Under its 2030 Vision, the oil-based economy endeavours leveraging the potential of non-oil sectors; including the promotion of culture and entertainment, with film making in the core.
The kingdom currently has 10 film production companies that have their own production and shooting sites.
During a tour in Al-Ula, one of the oldest cities in the Arabian Peninsula and the kingdom’s first UNESCO World Heritage site, Ahram Online had the chance to shed light on the development of the Saudi film industry.
Speaking to Ahram Online, Stephen Strachan; Film Commissioner at Film AlUla, said that the future of film production in Saudi Arabia is looking very promising with investment into infrastructure and upskilling of outstanding young talent ensures the support of all production making the kingdom a world-class hub for filming production.
“In May this year, the Saudi Film Commission announced the 40 percent cash rebate program "Film Saudi", which is one of the most generous incentives schemes in the world and now it is open for applications”, Strachan expounded.
“This, along with a wealth of support incentives, will help us attract local, regional, and international productions. The Ministry of Investment reported that the government has set a target of producing and shooting 100 films in the country by 2030. We are already seeing more interest from production companies as we promote and showcase to the world the unique, breath-taking, and pristine landscapes and film friendly ecosystem of the kingdom. In Al-Ula, 2022 has already seen an increase of 370 percent of productions compared to the previous year”, Strachan added.
On the role the Royal Commission for Al Ula (RCU) in boosting the film industry in the kingdom, Strachan explained that RCU launched “Film AlUla” in 2019, a film agency with a mandate to promote and support international, regional, and local film and TV production in Al-Ula region.
“Film AlUla is currently leading the development of a landmark project which will see the first phase comprised of two purpose-built state-of-the-art film studios to service the growth in demand. The studios will be developed according to the highest environmental and architectural standards and will be ready in Q1 2023. They will ensure that Al-Ula and Saudi Arabia are in a position to capitalize upon the thriving global film and television industry. This will serve as a further boost to offerings of healthy financial incentives for young and exciting talents both in front of and behind the camera and a diverse range of locations”, he noted.
“We recently opened our ‘Film Resort’, which is designated for film professionals and designed for film operations with 300 high-quality, fully-furnished accommodation units, film-friendly office space for short and long-term stays, and recreational areas. The easily accessible Al-Ula International Airport (ULH) located just 35 km from the city center recently went through a major renovation, and there are now direct flights from Dubai and Paris. In October you will be able to fly direct from Cairo to Al-Ula and more destinations will be announced soon”, he further illustrated.
Strachan also noted that the experienced Film AlUla team on the ground are here to support film producers through all the production process and offer free support including production consultation, location scouting, permit applications, production-related protocols, and visas expert knowledge of filming in Al-Ula and the rest of Saudi Arabia as well as the wider region. Furthermore, the team will assist with sourcing a professional local and regional supply chain of experienced crew, talent, production companies, and rental equipment.
“Everyone who comes to scout Al-Ula is in awe of diverse landscape, the outstanding natural beauty, cultural significance, and the on-camera opportunities the county of AlUla offers”, Strachan said.
For international and regional requests to shoot films in Al-Ula, Strachan explained that Film AlUla has already facilitated a number of productions in Al-Ula including major Hollywood productions including Ric Roman Waugh’s ‘Kandahar’ and the Russo brothers’ ‘Cherry’, which “puts us in a good position to attract more large-scale productions”, as he mentioned.
In addition, many TV productions have filmed in Al-Ula including the British series ‘Expedition with Steve Backshall’ and Nat Geo documentaries along with commercials, promos, photoshoots, and short films. We will soon be announcing more high-end productions set to shoot in Al-Ula later this year, Strachan stated.
Over the last 20 months, three major Hollywood films filmed scenes in Saudi Arabia, while eight local feature films were completed during the last 15 months as well as several documentaries and local productions.
Currently, Al-Ula is hosting the shooting of Norah film – the first homegrown feature film to be shot totally at the historical city, where Film AlUla supports and facilitate the production with logistics, crew, locations, casting, and local expertise. Norah is written and directed by Tawfik Alzaidi.
The film’s script was the winner of a fund award from the Saudi Film Commission’s Daw Film Competition, which is an initiative launched by the Ministry of Culture in the kingdom in September 2019 aiming to support Saudi film production.
During a tour at Norah’s site in Al-Ula, producer Paul Miller told Ahram Online that the kingdom is keen on promoting Al-Ula for film making because of its historical and charming landscape. It also seeks attracting international film makers to the site in line with its 2030 agenda.
“Besides the 40 percent cash rebate, the authorities provide all facilities to make a film in Al-Ula. This effort supports the kingdom’s economy as it attracts international and regional crews to tap its desert landscape in their films. Al-Ula provides unique and supreme landscape to shoot many productions in one site. They offer a lot of subsidies through building a film resort that includes 300 rooms for film crews as well as logistical support”, he added.
Last year we had a movie called “Kandahar”, which is a $57 million movie, that uses Al-Ula site as Afghanistan.
“25 short and feature home-grown movies are being made here in 2022. The film industry is really growing. They are also building over 1000 cinema screens. This is incredible potential for the industry here”, Paul noted.
According to the kingdom’s 2030 Agenda, the kingdom plans to establish 2,600 cinema screens with an expected $950 million in box office revenue by 2030.
“Film AlUla already has agreements with various broadcasters and production companies; they always look forward to partner with entities outside the kingdom”, Paul said.
Saudi Arabia’s cinema box office market is expected to record $950 million in 2030, according to the well-known consulting firm PwC Middle East.
As per PwC estimations, cinema industry has the potential to generate a total revenue of $1.5 billion in 2030 and develop into a lucrative revenue stream for the industry players and the government as well.