It’s no surprise that being an independent filmmaker starting out in UAE, the odds are stacked firmly against your favor when it comes to resources, funding and ease of networking. But we as independent filmmakers take those odds and try to work with them, turning them into advantages. Lack of gear? We shoot with what we can beg, borrow and steal. The advent of the HDSLR changed that for us big time, making high quality filmmaking affordable. Location permits? Shoot with what you have access to and build your story around it. Actors? Shoot with friends and family who would be very excited to be a part of your project. That’s the advice that I give to anyone looking to make their first film and it has never failed.
Where it gets tricky however is what you do after you shoot your film – the post-production. You not only need a semi-powerful computer to edit your high definition projects but also some expensive software to go along with them. It’s an area that the advice doesn’t quite work as well, and budding filmmakers in the region have always been held back by a lack of access to high-end equipment for post to really hone their ambitious projects to the best they can be. So imagine my surprise when I read about possibly the most significant boost to regional filmmakers in the past few years – twofour54’s #TheLab.
[blockquote align=”left”]Budding filmmakers in the region have always been held back by a lack of access to high-end equipment for post.[/blockquote]The folks over at Creative Lab (a division of the Abu Dhabi Media Zone twofour54) had been very cleverly conducting viral marketing for a big announcement they’d been making and I was on the forefront of following their every tweet. After all, it’s not often that you get to hear good news about a filmmaking initiative here. But what was announced clearly was worth the wait. With a lavish opening ceremony, the company introduced #TheLab, a setup that offers free post-production facilities for editing your projects, recording sounds and voiceovers, or general production meetings to every registered UAE filmmaker. You register for it, look at the schedule, book the hours you’re going to be using it and then show up with an ID. That’s all there is to it. I quickly went through my red flag list as soon as I read this ‘too good to be true’ news. Is it only for local filmmakers? No, check. Hidden costs involved? No, check. Required you to have a production company license (like some other organisations so easily ask for)? No, check.
All checked out.
This is a pretty big deal for every single UAE-based filmmaker. Not only do you now have access to the most professional post-production equipment that will do wonders for your projects, you have no spend no money for it which completely embraces and recognises the indie filmmaking spirit. And it’s a place not only for post-production, as it can hold meetings during pre-production where you can hold auditions, script meetings, production meetings or use them for anything you want. For anyone who wanted to go out and shoot their film but never got around to do it, you now have one less excuse. [blockquote align=”right”]For anyone who wanted to go out and shoot their film but never got around to do it, you now have one less excuse.[/blockquote] Yes, it’s in Abu Dhabi so it would be a moderate drive for people living in Dubai and Sharjah but the fact that you can book the facility for a bunch of hours at a time really makes it worth the drive. Anything for your film, right?
So I reached out to the awesome guys over at #TheLab to ask them some of the burning questions that I had about the project and Fatima Al Yousef, the Community Management Associate at twofour54 Creative Lab was kind enough to answer them all for me. Read through the interview for finding the details of what #TheLab is all about, the process, and future plans.
What sparked the idea behind the need for something like #the lab?
During creative lab’s three year history, our creative lab community grew to over 5,000 members, with 52 projects completed and 20 awards received to date. After seeing the impact of our ever-growing community we agreed that our young talent needed a real, physical space of its own. The launch of #thelab was a great milestone in creative lab’s journey. #the lab is a new and exciting free space to bring the creative lab’s online community to life through socializing, mentoring and the provision of technical facilities.
Do you think filmmakers in the region are held back by lack of access to professional post-production equipment?
It’s a very exciting time for Arab filmmaking and of course the provision of equipment and facilities helps encourage new young talent to embrace a filmmaking career. This is why creative lab encourages emerging filmmakers to work together, sharing facilities and making use of the equipment that creative lab is fortunate to be able to offer. But the lack of facilities needn’t be a barrier to embarking on a filmmaking career. There are internship opportunities in most countries and junior positions with crews are available to those that seek them out. Collaborating with more established filmmakers is a great way into the industry.
Can you run through the kind of facilities that are available at #the lab?
#thelab is designed as a space for community members to meet, collaborate, brainstorm or simply relax and share ideas. It offers a number of specialist production facilities including a sound lab, edit lab, ideas lab, gaming area, dry kitchen, stage area and hot desks equipped with PCs and Macs loaded with creative design software. You can find out more by having a look at #thelab’s page on our creative lab website: http://twofour54.com/creativelab/en/article/global/thelab.html
Is the lab open to everyone or just Arab filmmakers?
#the lab is open to everyone who has registered with the creative lab community. So if you’re an enthusiastic and committed person who is keen to get involved in a huge variety of creative projects, then why not join? You’ll be provided with a personal membership card to give you access to #thelab and its facilities. The membership card is connected to a booking system which ensures that all members have a fair chance to use the facilities.
The facilities have been open for quite a while now. What kind of response have you seen from filmmakers in terms of using these services?
#the lab has been open about 12 weeks now and although the summer is traditionally a quiet period for the creative lab community with a lot of people away, we’ve seen a very steady flow of filmmakers and other talented people using the new facilities. It’s great to see that it’s proving so popular amongst those who want to use the facilities as well as those who just want to hang out and share ideas.
What is the difference between the open space and the dedicated facilities?
The open space is an area where creative people can work, make use of the WiFi, or simply relax on the beanbags and share ideas. Work stations are set up with Macs and PCs already loaded with software and there is a scanner, printer and projector available to use. A stage and seating area allows you to host screenings, performances or workshops, and even hold club meetings. And if you just want to relax and have some fun there’s a dedicated gaming area complete with an Xbox 360, and a range of games (or bring your own) to help you enjoy your time and play some cool games.
The dedicated facilities are the areas that must be booked with your membership card. These include:
the Ideas Lab: a large meeting room that’s available for you and your fellow creatives to book so that you can work together and plan your projects. It also has screening facilities and a flipchart.
the Edit Lab: where you can edit your video projects using professional equipment and software. Post-produce your creative work using Final Cut Pro and Adobe Creative Suite.
the Sound Lab: where you can produce your audio projects as well as all the voice over and narration work that your creative projects need using Protools.
With the dedicated gaming area, is the aim here to make #thelab not just a place where people come to work but also a casual place where they can wind down as well?
Yes, definitely! #the lab was absolutely conceived with this in mind. It’s intended to be a place where creative people can dip in and out of their projects, meet other talent, use the facilities or simply relax. Myself and my colleagues are always amazed by the buzz! It’s a great place for us to learn about exciting new projects. So, yes, the dedicated gaming area was included to allow community members to take time to just chill out alone or with friends. And who knows? If we give our young talent some space to be creative, they might be inspired to do more than just play the best computer games, but to actually develop them.
Are there any plans to expand #thelab and its facilities or is it too early to say?
Well the creative lab community is growing steeply, but the #thelab has been open only 12 weeks so currently we’re focusing on attracting club meetings and workshops. #thelab has already hosted a number of screenings and workshops. The first was by Cinefinance which held a three day workshop programme on the filming of the sci-fi thriller ‘51’. The programme included acting, with contributions from the US star, Navid Negahban who plays a leading role in the hit drama ‘Homeland’. #thelab has also hosted sessions on ‘writing for film’ and ‘pitching and producing for film’.
Does twofour54 have any other future plans for similar ideas that would help foster filmmaking in the region as a whole?
twofour54-Abu Dhabi which sits above twofour54 creative lab, and a host of media and entertainment companies, is playing a major part in fostering filmmaking in the region. twofou54’s over-riding objective is to develop a sustainable media and entertainment industry and since its launch five years ago, its strategically developed eco-system has helped it become the leading creative talent center in the region. The various local, regional and international production companies that have set up on twofour54’s Abu Dhabi campus are creating content for the advertising, corporate video, TV and film markets. They operate alongside twofour54’s other industry building initiatives including: twofour54 creative lab; the Abu Dhabi Film Festival; TROPFEST Arabia and the Abu Dhabi Film Commission (which offers a production incentive aiming to making Abu Dhabi the first destination for international and regional producers). Together, all of these different players have created a film production eco-system specifically for the film production industry. For new talent interested in a filmmaking career, this film production eco-system means there’s a distinct path to follow with sustainable career opportunities:
Learn about a filmmaking career while still studying, through twofour54’s Academic Outreach programme which visits schools and colleges
Get trained at twofour54 tadreeb, world class provider of media skills training
Join twofour54 creative lab and have the opportunity to work on a variety of projects including some international blockbuster films. Recently a number of creative lab members had the opportunity to intern on a shoot for Hollywood thriller, ‘Beware the Night’
Grow into a producer or director of your own project and apply for support from twofour54 creative
Show your film at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival or TROPFEST Arabia
Finally, where can people go to learn more about #thelab or book a facility?
And that’s the end of it right there. I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be making use of #TheLab on all suitable projects that are coming up. Though I’ve invested in a pretty decent editing rig myself, the one department I really lack in is sound equipment. So that’s my target with #TheLab, since as we all know sound is half your film. I’ve been a Creative Lab member since right about when it began, but there’s no better reason to do that right now for anyone who hasn’t.
What do you think of #TheLab? Did any of you have a chance to visit it? Sound off in the comments below.