Production values

In Communicate, Opinion, Published journalism, Television on November 24, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Abu Dhabi’s new studio complex doesn’t need to be No. 1 – as long as it works properly

Originally published in Communicate, November 2009

At the end of September, Abu Dhabi’s media hub twofour54 launched its production, post-production and broadcast facilities. Collectively, they are called intaj (that’s Arabic for “production”).

The new facilities are based around five studios, ranging from 60 square meters to just over 600 square meters. Giant doors (“You can literally get an elephant through those,” says a spokesman) lead to studios decked out for filming in high definition (HD), a technology tipped to become the industry’s new standard.

More than 20 post-production suites surround the studios, and footage can be shuttled through an integrated IT network before being broadcast round the world – all at the same downtown Abu Dhabi location.

A series of live links introduced the audience of press, dignitaries and production types to the facilities, and let us see the shiny new hardware in action. One of the effusive presenters gushed, “It’s really amazing to see all the technology.” Then, after explaining the editing suites will come equipped with Apple and Avid software and a bundle of other bells and whistles, let slip the real revelation.

“I’ll let you into a little secret,” she said, conspiratorially. “This is actually one of the coolest features: All rooms come with ergonomically designed furniture. What this means is you have lush and really, really comfy furniture.”

Quite why this should be a secret is anybody’s guess. But having developed a taste for investigative journalism (see “Suspicious minds,” page 22, Communicate, Sep. 2009) Communicate looked into the issue further. Not much further, mind you; it turned out the man sitting next to us helped pick the fittings. Apparently intaj has somewhere between 50 and 70 Herman Miller chairs. The presenter explained these seats come into their own “when the editors are sitting in post-production for hours on end.”

With their behinds cradled in $800-a-pop seating, the editors won’t be the only comfy ones. “Looks like Herman’s kids are getting new bikes for Christmas,” said one audience member.

But although the technology is hard-core (and the furniture pointedly isn’t) the launch of intaj was refreshingly free of superlatives. This was an alien concept for some of the assembled press. After canapés and a guided tour, one member of the local media asked if intaj was, in fact the biggest production hub in the Middle East. There are some quite big studios in Egypt that might provide competition, he said.

“This is not the biggest production center at all,” answered Tony Orsten, CEO of twofour54. “It’s relatively small.”

Another question soon followed. “Is this the largest in terms of value?” the questioner wanted to know.

Orsten blushed, then explained to the press – twofour54 had flown out a media scrum from techie and trade titles in the UK, who swelled the numbers of local journos – that, “Everyone in the Middle East is concerned with the biggest; we just try to do it right.”

The team behind the facilities, headed up by Orsten, chief operating officer Wayne Borg, and Hasan Sayed Hasan, head of intaj, emphasized that centralization and flexibility were key to the facilities’ success. People can do everything in one place, with as little or as much help from their own people, subcontractors, or intaj’s own staff as they like. And freelance visas should be announced any day now.

Sacrificing an urge to be the biggest for a desire to just do it right is a novel approach in this region; it’s renegade thinking, and Communicate likes it. If Abu Dhabi’s latest project does get it right, the world might start to sit up and take notice. Of course, at intaj, they can do that in exquisite comfort.


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