Written by Shona Smith on Sep 20, 2021. Posted in Interviews

TLG speaks to Khadija Alami, Moroccan Producer and President of Ouarzazate Film Commission

Khadija Alami is President of Ouarzazate Film Commission, founder of Oasis Studios Ourzazate, and a producer who has serviced many international projects through K Films, as well as numerous projects for the local market. In 2017 Alami’s work was recognized on the international stage when she was asked to join the  when she was selected to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Alami spoke to The Location Guide about Ouarzazate as a filming destination and the highlights of her career to date.

What does your role as President of the Ourzazate Film Commission involve?

As the President of Ouarzazate Film Commission I promote Morocco as a destination in general. Ouarzazate is a particularly important destination in Morocco because most of the filming happens here.

What makes Ourzazate such as popular filming destination?

Ouarzazate can act Afghanistan, Pakistan, the mountains in Iraq, Syria, any country in the Middle East where war is happening right now.

It is also a very good destination for biblical shows, and anything set in ancient Egypt. The landscape lend itself to these productions but there also many Egyptian standing sets at Atlas studios.  One of the largest was built for Spike TV’s Tut based on the life of Tutankhamun which K Films serviced in 2014.

Finally, the local authorities are very aware of what filming entails and they are extremely helpful. All these things, plus the amazing light makes Ouarzazate an amazing location.

How Skilled Are The Local Crews?

They are very flexible because they have worked with international productions from the US, UK, China, India, China, Russia etc. and every country has a different way of working. A lot of crews speak English, but even the ones who don't are enthusiastic, hard working and embrace every show as if it is their own.

Because the area has been living from filming for many years all the artisans for set for set construction are based in Ouarzazate. They have had the chance to work with the very big names in design such as Dante Ferretti (Gangs of New York, Cold Mountain) on Kundun, the Dalai Lama story. Instead of going to school they have gained knowledge, skills and expertise from years of working with international set and art departments. At my own studios, Oasis Studios, all the standing sets on site were made by only Moroccan crew (see pictured). We had one British designer and one art director - they were the only two foreigners in the whole team.

The other key elements are the crowd and background artists. International productions I have worked with often comment that they are the most professional extras they have come across. They have grown up with filming and all been extras at some point. Some of the adults have been doing this since childhood so they know what it means to be on a set. You don't need to tell them not to look at the camera, they have the natural skills. When they know a show is coming -  whether it's an ancient Egyptian, biblical or modern war dramas, they know what kind of look we are we will be looking for before we start casting. You will see people walking around with long hair or letting their beards grow in preparation.

With so many War Dramas how difficult is big stunt and special effects sequences?

There are permits you need to have but when you go to the authorities they know what to expect for filming.

In different cities throughout Morocco they will still be very helpful, but there may be more questions than in Ouarzazate.

How has the 20% rebate impacted filming in Morocco?

Its been extremely positive.

Prior to the incentive I serviced a show called Tyrant. Most of it was shot in a studio in Budapest to double for the Middle East and just two weeks were spent on location in Morocco. After the cash rebate was introduced Homeland season eight shot entirely in Morocco, including the interiors. We built the Oval Office, the CIA station and other interiors in a compound in Casablanca.

In addition, crew rates are already very competitive - and there is no fringe rate. At the moment most of the jobs that I'm doing want to do longer shoots here. One show I am working on want to so the New York interiors in Morocco because it's cheaper and you get the cash rebate.

There are other financial benefits as well as the cash rebate. The VAT exemption applies from the beginning. This is great for cash flow for independent or low budget shoots flow because paying the VAT and claiming it back usually takes six-eight months. Lastly we have permission to open up a bank account in the name of foreign production and money can come in and out without going through the local regulation.

How is production recovering in Morocco after Covid?

The lockdown was very strict lockdown but production was happening. I did a show in October 2020 and it worked really well. We had very strict guidelines in addition to the strict guidelines from the studios.

What are some of the highlights of your career thus far?

Getting the land to build Oasis Studios was a very crazy dream. A lot of people didn’t believe it could happen – but it did. I’m very proud of the studio.

In 2014 I received an award for my career by my government. It is great to have the recognition of your own country.

Being a part of the Academy is also amazing because you are invited - you don't apply for it. And I've been part of the International Committee of judges for student films, I vote and have attended the Oscars.

This is the highest peak for any person that works in production. But it doesn’t stop me looking for more challenges and more excitement. I'm now starting to develop my own shows internationally. Locally I've produced two feature films, and 11 short films and two documentaries. But now I'm like seeking to go international, which is also a new challenge. It’s like starting a new career from scratch, at almost 60 years old.

I also have some big plans for the African continent. I am trying to create something with some partners to make the African content more visible.

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