREDIT: Graham Bartholomew

Set in 7th century Arabia, and shot entirely in NEOM and Tabuk, the period epic co-stars Aiysha Hart and is being produced by MBC Studios, the production arm of MBC Group, the largest media company in the Middle East and North Africa, alongside US-based JB Pictures and AGC Studios. The film is supported by the NEOM Media Industries Sector.

NEOM’s first Saudi feature is set to start shooting, meaning by the end of 2021 it would have supported 21 productions, ranging from a Vogue Arabia digital photoshoot to a $100m Hollywood tentpole. Next year promises to be even busier.

Key to NEOM’s vision of a sustainable regional industry is education and training to upskill and reskill existing talent from the region as well as to equip the workforce of tomorrow now.

In partnership with the UK’s National Film and Television School (NFTS), NEOM and the NFTS are offering Saudi nationals five scholarships to earn a masters degree and 50 places on the NFTS Certificate in Filmmaking course. As part of this training drive, 10 people have been given work placement employment on Desert Warrior. Any future production accessing NEOM’s incentive programme will be required to find placements for interns.

Ultimately, NEOM will operate as a semi-autonomous state within Saudi Arabia, with its own legal and regulatory framework, separate from the Kingdom, much like Hong Kong 30 years ago. NEOM will be progressive, inclusive and diverse

“NEOM has got to attract talent from all over the world. And to attract talent, we’ve got to offer the best liveability,” adds Borg. “Consequently, NEOM is not just going to be a regional hub, but a global capital. And global capitals attract people from all walks of life because they share a vision, they share a belief, they share an ambition. That’s what NEOM will be all about.”

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