Saudi Arabia is launching soft money schemes worth a total $234 million available to both local and international companies over the next three years in its ongoing effort to launch a local film and TV industry almost from scratch.
The Saudi Cultural Development Fund officially unveiled its so-called Film Sector Financing Program during the Ignite the Scene event dedicated to the film industry held in Riyadh last week.
In an interview on Monday with Variety Najla AlNomair, who is the cultural development fund’s chief strategy and business development officer, said that the Saudi soft money pot is split into two parts: one allocated for loans that amounts to $154 million, and the other for investments, amounting to $80 million.
The loans component of the new Saudi incentives that was unveiled in Riyadh, is being channeled through two financial partners, Saudi banks Lendo and Sukuk Capital.
The Saudi fund’s loans are available for Saudi companies and for foreign companies that are either incorporated in Saudi or have a Saudi partner. The loans pertain to all aspects of the production of feature films, documentaries and TV series, ranging from development to distribution and including post-production. Eligible projects do not have to be shot entirely in Saudi, but they need to meet local cultural criteria and at least 25% of the spend has to be invested in Saudi. Also, 25% of the crew must be made up of Saudi nationals.
The loans “can be for a production project, but also for a company that provides services to the production [such as companies that provide film props] and also for marketing and distribution services as well as for infrastructure,” said AlNomair. She specified that by “infrastructure” she meant film studios. This soft money is not to support Saudi’s booming exhibition sector.
AlNomair said details on the Saudi fund’s $80 million investment component will be unveiled later this year from an international film festival, probably either in Cannes where Saudi is expected to have a substantial presence or at Venice.
Ever since it lifted its 35-year-old religion-related ban on cinema in 2017, Saudi Arabia has been experiencing a boom in all aspects of film industry activity, becoming the Middle East’s top-grossing territory in terms of theatrical box office returns. Attracting international film and TV productions is clearly a key part of this government-driven effort.
Last in Cannes Saudi unveiled it tax rebate for productions which provides up to 40% of spend in cash back for film productions that recruit Saudi crew and talent above and below the line and feature the kingdom’s “culture, history and people along with showcasing the kingdom’s diverse selection of landscapes.
Hollywood productions that have shot in Saudi so far include Gerard Butler action-thriller “Kandahar,” directed by Ric Roman Waugh, which was filmed in AlUla (pictured) a sprawling area of desert and giant boulders that boasts an ancient city and British director Rupert Wyatt’s historical tentpole “Desert Warrior,” toplined by “Captain America” star Anthony Mackie, which was shot in NEOM, a futuristic city being built in the Tabuk province of northwestern Saudi Arabia.