Film production gave Dubai’s economy a Dh150 million (US$40.8m) boost last year, thanks to more television shows and commercials being shot in the emirate.
The total budget for feature films and television shows topped Dh70m last year, with millions more made up from TV advertisements and photo shoots at landmarks such as the Burj Khalifa.
The Government approved 877 film and photography requests last year, down a fraction on the 888 in 2010, when scenes for the Tom Cruise movie Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol were shot in Dubai.
The majority of filming requests originated from Dubai, with 115 from Europe, and 12 from other Middle Eastern countries.
Jamal Al Sharif, the managing director of Dubai Media City and Dubai Studio City (DSC), said there was “a very healthy market” for film and TV production.
“The market did very well in 2011,” he said. “The budget was Dh150m spent in Dubai. That’s boosting the economy.”
The money spent in Dubai by film and production companies is spread across many industries, Mr Al Sharif added.
“[It ranges] from renting equipment to renting hotels, to catering, to paying for extras, or getting some post-production done,” he said.
Mr Al Sharif oversees DSC, which includes a body called Location Approval Services (LAS) that arranges permissions and other services for crews looking to film in Dubai.
Feature films given approval last year included the Chinese movie Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, which began filming in Dubai early this year.
Total budgets for all TV, film and still photography approved by LAS stood at Dh150m last year, down on the Dh165m the previous year.
The slight decline was because the filming of Mission Impossible in 2010 gave a $32m boost to the Dubai economy, Mr Al Sharif said.
There was healthy growth in the number of TV commercials filmed in Dubai last year.
Mr Al Sharif said 410 television adverts were made, compared with 366 in 2010.
“Because of the Arab Spring … there were many programmes produced in Dubai,” he said. “We think there is more TV growth to come. TV is a very popular source of information.”
The top location for filming was the busy Sheikh Zayed Road, with the Dubai Creek and Burj Khalifa also among the most popular.
While the value of film production was “healthy” last year, it was still just a fraction of the value in 2008, when more than Dh500m was spent on making film and TV shows in Dubai. But Mr Al Sharif said the size of productions is now more sustainable. “In 2008, the number we saw was very big, but scary … This number was fake, it was a bubble,” he said. “I’m happy that the costs have reduced.”
Tim Smythe, the chief executive of the Dubai production house Filmworks, which arranged the shoot of Mission: Impossible in the emirate, said that he thought the official government figures underestimated the size of the film market.
But Mr Smythe agreed that there was a recovery in the local film and TV market.
“It’s definitely back on the road to recovery,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we were back at the heyday. But there’s definitely been a positive improvement. It’s the beginnings of the recovery from the economic crisis.”
Mr Al Sharif said that a financial incentive scheme is under study to help encourage more international productions to be made in Dubai. A roadshow to promote filming here is also under consideration, he added.
“I’m hoping that, after the release of Mission Impossible, it will open doors to more Hollywood films, and Bollywood as well,” he said. “I think the Burj Khalifa will play a big role in attracting more production. It’s an iconic location.”
Despite the “healthy” market last year, Mr Al Sharif said some productions were blocked because they contained inappropriate scenes, or promoted negative stereotypes.
At least four scripts were rejected by the National Media Council on the grounds of inappropriate content. These include a film called Dirty Diana.
He did not elaborate on why filming that particular production was blocked.