Digital Studio

A CENTRAL DESTINATIO­N

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After having started Central Films in London in 2000, Owner and Producer Karen Coetzee chose to shift to Dubai and become part of a rapidly advancing landscape. In a chat with Karishma Hingorani, she delves into the thriving film culture in the region and why it has been attracting filmmakers from around the world, especially in recent years

WHAT DID THE INDUSTRY LOOK LIKE WHEN YOU JUST STARTED? At the time, the film industry in the Middle East had not really establishe­d itself – it was only beginning to. We used to fly in crew and gear all the way from London. We worked a lot in Bahrain and Jordan at the time, then we moved to the UAE. During the early 2000’s, we would also work a lot in Greece for our Saudi clients, since the casting was good and one could adapt to locations easily. Since we were already shooting a lot for the region, we saw this was an emerging industry being built in a country which excited us. We wanted to be a part of the growth. Moving forward in 2005, we set up Central Films in Dubai Media City. Today, I love this country and proudly call it my home.

CAN YOU SHARE SOME OF THE MAJOR CHALLENGES FACED IN TRYING TO STAY RELEVANT IN THIS MARKET?

Since we are primarily a service production company, we sell the UAE as a world class destinatio­n for internatio­nal brands to film here. We have to stay updated with all the amazing new locations being built, constantly ensure permit processes are smooth and uneventful. Drones are part of almost every job. The rules and fees keep changing from time to time. That too needs to be taken care of.

Keeping aside the fact that we have to compete with other countries for the best locations, we also have to compete on price. This becomes difficult since it is expensive to shoot here because it is costly to live here. Location fees has to be reduced and the approval process for semi-government locations needs to be streamline­d in order to crack a feasible deal.

As Dubai and other parts of the country become smart cities, the procedures change and you need to keep up with them. This is especially relevant for permit processing and affects all government­al department­s. Additional­ly, when semigovern­ment entities merge – for instance, the Meraas merger with Dubai Holding – it affects how and to whom we apply in order to film on these properties.

BASED ON YOUR EXPERIENCE, HOW HAS THE FILM AND BROADCAST INDUSTRY TRANSFORME­D WITHIN THE REGION?

It has grown at lighting speed. The local industry is now world class and adept to compete with the best in the world. We have some exceptiona­l talent across film, television, broadcast, commercial­s, content and stills. The speed of innovation and how it has been embraced by both – private and government entities, ensures we future-proof the results of all our efforts. I also need to mention the growing amount of women in the industry, the mentorship­s and support we give each other. We have a very active Woman in Film group consisting of over 200 women.

ACCORDING TO YOU, HOW DID THE UAE COPE DURING THE PANDEMIC TO KEEP ITS FILM CULTURE ALIVE?

As an industry, we were quick to respond with clear guidelines on safety measures for filming responsibl­y. Key members of the Women in Film and UAE Production Forum collaborat­ed at speed to create guidelines. Suppliers supported the new

measures we needed to put in place. For me, the UAE has emerged number one in handling the pandemic. Without a doubt, we were in the best country at this time. Production work exploded when we eased out of strict lockdown, and in Dubai es-pecially. It was the one place that foreigners could come and shoot easily.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE LATEST TRENDS YOU HAVE SEEN WITHIN THE INDUSTRY?

These days, where everything overlaps and technology plays a big role, agencies feel they need someone in charge of innovation. That is why companies like Media Monks, Unit 9, or AKQA do not just make films, but carve experience­s and customer journeys. This is the space that is strongly keeping pace with the continuous­ly evolving landscape we play in.

For some time now, brands have also been diversifyi­ng their work portfolio across various agencies and production houses. So production houses need to have in-house creative services to stay relevant. Heather Mc Donald, Content Division Director, Filmmaster Production­s has done just that. He works with brands directly, as well as their ad agencies and the relationsh­ip is very clear from the onset.

YOUR THOUGHTS ON REMOTE WORKFLOWS?

Honestly, remote streaming is the bane of production. I find its low and communicat­ion is frustratin­g for all. A day’s shoot gets extended by two and it is not ideal. However, it is very necessary in these times. We have great suppliers for remote filming and it is being done successful­ly from a studio, boat, moving car and the desert.

SINCE YOU ARE AT THE FOREFRONT OF BRINGING INTERNATIO­NAL TALENT TO THE UAE, CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHY THE REGION IS A PREFERRED DESTINATIO­N?

In one country, you get an incredible and diverse set of locations with easy travel times. Few can compete with getting from a futuristic metropolis to the deep desert in just 45 minutes. Pair that with world class technical crew, as well as equipment supported by top notch production teams and we have got a winning formula.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE FUTURE OF INTERNATIO­NAL FILMING IN THE REGION? WHAT NEEDS TO IMPROVE?

In the world of production, our clients hunt across the globe for the best locations and prices. Rebates, discounts, location fee waivers and government support are all part of a package, that we should be offering to stand- out.

For an average commercial, we have to deal with the municipali­ty, the police, the road and transport authoritie­s, as well as obtain ground and aerial permits from each emirate. If all the Emirates were able to combine their permitting process into one portal, it would be more efficient and cost- effective. Location fees need to be addressed as well.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FONDEST EXPERIENCE TILL DATE?

It is more about the people I have had the pleasure to work with. That makes the fondest memories for me. Great internatio­nal production heads, directors, DOPs who know their craft, are profession­al and believe in team work. Locally, over the years, I have found a group of people I love to work with. Together we make things happen and most importantl­y, enjoy the process. Things are tough in our business. When you have a team that supports and enjoys each other’s company – it makes everything worthwhile.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE PREVALENT COST UNDERCUTTI­NG WITHIN THE INDUSTRY?

There is a lot of price squeezing by agencies going on. However, you pay for what you get. Squeezing the industry and reducing the quality of the product is not good for anybody. Of course, you have to be mindful of costs and with so many cheaper options in the market, with incredibly good resolution and features, we can find easier ways of shooting things too.

Clients and agencies squeeze everyone so much and then question the quality, that is suitable for double their budget. With smaller budgets, they expect production companies to put out quotes to three or four directors. Agencies and clients need to become more efficient and mindful about such expectatio­ns. It takes a lot of work to get everyone on board. A more transparen­t and trusted relationsh­ip between clients, agencies and production companies can help deliver quality, which is key in this market.

Another persistent issue is the time frame for payments. It is like a disease in the industry and small production companies suffer from bankrollin­g big brands and agencies. It does not work, is unfair and not the way for the industry to grow at all. Freelancer­s have it tough, living almost hand to mouth and having to wait for three to five months to receive their payments. A lot of people are unhappy about it. It needs to be looked at, since it helps no one.

LASTLY, YOUR TOP THREE RECOMMENDE­D LOCATIONS FOR FILMING IN THE UAE?

The city of Dubai and its beaches. The Sharjah desert and the scenic mountains in Ras Al Khaimah.

IN ONE COUNTRY, YOU GET AN INCREDIBLE AND DIVERSE SET OF LOCATIONS WITH EASY TRAVEL TIMES. FEW CAN COMPETE WITH GETTING FROM A FUTURISTIC METROPOLIS TO THE DEEP DESERT IN JUST 45 MINUTES.”

 ??  ?? Team Central with Bonaparte Films, Germany. Central Films is owned by Karen Coetzee and Ian Ross.
Team Central with Bonaparte Films, Germany. Central Films is owned by Karen Coetzee and Ian Ross.
 ??  ?? Karen Coetzee, Central Films
Karen Coetzee, Central Films

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