Filming on location in Jordan for Disney’s Aladdin
Disney’s latest live-action remake Aladdin hit the screens in early May. Directed by Guy Ritchie, the film brought to life the fictional city of Agrabah, which until now had only been seen in animated form.
Based on a tale from 1001 Arabian Nights, the fictional city of Agrabah – a place full of “mystery and enchantment”, is where Aladdin, an amiable thief impersonates a prince to capture the heart of Princess Jasmine, the Sultan’s daughter.
Much of the 2019 live-action shot at Longcross Studios in Surrey, UK. In comments to Collider, Production Designer Gemma Jackson, explained “We had quite a lot of soundstages full of all the palace stuff. And then, we built downtown Agrabah, all on the back lot”.
Although Agrabah has no real-life geographical location, audiences have commented on influences from both the Middle East and South Asia, with parallels drawn between the Taj Mahal and the palace depicted in the 1992 animation.
While debate continues surrounding the possible setting, on location filming took place in Jordan. Peter Bardsley, Location Manager, spoke to The Location Guide about the shoot.
“Several months prep is required even for a relatively short shoot in the desert” he explains, “We filmed near to Diesah and Shakrieh, in the vicinity of The Wadi Rum. Also more recently for the first time filming took place in an area of the The Wadi Araba, a military controlled area near to the Israeli border with many interesting expanses of dunes.
The Wadi Rum itself has seen a number of major productions over the years, with Lawrence of Arabia being one of the first, and more recent examples including The Martian and Prometheus.
“There is an area in the Wadi Rum region that has become a giant desert backlot for major features”, Peter notes, “the steady stream of large features means everyone is well used to the process. Infrastructure in the country to support filming continues to get better and better, in part thanks to the strong relationship between the service company producers and the military, but also the number of experienced Jordanian crew, suppliers and members of the local Bedouin communities.
We were based out of the nearby city of Aqaba, which has a host of 5 star hotels (pictured left) - they are also well used to film companies and allow for productions to continue their office base as out of a studios”.
However, shooting in a desert is never going to be an easy ride. In terms of logistics, Peter details the most crucial aspects to get right: being organised, flexible and above all else, patient.
"There are of course many of the resources we would expect in the UK, but you have to respectfully appreciate that you are working in another country – there many things that are done differently. In the two projects I have completed in Jordan, I would say figuratively getting from A to B may take a different journey than you may be used to – but you will always find a way to get there. It is an exciting country to work in. With such a number of high-end productions choosing to shoot here, many of the obvious challenges have long since been addressed" says Peter.
On the Aladdin shoot, “the local crew account for an even ratio of the total crew - many of whom are dual national and all fluent in English. The crew in Jordan now have many years training and experience, but in most cases the productions already have a camera team for example - so most of the key positions are foreign crew, but with a roster of local adding their experience to the mix”. The construction manager, for example is always a local as they manage the local labour – it is only possible with someone who has the language skills, cultural understanding and local knowledge.
To film in the Wadi Rum, Bardsley stresses the necessity of forming a good relationship with the local Bedouin communities. “It is their home, they have the necessary contacts to allow safe and smooth filming in the desert. Particularly when it comes to supplying a snake wrangler…The producers and location managers in Jordan are also essential".
The reason that such a great number of films have chosen to shoot in the Wadi Rum undeniably comes down to it’s dramatic, otherworldly scenery. A quintessential desert in many ways, the Wadi Rum has also successfully doubled for outer space in The Martian as well as another galaxy in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Peter recalls “for me the most memorable thing about Wadi Rum is the desert rock formations at magic hour - as the sand turns from orange to pink - the mystical romance of the ancient seabed from a high vantage point as you lose the light is spectacular”.
Jordan operates a 20% cash rebate to foreign producers that spend at least 20% of their budget within Jordan. Fifty Jordanain crew members and twenty local interns must be hired to gain eligibility and the per project cap is set at JOD1 million. Feature film, TV films or series, documentaries, commercials and video game production all qualify.
Image credits: Peter Bardsley and Disney
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