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First in-depth report on Saudi film industry launched
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 01 - 10 - 2020

The first in-depth report into film skills in Saudi Arabia was published on Thursday, outlining the skills and capabilities needed to strengthen and grow the sector in the future.
The "Saudi Film Skills" report by the British Council was commissioned to assess the current landscape of the Saudi film industry and involved surveying 422 people in the sector. It comes two years after cinema theater was officially allowed to open at a commercial level, and out of those surveyed, 40 percent were filmmakers, followed by students 30 percent and crew 17 percent.
The report found that Saudi Arabia has the potential to have more films made by Saudis, in Saudi Arabia, about Saudi.
When asked what they felt was the biggest advantage of the Saudi film sector, 35 percent of those surveyed said the cast and on-screen talent, followed by the availability of film locations 19 percent and market potential and audience demand 17 percent.
According to the report, there is a tremendous economic potential for film in Saudi Arabia, with Saudi consumers preferring to watch films depicting their own culture.
Ninety-three per cent of all Saudi film companies film locally, with over a third 39 percent of the film sector residing in Riyadh, followed by 29 percent residing in the western cities of Jeddah and Makkah.
The survey found that the typical Saudi film producer or company has produced 12 productions since inception, and the vast majority of these were short productions. Short films accounted for over half of all productions 54 percent, followed by web productions 30 percent, and only four percent were feature films. Meanwhile, there is a significant pipeline of production with 12 percent in development.
Currently, online streaming, 77 percent, is the most prominent form of Saudi film distribution. This is followed by film distribution at film festivals (46 percent), private screening/viewings (25 percent) and peer-to-peer sharing (11 percent). Out of those surveyed, only seven percent had screened in cinemas followed by four percent distributing via inflight entertainment.
In the future, those surveyed felt that online streaming and over-the-top services were the viewing platforms with the greatest opportunity for Saudi film; with Netflix (50 percent) presenting the greatest opportunity, followed by YouTube (39 percent) and Shahid by MBC (4 percent).
When asked where they would like to work, a large majority of companies (71 percent) indicated their desire to work in, partner with or co-produce films in the Middle East and North Africa. Key locations for foreign production mirrored current activities — and this may reflect existing links between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. This was followed by interest in working in the US and Americas (59 percent) and Europe (43 percent).
Within the industry, there is a considerable interest in working with the UK film sector, with nearly a third (31 percent) of film producers and companies indicating an interest in working with the UK. Seventy-two per cent of those surveyed were very interested in partnering with the UK, with Saudi film producers and companies highlighting the professionalism of the UK sector, and their strengths in pre-production. Of those who expressed interest in collaborating with the UK, almost half (47 percent) perceived the biggest benefit of collaborating to be UK's leading film industry experience, followed by its international standards of working (21 percent). In terms of challenges, cultural differences were cited as the biggest issue, followed by the cost of travel (20 percent).
In terms of demographics, the report found that the film sector is characterized by a workforce of young people under 30, reflecting the national population. The average age of all respondents was 26, with almost three quarters (72 percent) of respondents being younger than 30 years. Out of these, a third (34 percent) were female.
The motivations for women working in the sector varied from their male peers. A higher percentage of women (51 percent) work in film because of their love of visual storytelling compared to the percentage of men (36 percent). The largest variation perhaps is the financial opportunity they see in the sector, with only 2 percent of women citing this as their motivation, compared to 16 percent of men.
However, the report highlighted several challenges for the Saudi film Industry. Nearly a half of respondents (43 percent) felt that the greatest barrier to growing the industry over the next five years was finance. This was followed by a skilled cast (13 percent) and access to film training and education (11 percent).
Many respondents felt that the recruitment of crew was a significant issue for film companies, with over half of those surveyed finding it difficult; 41 percent citing skills shortages as the biggest challenge in recruiting, followed closely by the cost of labor (38 percent) and a shortage of applicants (13 percent).
For future upskilling, 28 percent of respondents would prefer for the workforce to train in Saudi Arabia. This is currently limited to two women's universities (Saudi Arabia – Effat University and Dar El Hekma University,) and outside providers (such as the New York Film Academy), with many obtaining training and work experience in other countries including in the US and the UK. Out of all the film students surveyed, 53 percent said they were extremely likely to pursue a career in film.
Speaking about the findings and the report, Eilidh Kennedy McLean, Director, British Council, Saudi Arabia said: "The British Council is delighted to support this Film Skills Research, helping map the skills needs in Saudi Arabia at an important moment in the Kingdom's cultural journey. The report makes a number of recommendations and which we hope will help support opportunities for further training and development to deliver a vibrant and commercially successful film sector.
"The report will also facilitate engagement with organizations in the UK, identifying opportunities for collaboration and partnerships to further enable the development of the Saudi film sector, creating new opportunities for film makers, new jobs, careers and opportunities for future generations. I'm grateful for the engagement and support of the Ministry of Culture and look forward to building on this collaboration and creating even more partnerships and opportunity for Saudi Arabia and the UK."
The Saudi Film Skills Research was carried out in 2019 and 2020 by Nordicity, a consulting company that specializes in policy and strategy research and is intended to provide evidence-based recommendations for the British Council's Culture and Sport program in the Gulf. This program focuses on developing long term, collaborative relationships between organizations in the UK and in the Gulf through support to cultural institutions, festivals and public events. In particular, the program aims to share UK expertise in the creative industries with young people in the Arab world through capacity building programs. — SG


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