With the release of Star Trek Beyond this week, tabloid! looks back at the three weeks that the filmmakers shot in Dubai last October, and all the mystery that surrounded it.
No one had to give up an arm or a leg for Star Trek Beyond to be filmed here, but it wasn’t a cheap endeavour by any means. In fact, it surpassed Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol as the most expensive project to film in Dubai by $10 million.
“Mission: Impossible set a benchmark at $22 million. [Star Trek Beyond] is somewhere around $32 million dollars, plus soft incentives. This is just the Dubai budget. The main budget is over $200 million, I believe,” Jamal Al Sharif, chairman of the Dubai Film and TV Commission (DFTC), told tabloid! in December.
Hollywood tends to favour Abu Dhabi for Abu Dhabi Film Commission’s 30 per cent rebate, but the DFTC offers customised incentives, including “hotels, equipment, studios, location fees, police, civil defence, ambulance”. These incentives can add up to anywhere between 10-45 per cent of a film’s costs.
According to Al Sharif, the crew asked for a massive amount of studio space, props, workshops, steel, lumber, make-up, make-up artists and film extras, which were all sourced locally.
They held a three-day casting call at Dubai Studio City in August, and an estimated 2,000 people lined up outside in 45 degree heat, including some who had travelled from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman.
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Miranda Davidson Studios had announced they would be casting “the largest feature film to be shot in Dubai in over five years”.
They stayed mum when asked if it was Star Trek Beyond, but it didn’t matter: signs around the lot advertised the casting of extras for ‘Washington’, which had already been established as the film’s code name.
The casting was open to everyone between the ages of six and 70, of all genders and ethnicities. From 2-8pm for those three days, the space was brimming with all kinds of geeks, including this reporter.
The process was pretty standard — people filled in digital forms and had front-facing and profile photos taken of them against a white wall.
The fitting was the most interesting bit; staff measured height, shoulders, crown, bust, waist, sleeve inseam, glove, i.e. the space between the wrist and the tip of the middle finger, and the ring finger, suggesting full-body armour.
The cast in Dubai
Two months later, things got real: the cast and crew landed in Dubai to begin filming.
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Idris Elba and the late Anton Yelchin attended a press conference at Burj Al Arab, joined by director Justin Lin, screenwriter Doug Jung and writer-actor Simon Pegg.
“I woke up this morning, opened up the blinds and looked out,” said Pine, quite dramatically. “It looks like whatever tomorrow will be. It’s future land.”
Yelchin, who died last month at the age of 27 in a car accident, was intrigued by the city’s infrastructure.
“This is going to sound so pretentious. As a student of architecture, I’m fascinated. It’s magical. I feel so fortunate to be here with friends — to be in a new place with people you care about and love,” he said.
Chernov, the executive producer, was involved in Ghost Protocolwhen it filmed in the city in 2010.
“We came searching for the future and we found it in Dubai,” he said of his return with Star Trek Beyond.
“The experience I had here on Mission: Impossible gave me an understanding of what the city was like. We wanted to find a very convertible city. We did a lot of searching around the world, and I said, ‘I know the right place.’ The city is going to represent the future of what the frontier will be like.”
Ready, set, go
Before Dubai, the cast were filming in Vancouver and bonding in the wilderness. Quinto compared it to the experience of being at a summer camp with friends. But they didn’t pack lightly.
Al Sharif said the crew had to ship 11 tonnes of props from Canada to the UAE.
“Dubai customs had to search 11 tonnes of goods in 24 hours [and] scan them. You can’t find this in any other country. 10,000 square feet of warehouse were filled up with boxes of props,” he said.
The Dubai shoot, which partially took place at Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and the Meydan Racecourse, lasted for 20 days. This was four more than they’d originally planned. The extension was due to added locations, according to Al Sharif.
“They shot in the DIFC Central Park Towers — have you seen those black buildings with the V-shaped cut? The shape of those buildings was so futuristic to the director. Those towers, the black towers, actually showed the scene where the [ship] crashed,” he said.
Outside the Towers, a large, semi-circular structure had been built. It appeared rusty and metallic, surrounded by large pieces of rubble. On both sides of the structure were massive green screens. Residents of the Towers reported seeing the cast filming at all times of the day and night.
But of course, all work and no play would make for a very tedious time in the city. Elba and Pine were spotted living it up at the VIP Room nightclub at the JW Marriot Marquis in early October. Afterwards, they joined Simon Pegg and Karl Urban for a desert safari, and were spotted playing with falcons.
Elba told reporters that principal photography would end in the UAE, but “interestingly enough, I’m actually DJing the week after, so I think I might stay.”
Elba let loose during a DJing gig at the DXBeach music festival at Zero Gravity in late October. He’s no stranger to the city, and had previously spun records at Dubai’s Sandance festival in 2013.