Hollywood turns its lights on Dubai

Dubai loves to proclaim itself as the home of the biggest, highest, most expensive and most luxurious, but another part of the world has for a long time made the superlative its own speciality.

If hyperbole were a competitive sport, the home of the reigning and undisputed world champions would be in Hollywood, California.

I know. I have been to Hollywood twice this year already to deal with expressions of enthusiasm for my recently published novel, Meltdown. To judge from the general tenor of the meetings you'd think that I'd invented a) the concept of story and b) the English language. Sadly, I can lay claim to neither of these considerable achievements, but the chrome-plated flattery I was subjected to made me feel – for the duration of each meeting at least – that maybe I just ought to.

So for reasons of my own – which I promise faithfully to report on just as soon as a deal is done – I was drawn recently to the temporary centre of movie mania, which is the Cannes Film Festival. And what an eye-opener it was to attend the extraordinary bean feast that is Hollywood at play for the 16th successive year. The movie industry is a kind of economic micro-climate, an entity that obeys only its own rules and conditions, and seems somehow to be magically insulated from the rest of the world's economy.

The centre point of it all, as it has been for years, is the Carlton Hotel, grandly situated at the heart of the beach-front Croisette. Surrounding the Carlton is a swirling vortex of voyeurs, ambling tourists, well-dressed hangers-on, scruffily attired movers and shakers [in the foyer of the Carlton I bumped into the sexagenarian director of the latest Indiana Jones movie, dressed in loose jeans and a crumpled shirt] and predatory photographers. Occasionally, very occasionally, you also get an actual movie star.

Here are some economic indicators from the Cannes satellite of planet Hollywood. If you fancy a plate of the pasta asciutta, with its special supplement of caviar at Spaghetti di Fellini by the rue d'Antibes, it will set you back a cool Dh2,604. For the period of the festival, which ends this week, the front entrance of the Carlton has been transformed into an Indiana Jones movie grotto, at a cost rumoured to be a not inconsiderable $10 million (Dh367). And the price of a prime mooring for one of the big yachts lined up in the old port is at least $500,000. The vessels themselves cost at least $50m, if you don't want to be embarrassed by your neighbours on the boardwalk. Yet this is a world that is short of money. Or, at least, one that believes itself so. Because, of course, in Hollywood you can never be too thin or too rich. And much of the talk at the meetings I went to was of the advent of money from Dubai.

I can't quote the individual directly, but the following is a fair paraphrase of the seriousness and excitement with which the advent of Dubai in the movie world is being greeted by a major Hollywood producer: "I think the people in Dubai are determined to get it right. They're interested in the industry, but they're not just interested in going to parties with movie stars. It's about serious money and serious commitment. They're looking to fund movies, which is causing a stir already, and they're looking to be a venue for filming, which could work on several levels – the landscapes are very cool for certain types of shot, and they're building sound stages. The sound stages won't be ready until 2009, apparently. But there's a willingness to do this."

There's certainly a willingness to take money off just about anyone.

Hollywood is a seaside town after all, and, like any seaside towns, it's full of hucksters and people trying to get punters to come and see the sideshows.

But the word is that Dubai, in particular among would-be Middle East investors, is approaching the movie business in a sensible, measured way that will certainly get some movies made – and might also turn a profit in the foreseeable future.

Even coming as it did from the mouths of some of the most accomplished exaggerators in the world, I give it some credence.

Martin Baker is a journalist, author and commentator on business affairs.

 

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