Behind the scenes on 'Dune: Part Two' with Epic Films

"The mere scale and complexity is what made it so exceptional and enjoyable."

By Sponsored Content 19 Apr 2024

Behind the scenes on 'Dune: Part Two' with Epic Films
Dune Part Two; Cr: Niko Tavernise/WB

Epic Films was founded by Irish-born Robbie McAree in 2012, and since has grown into a well-respected boutique production company working on some of the biggest blockbusters to date, including Warner Bros' Dune: Part One, MGM’s Last Light, and Sony’s Gran Turismo. With these feature successes under his belt, McAree spoke to KFTV about Epic Films' work on Denis Villeneuve's critical and box-office hit Dune: Part Two, how it differed from the first outing, and the unexpected challenges they faced.

What is the first thing you tell people about Epic Films?

We’re purposely a relatively small company and we consider ourselves a boutique production and service company. For us, it’s about fully committing ourselves to each and every project and never to stretch ourselves too thin as that’s where standards can drop. With this approach, we have to be quite selective about how many, and which projects we can pitch and collaborate on. It’s all about attention to detail for us and we fully immerse ourselves on projects so we’re not just a production company, but a team of filmmakers who do our upmost to add on-screen value.

We work closely with both the Abu Dhabi Film Commission as well as the Dubai Film Commission to attract more and more large-scale projects. We have found that this has happened quite organically due to the success of projects we have facilitated over the past several years.

The international producers on these projects, some of them returning, and some new to the UAE, have had such positive experiences. Word spreads fast in these international circles. We’ve noticed quite a sharp increase in the amount of long form enquires for filming in the UAE. However, we can’t necessarily do this alone, and we collaborate particularly closely with the Abu Dhabi Film Commission whom over the years have attracted an array of large-scale projects to the capitol.
What services did Epic provide on Dune: Part Two?

On every project we do all our initial location scouting in-house, and Dune: Part Two was no different. Although we were going to be filming in the Liwa Desert again, Denis Villeneuve made it clear early-on that he didn’t want to use the same locations as on Dune: Part One. So, this time we went deeper into the empty quarter to find even more unique locations.

Bear in mind that it is extremely tricky to navigate the enormous sand Dunes of Liwa, and that’s only when we’re scouting with two or three 4x4’s, so our next challenge was to start thinking about how we were eventually going to logistically get a full shoot crew with tonnes of heavy equipment to these remote beautiful locations.

Dune Part Two, Cr: Niko Tavernise/WB

We worked very closely with the Environmental Agency of Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Municipality, Abu Dhabi Film Commission as well as other government and private entities to plan a complicated temporary solution to create an infrastructure of over 30km’s worth of temporary roads and hard standing set pads utilising natural resources including “gatch”, which is similar to limestone.

These roads were absolutely crucial in allowing us to access previously inaccessible desert areas with large machinery (including 4x 160 tonne cranes, 2x 95 tonne excavators, 43x tele handlers and more) required for the shoot. The roads required constant maintenance including continuous watering (temporary wells were dug on sight to collect salt water from the salt beds in Liwa), rolling and grading so there was a team working round the clock.
Dune: Part Two was a very complex project with many moving parts all happening in a sensitive and environmentally protected area so having the local knowledge and experience is massively important. Our key producers have all lived in the UAE for more than 25 years each, so having that local awareness, knowledge and contact-base is absolutely imperative when planning such a tricky undertaking.

What was the most challenging element of shooting Dune: Part Two and how do you overcome those challenges? 

Dune: Part Two was a very unique project not only for the producers (Legendary) but also the UAE itself because it was such a large project, which we needed to set up in a very remote and arduous area. One of our biggest and earliest challenges was accommodation. With a requirement to house nearly 500+ people on some days, we knew very early on that we weren’t going to have enough rooms at the Qasr Al Sarab hotel. We had to come up with a solution.

That’s where the idea of “MacGregor’s Village” was born. We erected a 150x bed stand-alone temporary village within the vicinity of the Qasr Al Sarab grounds utilising shipping containers that have been repurposed for comfortable accommodation, which are commonly used to house professionals in the onshore oil industry in remote areas. It consisted of an onsite restaurant and recreation room.

The village had full time housekeeping and laundry services as well as a 24hour emergency maintenance team. Shuttle buses between the village and main hotel ran for 24 hours, every 15x minutes so that the crew/residents at MacGregors Village had access to the main hotels facilities.

We also provided mountain bikes for the more adventurous crew members to navigate between MacGregor’s Village and the Qasr Al Sarab Hotel. Our IT team even created a wifi mesh system that also served our remote shoot locations, by bouncing 4G signals around the desert all originating from temporary mobile network towers that Etisalat, the local telecommunications provider, mobilised for us. It was pretty spectacular.

The international production team were perhaps apprehensive about the idea when we first pitched it, but everyone was pleasantly surprised with the results when we delivered, including the residents who stayed there. It became a proper community.
What are the biggest differences between the types of productions that Epic works on, and to what extent did working on Dune: Part Two differ from other major productions?

Every project is so different, and it’s one of the reasons we love what we do. As a service company specialising in the UAE, we get to meet so many different people from around the world and experience so many various types of productions. I remember when Dune: Part Two was nearing the end of filming in Abu Dhabi, and I was in the dunes of Liwa, while another Epic Films team was getting ready to start shooting with racing cars on Gran Turismo in Dubai, and then we had a third team prepping a smaller travel tourism project.

So just in that one period we were exposed to completely contrasting types of production. We work on projects from all over the world, so when they come and film in the UAE, I love how we have to adapt to the different styles. But it’s also very rewarding when they appreciate the personal touch we throw into the mix.

However, Dune: Part Two was just a beast of its own. The mere scale and complexity is what made it so exceptional and enjoyable. I knew it was going to be big, but the first time I saw the base camp fully erected in the middle of the desert was when it really hit home. 

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