Hollywood is currently taking a keen interest in what Morocco can offer. The upturn may be attributed to the tax incentives that Morocco implemented in 2016 which offer productions a 20% cash rebate incentive, but the fact is that even before the incentives were introduced, Morocco was one of the most favoured locations in the region.
The country can stand in for almost all Middle Eastern locations, few of which are as easy to film in as Morocco. Karim Debbagh of Kasbah Films states that producers often choose Morocco over surrounding places like Dubai ‘because it’s safer, more open – there’s no censorship or limit on what you can say or do’. Despite the 30% tax rebate that the UAE provides, producers are still drawn to Morocco because ‘it’s near impossible for smaller or medium size productions to get a shooting permit if the script deals with the country’s political or social context, or if it involves a love story between a European and an Arab”.
Yellow Birds was one such film that was affected by censorship. The film was expected to shoot in Jordan but filmed in Morocco because “Jordan would not allow the flying in of army hardware mock ups”. Likewise, the Nile Hilton Incident, a political thriller set during the Egyptian Revolution, was supposed to shoot in Egypt but wound up in Casablanca after the whole crew was kicked out just before the start of filming by Egyptian secret services.
But the country can do more than merely masquerade for other Middle Eastern locations. A large range of impressive locations are easily accessible. Sandy beaches or snow-capped mountains, historic monuments and ornate palaces to bustling markets are all available to film crews looking for something different. Mark Binke, NBCUniversal’s exec VP of production, argues that the “view from the mountains to the roofs to the shops would cost US5 million to recreate it and here you just have to point the camera – that’s very valuable to filmmakers”.
The 2008 financial crisis saw international filming curtail, however in recent years production has picked back up and Morocco has attracted a wave of productions straight from Hollywood. In 2016 the country made an estimated EUR33 million from foreign film and television productions, and in 2017 27 international feature films, including Walt Disney’s live-action remake of Aladdin, shot in the country.
Rumours are also circulating that Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Blade Runner 2049) is scouting locations in Morocco and Jordan for his new film “Dune”. The movie, produced by Legendary Entertainment, is an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel about the son of a noble family trying to avenge his father’s death while saving a spice planet he is entrusted to protect.
Morocco has a long history of setting the scene for big-budget movies, but since the North African nation has fleshed out its production industry it has started to secure more Hollywood productions. It will be interesting to see if these factors, combined with the newly established incentive will continue to generate an escalation of Hollywood productions coming to Morocco.