MBC, the Saudi-owned free-flying satellite network giant, has been a dominant force throughout the Arabic-speaking world for three decades and is now arguably the most recognizable media brand in the world. best known of the Middle East.
With a reach of hundreds of millions of viewers and now offering more than 10 channels, it has gone after the wave of Western TV coming to the region, plus Arabic dramas, sitcoms, and extreme talk shows their own fame, along with the local dramas of some of the biggest franchises, such as Arab Idols, Looking for Arab Talent and Who wants to be a millionaire?. But only now – 30 years after its London debut (it moved to Dubai in 2002 and recently started moving operations to Riyadh) – has it made a big splash for Hollywood and audiences say. Global English with two big budget movies A- list features.
Fighter of the Desert, a period epic set in 7th century Arabia, starring Anthony Mackie, Aiysha Hart, Sharlto Copley, and Ben Kingsley and from writer-director Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes). Currently shooting at Neom in the Tabuk region of Saudi Arabia, an area billed as the site of a hugely advertised $500 billion megacity, it is the largest film ever produced in the country. this.
While, Kandahar – an action thriller about a CIA agent starring Gerard Butler and his fallen Angel and Greenland screenwriter and director Ric Roman Waugh – will begin production in the coming days in AlUla, a historic area of Saudi Arabia that has been heavily promoted as a filming destination (the government’s film committee) they launched earlier this year). Kandahar will be the biggest film shot entirely in the kingdom.
Given that it was only at the end of 2017, Saudi Arabia announced its emergence after 35 years of exile in cinema, overturning the cinema ban and starting to examine the prospects of its own film industry, It’s no surprise that records are rapidly being broken.
But what’s particularly important with these two productions is that they are the first mainstream English-language films to be co-produced and financed by MBC’s senior production arm MBC Studios (first released in 2014. 2018 and is led by former NBCUniversal International director Peter Smith) and that it is partnering with major Hollywood players in the process.
In case Kandahar, MBC Studios – which Smith said invested “significantly” in the film – co-produced with Butler’s G-Base (London has fallen, Greenland), Lightning Road Image (John Wick, Sicario) and Capstone (Carrier, Golden Spin), also on sale. Because the Fighter of the Desert, MBC Studios – also said to be the main financial backer – is co-producing with JB Pictures (led by Jeremy Bolt, who produced Resident Evil franchise) and AGC Studios (In the middle, Falling Moon), which is handling worldwide sales).
“It is definitely a new era,” MBC Studios KSA executive director Zeinab Abu Alsamh told. The Hollywood Reporter. “Not just for MBC, but for the whole region. There was definitely an explosion in production and this is just a natural evolutionary process. We wanted to have this area as a manufacturing hub, and we wanted to make up for the time we didn’t produce.”
Since 2018 and the notorious crackdown on corruption has seen many members of Saudi business and ruling circles detained at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. then, the MBC Group was effectively in the hands of the Saudi government. The company’s founder and chairman Waleed bin Ibrahim Al Ibrahim was among those caught up in the crackdown and it is widely known that his release has been secured after the transfer of 60% of the ownership rights. owned his company for the government.
Given that the company now has owners with big pockets with big media plans (in 2018 the country said it would invest $64 billion over 10 years in the entertainment sector), many people might think that MBC has whatever resources they need to put out as many dramas as possible. But Abu Alsamh says that’s not the case, and it’s still taking them a very long time to make sure they’re investing in the right projects and developing the stories they think should be developed.
“I’m not pressured by the amount of stuff that needs to come out,” she said. “I really want to have good stories written. I’d love to have a sustainable way to transfer the knowledge of all the amazing global talent we’re working with locals to build infrastructure that’s truly compelling for anyone. Anyone wants to come and take pictures. ”
This is one of the main priorities. With Saudi Arabia building a productive film industry from the ground up, current productions are having to bring in key crew members, especially department heads from foreign. But the hope is that every time they arrive, local talent can approach Hollywood’s experienced cameramen, work in different productions and learn on the job.
“And we did it with Fighter of the Desert“, said Abu Alsamh, while also claiming that the film was an “anchor” to help develop the Saudi crew. In just a week since filming began, she says they saw “a huge leap forward in knowledge”.
The same goes for the physical facilities, which are also severely lacking in Saudi Arabia, with the plan being that anything built for larger products should be left to use. to add.
“With every manufacturing process, something comes to an end,” says Abu Alsamh. “Because the Fighter of the Desert we have made a lot of improvements and now we are planning another project in the same location. And, man, is it easier thanks to them getting through the biggest battle. “
Although both Fighter of the Desert and Kandahar being filmed in Saudi Arabia, Abu Alsamh points out that, while this would obviously take precedence, it is not necessarily a condition for future film investments, but again dramatic The ideal version for the project is “the story of Saudi Arabia or about a Saudi Arabia. ”
But can MBC start sponsoring Hollywood productions outside of Saudi Arabia that have nothing to do with the country?
“Things are opening up, so I can’t say, ‘no,'” Abu Alsamh said. “But there isn’t anything like it on the table yet. But maybe soon.”
Upcoming major projects that MBC Studios will produce and finance, according to Abu Alsamh, include The Ark, which she says is a modern-day tale of archaeological efforts to discover Noah’s Ark. There is also another cinematic story about the famous ship One thousand and one nights collection of Middle Eastern folk tales, along with a biography of the famous pre-Islamic Arab knight and poet Antarah ibn Shaddad al-Absi. Although no director has been attached yet, The Ark expected to be the first to exit the block.
But for the next few months, at least, MBC has both Fighter of the Desert and Kandahar to keep yourself busy. Aside from the records they’re breaking, the movies are also hugely important as a sign that Hollywood companies, producers and actors are once again openly happy to work with Saudi Arabia. The youngest again after a few years of publicity in the cold after the 2018 murder Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who is believed to be led by agents of the Saudi government.
Butler, notably, was one of the first stars to cancel a planned promotional trip to the country just days after the Khashoggi scandal broke in October 2018. Three years later, he He starred in and produced one of the biggest films ever shot in Saudi Arabia, a film largely funded by a company owned by the same government accused of being behind the murders.
Despite owning a controlling stake, one industry insider claims that the authorities actually have little influence over MBC Studios, with the government having agreed to “non-interference” in premium content and MBC’s production team (including streaming service Shahid VIP) as part of Take on. Also, unlike Saudi Arabia’s growing array of state assets – including stakes in Disney, Live Nation, Boeing, Facebook, BP, Uber, Starbucks and recently acquired English football team Newcastle United – MBC is not part of the Private Equity Fund, a vast sovereign wealth fund estimated at $500 billion. Instead, it’s under the Treasury Department, a division that, according to insiders, actually gives it better “maneuverability” than the “more exposed” brands under the wealth fund.
Investment in Saudi Arabia extends to parent company of The Hollywood Reporter, noteworthy. SRMG, a publicly traded media company in Saudi Arabia, is a minority investor in PMC, co-owner of The Hollywood Reporter.
According to Abu Alsamh, MBC’s connections to Salman and the Saudi government are not an obstacle in attracting Hollywood talent.
“Not quite, because it’s owned by a hedge fund and we’re very private, so I don’t think that story is stopping anyone,” she said, adding. that the group of US and UK directors and writers with whom the company is talking about future projects is “bigger by the day”.
And although Abu Alsamh has not stated a target on the number of English-language mainstream films MBC Studios is planning to produce, she does note that Fighter of the Desert would be “the first of many.”