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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Renowned American director and producer Michael Bay, known for the “Transformers” franchise, is positive about the future of Saudi Arabia’s film and gaming industries.
In an interview with Arab News at Riyadh’s Next World Forum, the world’s largest gathering of esports and gaming experts and influencers, Bay said he also plans to shoot a movie in AlUla, with “talks” currently underway.
Known for his stylized, high-concept productions and box-office hits, he apparently had a hand in laying the groundwork for the Saudi film industry. Bay said that it was Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, during a visit to Hollywood a few years ago, who had asked him: “How do I get movies to my country?”
This was prior to Saudi Arabia opening cinemas in 2018.
Bay said: “I’ve shot around the world. I shot a lot in the Middle East and one of the things to get a big movie like mine, worth a couple of hundred million dollars, you have to have infrastructure. I like going to places that I’ve never shot before.
“To MBS, I said, raise your tax rebate to 40 percent, the highest in the world, because you have to draw people there. Ironically, I had scouted AlUla desert probably a decade earlier because we scout by satellite. It’s a desert that’s been untouched. I shot at Wadi Rum, which is in Jordan that links to AlUla.”
And in fact, as the film industry continues to flourish in the Kingdom, its incentive program does offer local and international productions rebates of up to 40 percent.
Bay was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award at Saudi Arabia’s flagship Joy Awards in 2022. During his first visit to the Kingdom, he was taken around the country and introduced to various artist communities.
He said: “I was fascinated by how many young people (there) are here. And what I’m really fascinated about is how fast this place is growing. The world outside does not know that. They don’t know it at all until you’re here.
“I was here for about a week. They toured me around these beautiful new film facilities, film stages … and toured the NEOM dig site, which is a crazy human endeavor.”
He participated this week in a Next World Forum panel discussion alongside businessman and public personality Gary Vaynerchuk and professional footballer Gareth Bale, titled “High Score: When Celebrities Enter the Gaming Industry.”
“I was invited back to this forum because I wrote a video game about 17 years ago, and we are just at the point of getting ready to sell it. We’ve done our test to get it made. And we had a lot of big players that were interested in buying it. But I held off (on selling it) because I knew there are big gamers here and I know that they want to invest in all different types of arts and architecture and technology. That’s why I’m excited to be back here,” he told Arab News.
Bay said he did not always have the best relationship with the gaming industry. He claimed that early in his career, an attack scene in Pearl Harbor, a film he directed, was “ripped off” by video game developers without giving him credit.
To reclaim the 18 months his team spent creating the film, Bay decided to write his own game. Fifteen years later, “it’s now a movie idea and a game.” He said the key to creating unique video entertainment is having a director who is involved and passionate about both film and gaming.
Bay said that Saudi Arabia’s film industry was at an advantage because the country has 75 percent of the population under the age of 35.
Bay said: “I’ve got a lower-budget division where we help younger directors … nurture younger directors. And then you guys should be doing some of your own — using younger talent, whether in action movies, or scary movies, or whatnot — of your own. You’ll see your business grow.
“It’s exactly what China (did). Their business was not that big. We started shooting over there and they’ve now made a big business of their own in China.”
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