Abu Dhabi Film Festival’s locations panel also talks about importance of international shoots for training local crews.

Michael ‘Mick’ Flanagan, head of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, said attracting film shoots to Abu Dhabi isn’t just about the desert. “We have amazing new architecture,” that is attractive to productions set in the near future. “We want to showcase what we have other than the desert. We don’t just want to do war movies. We go out there to say, ‘We’re not just sand guys.’”

Abu Dhabi offers a new 30% cash back rebate for international production and has recently welcomed two Syrian productions; the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Beware The Night; and will soon welcome Fast & Furious 7. “It’s a generous incentive because we really are at the beginning of the film industry here and the best way to attract people is to give them cash. To me, incentives is just half of it. We’re also really bolstering our infrastructure, we have new stages coming online, we’re training up more crew….On the Bruckheimer picture they only bought four people from Los Angeles so we were able to source the rest of the crew locally.”

He continued: “We want to make it more attractive to get film folks to come and stay here. We’re bringing more stages online. We’re doing some great training programmes within TwoFour54.”

Also speaking on the Abu Dhabi Film Festival’s locations panel, Kamal Mouline of the Moroccan Cinema Institute added that despite the country’s strength in attracting productions “we want to go beyond that to produce more.” To do that he’d like the country to offer locations and casting databases, and to build a cinema village akin to something like Warner Bros’ new UK hub at Leavesden Studios.

Morocco has a long history with French film productions and co-productions, but Mouline noted “we’ve become more interested in British and American films.” The country also wants to beat South Africa as a location for inward investment shoots on the African continent. Morocco has previously hosted Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and David Lean, and Ridley Scott with a number of films including Body of Lies and Kingdom of Heaven. He said the Arab Spring uncertainty had reduced production spend in 2011 but that it was now “going up again”

Morocco doesn’t have a tax incentive (although it does offer a VAT exception) but it does offer affordable shooting, which Mouline pegs at 40-60% below costs of shooting in the US.

Jordan, meanwhile, has no formal incentive in place but can give an exception on VAT, sales tax and customs. It recently hosted Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty and Jon Stewart for his feature directorial debut Rosewater.

George David of the Royal Film Commission in Jordan and president of AFCI, said, “Over the years our crew has come a long way.”

One key reason for local crews improving their skills is working on international productions, all the experts agreed.

“We think the transfer of knowledge on an international production will be much quicker.  When people come in the transfer of knowledge goes much faster. It’s about being hands on,” Flanagan said.

David added: “It’s so important to be on set. Every film set is different.”

Adrian Wootton of Film London and the British Film Commission knows just how valuable inward investment films can be to a local industry, as it’s one of the strengths of the UK.

Wootton said that alongside the stable tax credit the UK has been able to benefit from “one of the largest film training programmes in the world, it’s a partnership that government put down and the challenge was to get the industry to match that, and they have. The incentive gives you a place at the table, but for repeat business it’s about the quality of the infrastructure and the quality of your crews.”

Wootton also spoke of the UK’s new animation and high-end TV drama credits, which has just lured Fox to shoot the new series of 24 in London.

Addressing cultural sensitivities for international producers coming to Arab countries, Flanagan said: “We don’t have a censorship board, we have a national media council that does approve scripts.” The potential reasons for a script not being approved? He said: “It’s very straightforward, it would be disrespecting the royal family, disrespecting any religion, or overt sexuality…things are changing, for us doubling other locales maybe things that would have been challenging in the past we’re seeing recognition that it’s not representing UAE in the script, and there can be more leeway. It’s evolving.”

David said for foreign productions in Jordan there was no censorship and that anything except pornography would be allowed.