JEDDAH: In-depth research by the British Council in Saudi Arabia assessing the film industry landscape emphasized the Kingdom’s potential for more films to be made by Saudis, in Saudi Arabia, about the Kingdom.
The Saudi Film Skills report launched on Thursday is the first report of its kind, coming only two years after the Saudi government lifted a 35-year ban on the film industry in the country.
“The purpose of the study is to define the gaps in the industry, and as filmmakers we know the gaps already. However, we need to define it with numbers, with accurate data, so that we have a plan sufficient to support the industry,” Saudi filmmaker Hajar Al-Naim told Arab News.
“This is very beneficial for all of us, the government, filmmakers and investors,” she said. “There are many gaps the research has discovered and we were not aware of them before.”
The research was carried out in 2019-2020, and it highlights the key skills needed to strengthen and develop Saudi Arabia’s film industry in the future after surveying 422 people in the sector. Forty percent of respondents were filmmakers, 30 percent were students, and 17 percent crew.
According to the report, there is tremendous economic potential for film in Saudi Arabia, with Saudi consumers preferring to watch films reflecting their own culture.
It showed that 93 percent of all Saudi film companies film locally, while 35 percent of those surveyed said that the biggest advantage of the local film sector is the cast and on-screen talent, followed by the availability of film locations (19 percent) and market potential and audience demand (17 percent).
Moreover, the film sector is mainly characterized by its young workforce, with 72 percent of respondents being younger than 30, and 34 percent of them were female.
Women working in the sector had different motivations from their male peers. For instance, 51 percent of women said they work in film because of their love of visual storytelling, compared to only 36 percent of men. Moreover, only 2 percent of female stakeholders indicated finance as the leading motivator, compared to 16 percent of men.
Nonetheless, this promising sector also faces real challenges, as nearly half of respondents (43 percent) said that financing is the greatest barrier for producers and companies over the next five years, while 13 percent said it is the lack of a skilled cast and 11 percent said film training and education access.
Recruiting crews is also a significant issue for Saudi film companies, as more than half of surveyed companies found recruitment difficult, the biggest issue being skill shortages. Forty percent of companies cited a lack of job-specific skills, education or experience as the biggest challenge in recruiting. This was followed closely by the cost of labor (38 percent).
Al-Naim thinks that the Saudi film industry lacks the integrated mix that defines an industry, including regulation, funding and infrastructure.
Another issue facing the industry is lack of below-the-line crew. “Everyone in the industry wants to work in the above-the-line jobs, they want to be directors, producers, actors, and screenwriters,” she said, “while we lack below-the-line jobs such as operators, art directors, and supervisors. What will attract international productions to Saudi Arabia is when we have the below-the-line crew. If we don’t have them it means we don’t have the basis of the industry.”
More than half of all Saudi productions were short films (54 percent), followed by web productions (30 percent); only 4 percent were feature films.
Online streaming and over-the-top services were the viewing platforms with the greatest opportunity for Saudi film in the future, with Netflix (50 percent), YouTube (39 percent) and Shahid by MBC (4 percent).
More than a third of the film sector resides in Riyadh (39 percent), followed by 29 percent residing in the western cities of Jeddah and Makkah. The research, conducted by London-based research agency Nordicity, is intended to widen the understanding of professionals in the culture sector in Saudi Arabia and the UK about the possibilities for collaboration in the area of films, and to develop programs and projects to support the sector.
Within the industry, there is a considerable interest in working with the UK film sector, with nearly a third of film producers and companies indicating an interest, and 72 percent of those surveyed very interested in partnering with the UK.
Saudi film producers and companies highlighted the UK sector’s professionalism and their pre-production strengths.
Of those, almost half (47 percent) perceived the most significant benefit of collaborating to be the UK’s leading film industry experience, followed by its international standards (21 percent). In terms of challenges, cultural differences were cited as the biggest issue, followed by the cost of travel (20 percent).