J.J. Abrams 'Star Wars VII': Why Lucasfilm Chose Abu Dhabi

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By Tanya Diente | May 22, 2014 1:49 PM EST

The rumours started a long time ago. Now the United Arab Emirates has confirmed that George Lucas' "Star Wars" galaxy is actually in Abu Dhabi.

REUTERS
Writer/Director/Producer J.J. Abrams (top center in glasses) conducts a cast reading for "Star Wars: Episode VII" at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire in this publicity photo taken and released to Reuters April 29, 2014. Clockwise from Abrams are Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Producer Bryan Burk, Lucasfilm President and Producer Kathleen Kennedy, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill, Andy Serkis, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver and writer Lawrence Kasdan.

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Fox News reported that twofour54 intaj, the media company backed by Abu Dhabi, announced Wednesday that "Star Wars VII" is currently being filmed in the Middle East.  The media company has been picked by Disney to line-produce the United Arab Emirates portion of the "Star Wars VII" shoot.

Paul Baker, Executive director of twofour54 intaj, shared his excitement on being part of the "Star Wars VII" filming to The Associated Press.

"We are extremely excited about being part of such a huge movie. It's a good demonstration that we are well on the way to establishing a long-term production environment in Abu Dhabi," he said.

Director J.J. Abrams and cast of "Star Wars VII" flew to Abu Dhabi in early May, with the support of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission and twofour54 intaj, according to Variety.  There are more than 600 cast and crew -including local crew-working on the production in Abu Dhabi. Filming is set for two or three weeks, while key production staffs have been working closely with twofour54 intaj since January.

Why has "Star Wars" chosen Abu Dhabi?

According to Variety, there are a number of reasons why "Star Wars" chose to film in Abu Dhabi. Paul Baker, Ex-executive VP of Pinewood USA, said Abu Dhabi has a selection of great locations that appeal to the creative nature of the film, locations that would appeal to J.J. Abrams and the crew. Then, "there is everything else that falls into place: production infrastructure, crew, equipment suppliers," and obviously the 30 percent production rebate.

The 30% rebate has proved popular among international producers according to Variety. twofour54 and the Abu Dhabi Film Commission have attracted several international productions in the past 12 months. These include Sony's paranormal thriller "Deliver Us from Evil," Universal Pictures' "Fast & Furious 7," Bollywood movie "Bang Bang" from Fox Star Studios and the American soap opera "The Bold and the Beautiful".

The rebate according to Baker is an important part of the decision-making process, since producers are able to calculate how much they will spend in Abu Dhabi vs how much they will earn.

Another reason why "Star Wars" chose Abu Dhabi is the boost to tourism and the "impact on brand Abu Dhabi". Baker likened it to the filming of "The Lord of the Rings" franchise in New Zealand which resulted to a 40% increase in tourism. 

"So there is a huge impact, and the opportunity for this industry to pay back to Abu Dhabi, and that also serves well for the infrastructure we have. We have a huge amount of (world-class) hotels. It's a nice place to go and work," Baker told Variety.

Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy also described Abu Dhabi as "an incredible place to commence" the "Star Wars"  journey.

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(Photo: REUTERS / David James)
Writer/Director/Producer J.J. Abrams (top center in glasses) conducts a cast reading for "Star Wars: Episode VII" at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire in this publicity photo taken and released to Reuters April 29, 2014. Clockwise from Abrams are Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Producer Bryan Burk, Lucasfilm President and Producer Kathleen Kennedy, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill, Andy Serkis, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver and writer Lawrence Kasdan.
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