EXCLUSIVE: Filming has begun in Saudi Arabia on Gerard Butler action movie Kandahar, which becomes the first big-budget U.S. feature to shoot in the country’s touted AlUla region.
Produced by John Wick outfit Thunder Road Films and Capstone, Kandahar reunites Butler with his Greenland and Angel Has Fallen director Ric Roman Waugh.
Butler stars as Tom Harris, an undercover CIA operative, stuck deep in hostile territory in Afghanistan. He must fight his way out, alongside his Afghan translator, to an extraction point in Kandahar, all whilst avoiding the elite special forces tasked with hunting them down.
Joining the cast are Victoria & Abdul and Death On The Nile star Ali Fazal and Homeland, 24 and Legion star Navid Negahban.
The film is the first Hollywood production to shoot in the country’s striking northwestern AlUla region, which is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hegra. It will also shoot in Jeddah and has had backing from the Saudi Film Commission, so will recruit local crew and extras. Producers have tapped into the local rebate scheme.
In cultural and filmic terms, the AlUla ‘project’ is at the forefront of the government’s Vision 2030 plan to modernize the country. The Film AlUla agency has been active at festivals and in the media at promoting the region as a destination for international shoots. The location is eye-catching, combining preserved tombs, sandstone outcrops, ancient dwellings and natural monuments.
Saudi Arabia is growing in popularity as a destination for international shoots. Among projects to have recently shot there are horror movie Cello with Jeremy Irons and Rupert Wyatt’s Desert Warrior with Anthony Mackie, which remains in production. Desert Warrior and Kandahar are the first two sizeable Hollywood movies to shoot in their entirety in the KSA. Meanwhile, the country’s first ever film festival gets underway next week.
Capstone is financing Kandahar along with Middle East media group MBC Studios. Producers are Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee and Brendon Boyea for Thunder Road, G-Base’s Alan Siegel and Butler, and Christian Mercuri of Capstone. David Haring, Scott LaStaiti, Ruzanna Kegeyan, Andrea Dimity and Jonathan Fuhrman are executive producers. Capstone is handling international sales while CAA Media Finance reps U.S. rights and arranged financing.
Screenplay comes from Mitchell LaFortune, based on his own experiences as a military intelligence officer during the Snowden leaks.
Capstone head Christian Mercuri said: “Both the allure and challenge of shooting in such an amazing place as AlUla was an opportunity none of us could pass up. The support from the Film Commission and Saudi government has been remarkable and we are beyond excited to be in production and witnessing Gerry, Ric and Basil doing their thing.”
Stephen Strachan, Film Commissioner at Film AlUla, added: “We are thrilled to officially start production on Kandahar, and welcome the production to the visually stunning county of AlUla. With such a notable filmmaking team behind the production, it is an incredible opportunity for us to showcase not only the captivating, varied landscapes of AlUla, but also our local crews and talent that are being utilized by production. We are excited to be able to showcase AlUla to global audiences around the world, and to open the doors to the region as a world-class filming destination.”
Ric Roman Waugh most recently directed STX’s upcoming feature National Champions, starring Stephan James, JK Simmons, Uzo Aduba, Tim Blake Nelson, and Timothy Olyphant.
Fazal is repped by Julian Belfrage Associates, Bowery Artists and Hirsch Wallerstein Hayum Matlof + Fishman. Negahban is repped by Innovative Artists and Weintraub, Tobin, Chediak, Coleman, Grodin.
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