Q&A: Hal Sadoff

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ICM Head of International and Independent Film Hal Sadoff is heading to Dubai for the third straight year with a job that's tougher than ever: packaging, financing and finding distribution for indies in a rough global economy. He knows the industry well, having played an integral role in more than 300 productions and financings worth more than $2.7 billion over the past 21 years. He also knows the Middle Eastern terrain, journeying to Abu Dhabi's second annual Circle Conference in October at a forum for industry bigwigs. In Dubai he'll speak on the industry panel "Cracking the North American Market" and support Sony's "Cadillac Records" from ICM-repped writer-director Darnell Martin and star-exec producer Beyonce Knowles. Just before his trip, Sadoff spoke with Hollywood Reporter film reporter Gregg Goldstein about Dubai's important role at a pivotal moment for his industry.

The Hollywood Reporter: What's your mandate this year?

Hal Sadoff: I'm trying to explore and investigate the landscape there for the media and film world, to better understand how the business there works and find opportunities for ICM to access talent, expertise and capital in the region. I'm meeting with filmmakers, government officials, potential investors, media companies based there -- a host of different people. There are several movies we're working on that can film in the region, and they're building soundstages that are potential places we can shoot some films that don't necessarily fit into the (outdoor) landscape.

THR: Having been to Dubai twice and the region five times, what advice would you give to US filmmakers heading there?

Sadoff: A lot of people think they can just show up, sign a deal immediately and get a lot of money, but they're completely mistaken. You have to develop relationships and build a trust and figure out how you're going to help them in terms of educating local talent and doing something within the region. They want to build their own infrastructure and industry, and I believe their investments will be with companies that can help them do that. They're not going to just invest in something that has nothing to do with them -- (they want) a skills transfer for the area. It's not a matter of people just writing checks to shoot a movie in Los Angeles.

THR: What about getting adjusted to the environment -- any cultural sensitivities to be aware of?

Sadoff: With an 11-hour time difference, it's very difficult sleepwise to work the whole day, then get back to your room and have to work almost the whole day in Los Angeles. By the time you get back you're completely exhausted.

THR: Any cultural sensitivities to be aware of when dealing with people?

Sadoff: Not really -- there are some local customs that you have to adhere to. I was very reluctant to go at first, not having been before, but once I got there I felt extremely comfortable. The people were friendly and welcoming and warm. I felt extremely safe and felt no issues whatsoever.

THR: After the recent terror attacks in Mumbai on Westerners, do you have any new concerns about traveling there?

Sadoff: I'm not concerned at all. It's a very stable environment in the U.A.E., and their whole industry is based on the stability of tourism and the companies based there.

THR: If you're looking to secure funding from the region, does it come with a lot of concerns over content or censorship?

Sadoff: You have to be cognizant of the region and subject matter you present, as in many places. I think we all know what kinds of films they're interested in. But from my experience, I haven't seen massive censorship or resistance to films played there.

THR: In preparing to go, what are the differences you're sensing from last year? Is there more hesitation from business people there?

Sadoff: I don't think so. Obviously, the general economic marketplace is not as buoyant and the real estate market is going down everywhere, even in that region, which they've never experienced before. But I still think there's a mandate to build the media and entertainment business and build an infrastructure for it. There's still a lot of opportunity and interest in growing the region.

THR: How is Dubai's role in the film marketplace changing?

Sadoff: It's turning into one of the markets you have to go to during the year. They're getting more talent, more quality and high-level execs, and each year it seems to gain more structure and visibility and people going. It's very impressive what they've done in a short period of time to make it a world-class festival. I don't think like Cannes or Sundance it will be big teams of people. If they go it will be one or two people just to explore what's happening.

THR: Do you think an upswing in production will be happening there because capital is getting so tough to obtain in other parts of the world?

Sadoff: Yes, but not as a result of the economy. I think it's because of the work they've done in the past several years building a talent base and looking for experts and industry professionals to come and help educate people.

THR: What are the main advantages to going to Dubai to do business rather than, say, meeting Middle Eastern execs in Berlin a few months later?

Sadoff: People need to see what's going on there -- to see you can go there and feel safe and content, bring talent there and feel comfortable. It's about showcasing the region more than doing business.
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