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One voice

The UAE Production Forum was launched as an industry body in May 2017. Its chair, Central Films owner and producer Karen Coetzee, explains why the industry needs to come together

By Karen Coetzee, owner and producer at Central Films and chair of the UAE Production Forum

 

The UAE production industry is well established and recognised the world over, so a professional trade association for film companies and freelancers specialising in the production of television commercials, content, documentaries and corporate films is well overdue.

At the UAE Production Forum, our members include production companies, freelancers, post-production companies and casting agencies. We have an active steering committee, which includes myself, Reim El Houni, Heather McDonald, Ali Azarmi and Shane Martin, who are focused on driving the forum’s main agenda. Then we have a series of working committees that deal with specific industry issues.

We want to make the UAE a global film production hub, which will attract a more diverse pool of skilled talent as well as partnering with,
assisting and facilitating the sustainable growth of the existing local industry.

Simply, we want to make the UAE the country of choice for production.

But to achieve that goal, to enable the sustainable growth of our industry, to keep our freelancers and production companies busy and to bring more foreign business to the UAE, we must get a few things right.

We believe that establishing a credible industry body is a defining step towards this end, and so we are working with the Department of Economic Development and their Business Community Engagement Initiative.

A dedicated and reputable industry body would allow us to regulate our industry, make representations in the correct manner, and ultimately speak with one voice. Also, being able to keep producers up to date with changes in rules and regulations as well as other key issues that affect us and our work will be invaluable.

The success of the Forum is based on the effort the membership puts in, and we look forward to a vibrant, positive and productive forum.

KEY REASONS FOR CREATING THE UAE PRODUCTION FORUM

Create a valued voice for the industry and for government consultation, and build stronger, open channels of communication with government departments. When laws and regulations are made that affect our industry, it is critical that, as a recognised association, we are consulted. We need to lobby the government and other interest groups to ensure that legislation is favourable and in the best interests of industry growth and development.

Establish international industry standards for all aspects of the film production process, especially health and safety working guidelines for cast and crew, and ensuring that productions are adequately insured and locations are treated correctly.

Build a stronger, more networked community and foster positive collaborations between competitive companies and freelancers. The more we share information and support each other, the stronger and more impactful we can be together.

Quantify the economic importance of our industry through an industry-wide survey, which will also identify new trends and challenges, and indicate how we are reshaping our industry to fit the ever-changing advertising and online content landscape.

Support the next generation by setting up internship programmes and mentorships. Most of what you learn in the film industry is through on-the-job experience, so sharing our knowledge and developing the skills of young professionals is vital for the future of the industry.

KEY ISSUES & CHALLENGES

Freelance work permits
and visas

Freelancers are the backbone of our industry; we need to make it easy and affordable for them to work here legally. We want the freelancers who are the best in their field to choose the UAE as their permanent place of work – this can only be to the benefit of us all.

We would like to see freelance permits that allow freelancers to work both with mainland companies and freezone companies.

The launch of the Tecom Gofreelance work permit for AED 7,500 is an excellent step forward. The UAE Production Forum was invited by the Dubai Creative Clusters Authority to consult on the initiative. However, almost all freelancers would need the additional visa component and the added cost of the yearly establishment card, which we feel is still too expensive.

Location fees

Location fees are a killer for our budgets. We price ourselves out of the market when quoting for international commercials that want to shoot in the UAE, with the knock-on effect being that these commercials end up going to South Africa, Spain, Turkey, Romania, Lebanon or Egypt.

This damages not only our industry but Brand UAE as well, as the opportunity to put Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or any of the other emirates in the world’s shop windows is missed.

In Dubai, most semi-government locations have a very high charge, and whether you are shooting a quick online content piece or a full-blown international TV commercial, the fees are the same. Fees need to be flexible and aligned with the type of production that is shooting.

Permits

Particularly with short-lived content work, we need permits that are cheaper and have a longer shooting window. A general shooting permit at a government location costs AED 3,000 (for processing and permitting); if you are shooting regular, fast-turnaround content, this can get really expensive really quickly.

We’d like to see a renewable monthly permit that covers multiple pieces of online and corporate content, with a system in place for DFTC to easily approve the content. The future is digital and we have to be nimble if we are
to succeed.

Promote the UAE as a world-class location to film

The UAE has so many incredible locations, and within a one-hour radius
you have the sea, the city, the desert and the mountains, offering a diverse array of locations, all within easy reach. Rugged mountains with good dirt and tar roads, new eight-lane highways with flyovers, tunnels and bridges that are lined with modern skyscrapers, and so much more.

Unlike in Morrocco, where the desert is a day’s travel away from the city, UAE cities are within an hour’s drive from stunning sand dunes that run to the horizon.

Another great positive is that we have to hand easy-to-access and cost-effective police assistance for road closures, experienced English-speaking film crews and a wide variety of the latest filming equipment.

We believe it is important that the UAE is promoted at all major international events, as a country, and not individually as Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It is also essential that production companies become part of any international promotion, as we best understand how films are produced here.

The Abu Dhabi Film Commission’s 30 per cent incentive for both movies and commercials has really grown their industry and skilled up new crew, making Abu Dhabi a hub. Incentives work. And producers around the world will go to the destination that gives them the best value for money.

At the UAE Production Forum, we believe that by doing all of this, we will become the country of choice for international productions and a presence at major international events.

Payment terms

One of the biggest struggles for production companies is late payment terms. These terms restrict growth and damage the payment chain, which ends up putting freelancers and small businesses at risk.

It’s easy to forget, but most production companies are SMEs with little wriggle-room. When a payment is late – with some coming after 90 days, a year or even longer – the company suffers, growth is damaged and the industry becomes uncompetitive with only a few companies left that have the means to make moves regardless of financial implications.

Changing this aspect of production will make a big difference for the field as
a whole.

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