Written by The Location Guide on Jul 11, 2022. Posted in Interviews

Filmmaking in AlUla: a conversation with film commissioner Stephen Strachan and Norah producer Paul Miller

We caught up with Stephen Strachan, film commissioner at Film AlUla, and Paul Miller, producer of upcoming feature film Norah. The pair discussed filming in Saudi Arabia's AlUla area, exploring the filming locations, incentive schemes, and filmmaking resources that the region offers to incoming production teams.


How would you describe the filmmaking scene in the region?

Stephen Strachan: The filmmaking scene in the region is rapidly developing, the country is investing heavily in Saudi talent and infrastructure as it firmly establishes the country as a major film hub. There is an exciting new wave of young filmmakers and a large pool of ambitious talent who are developing their skills to pursue careers in the creative industries in order to service productions of all sizes. The Kingdom has big ambitions for the film and TV production sector with plans for 2,600 cinemas by 2030, considerable investment into world-class studios, sound stages and accommodation along with building international relationships within the film industry, champion new and exciting local talent and promote Saudi Arabia’s flourishing film industry.


Paul, how did you become involved with the Norah project?

Paul Miller: I first met the director Tawfik Alzaid at a Saudi event at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2019. After that we met again with Stephen Strachan to develop the project. The film takes place in Saudi Arabia the 1990’s and during the most conservative time in the Kingdom. The intense and visually stunning drama explores the vital role that artistic expression plays in what it is to be human.

In which parts of AlUla did you shoot?

PM: The main shooting location - and where the film is set - is in the small village of Da’a, and hour south of AlUla. We also shot in spectacular desert locations surrounding AlUla.


What support initiatives are in place for producers?

SS: We provide support and financial incentives to assist in the development and production of international and local feature films, television series, commercials, and documentaries shot in AlUla. The Saudi Film Commission recently announced that the 40% cash rebate program 'Film Saudi' is now fully functional and open for applications. Producers can also benefit from a range of support initiatives including location scouting, expert knowledge of filming in AlUla, the rest of Saudi Arabia, and the wider region, permit applications, production-related protocols, and visas sourcing a professional local and regional supply chain of experienced crew, talent, production companies, and rental equipment. With a team of experts on the ground, we are perfectly placed to support productions every step of the way.


What advice and tips would you offer to incoming creatives who are thinking about shooting their next project in AlUla?

SS: We look forward to welcoming creatives to AlUla to shoot their project and encourage them to get in touch so we can support them to ensure a seamless experience from start to finish. AlUla County is an area of untouched wilderness, outstanding natural beauty and cultural significance offering filmmakers a region of pristine landscapes that have never been seen on screen. This is a unique destination with endless possibilities and we welcome projects of all size and genre. It’s worth noting that productions that recruit Saudi crew and talent above and below the line, feature the Kingdom’s culture, history and people along with showcasing the diverse selection of landscapes in Saudi Arabia will be further leveraged with incentives.


What are you working on next?

PM: I am executive producing, along with Agnieszka Holland, a Polish movie set during the imposition of martial law in Poland in 1981. I am also in production on a feature length documentary about the famous American union leader, Mike Quill, who brought New York City transport system to a stand still in a strike in 1966.

Image credit: Tim Whitby

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