Splashing down at the Cannes Film Festival this week, Saudi Arabia continues its rapid push to expand the local entertainment industry and send the overall message that the Kingdom is open for business. CEO of the General Culture Authority Ahmad Al-Maziad announced this morning a new 35% cash rebate to incentivize international film production in the Kingdom as well as a 50% rebate available for spend on Saudi labor.
The first rebate will apply to productions that will be filmed in the KSA, offering a baseline of 35% for all spend used and consumed in the country, with the ability for productions to realize higher rebates by meeting certain criteria. A 50% rebate will also be available for spend on Saudi labor employed on productions.
Precise guidelines surrounding the rebates will be announced in the coming weeks. But today, Al-Maziad said he believes they will “make us the most attractive incentive program in the world.” This, he said, “is a call to come and shoot in Saudi, to enjoy the scenery and the people. This not only extends to (narrative features) but to animation, documentaries and scripted series.”
By setting attractive incentives for international productions, the Kingdom is also looking to help develop its local talent. The more that talent “is used with international crews, it will help them develop faster. We believe the market will grow exponentially,” said Al-Maziad.
Under Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s Vision 2030 program to diversify the Kingdom’s economy, one objective is to “create a sustainable industry around film and content, the visual arts, music, literature and theater and the performing arts,” Al-Maziad noted today.
Saudi wants filmmakers to come and shoot within its boarders while it looks to build its own infrastructure. Al-Maziad called the move two-pronged, “Saudi for the world and Saudi for Saudi.”
The Kingdom has moved briskly since the movie theater ban was first lifted at the end of last year. Al-Maziad noted, “We believe we can leapfrog… We have the means, not just the money, but a young population, the talent, drive, passion and storytelling history. We are looking to become a dominant player in the industry.” He allowed, “We are not claiming we have a comprehensive infrastructure now. We are at the beginning of the journey.”
Saudi is a market of 33M people whose population is 70% under 30 and very digital savvy. While movie theaters began opening recently, the KSA’s youth are avid consumers of online content and have the highest per-capita social media penetration in the world.
Some filmmakers, including Haifaa Al Mansour and Mahmoud Sabbagh have already made an international impact. A national grant program for local Saudi talent is also being launched with training programs and education initiatives including partnerships with USC, Film Independent, Studio School, and France’s La Fémis and Les Gobelins. Saudi men and women will be sent this summer to attend masterclasses at the partner schools. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” Al-Maziad said.
He was questioned as to what the guidelines for content would look like in the Kingdom but could not elaborate too much as they are still being developed. He did note they will apply “to what is accepted in society.” There will be a form of censorship, but the guidelines will “evolve as society changes. What wasn’t accepted two years ago is accepted now.”
Along with the speedy build-out of commercial multiplexes in the country there is a move to build art-house cinemas as well, noted Saudi Film Council CEO Faisal Baltyuor. “It’s really important for local talent to be showcased as well as more art-house films from other countries.”