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Why and How Would an African-American Promote Jordan to Hollywood Executives?

As the U.S. Liaison Officer for The Royal Film Commission – Jordan (RFC) based in Los Angeles, I admit that I have a pretty cool job; I promote Jordan as a film destination to Hollywood studio executives, filmmakers, and producers. It’s an opportunity that’s pretty impressive considering the fact that my background includes growing up in rural South Carolina on a farm thousands of miles away from Tinseltown. Fast-forward 20 years later, I find myself promoting this Middle Eastern country to American studio executives, and lobbying members of the Jordanian government about the value of a film incentive program in Amman.

From trips to studio lots, executive boardrooms off of Sunset Boulevard, to meetings at trendy coffee shops off the shoreline of Venice Beach, California, I have the privilege to talk about Jordan, one of my favorite travel destinations as a tourist and expatriate to other film and television professionals, who may be geographically challenged about where Jordan is, to others who have preconceived notions and unfounded biases about the Middle East, or to some that had never considered the Hashemite Kingdom as a potential destination to film their project.

Usually these meetings start with the ice-breaking question from the person I am meeting with: “How did you or what’s your connection to Jordan?”. As African-American, I am usually not what most people expect upon our first meeting. With the revelation that I have no familial ties to Jordan, their interests are usually piqued to learn how an American of my heritage found his way to be in many cases the first point of contact they have with the Middle East in general, and Jordan in particular. These initial meetings are usually informational and casual in conversation. I talk about RFC’s mission, its new film incentive program, about notable films that have filmed in Jordan recently and older ones that are cinematic pop culture flicks – Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Aside from providing the first, and on many occasions changing, the impression of Jordan to those I meet with, my goal and responsibility in part as the U.S. Liaison Officer is to curate a list of Hollywood movers and shakers to participate in the annual late summer Familiarization Tour (FAM Tour) hosted by the RFC.

The RFC FAM Tour is organized for film companies, studio executives, and members of various producer and director guilds. Its focus is to showcase what locations Jordan has to offer for potential projects. Through the FAM Tour, RFC emphasizes the beauty and diversity of Jordan’s locations and landscapes – from gritty back streets to locations that have served as backdrops for several international film productions, such as the legendary Nabatean City of Petra, the stunning desert of Wadi Rum, known as the Valley of the Moon, and the unique site of the Dead Sea. Additionally, during the tour, RFC arranges meetings with high-level officials and industry professionals to discuss issues of common interest and provides support to interested parties participating in the tour.

This year’s FAM Tour spanned from the 23rd until the 30th of September. The RFC hosted this year 10 executives from seven notable Hollywood studios and companies – Fox Entertainment Group, HBO, Legendary TV & Digital, Media Rights Capital, Netflix, Paramount Pictures, and Sony Pictures Entertainment Company.

Following their arrivals, the FAM Tour itinerary shifted into high gear with meetings with high-level Government officials – including with the Prime Minister Dr. Omar al Razzaz – and board members of the RFC, among which Princess Rym Ali.

Upon completion of the formal meetings in the capital, the group visited key locations around the country: the city of Al-Salt, the Talibeh Palestinian Refugee Camp, which has served as the backdrop to an array of film productions. Then, the ten Hollywood executive delegates were flown by air over the city of Al-Karak in the south and landed in the stunning Wadi Rum, before visiting the majestic Nabatean city of Petra. The final leg of the tour took them to the Dead Sea, before returning back to Amman.

Glenn Gainor, President of Production at Screen Gems – Sony Pictures Entertainment Company, commented on his visit: “My experience at the FAM tour was life-changing (…). The people’s passion here is contagious and infectious, people in Jordan really want to help you make a film. I feel that Jordan has so many opportunities when it comes to filming: the desert, the mountains, Wadi Rum, the city, there is a whole ray of locations. And of course you have got the iconic Middle-Eastern sites, but also you have the ability to make history come alive here. What I have noticed is that Jordan is cinematic, the people have so much flavor and the locations really pop (…). I think every area in the world needs some kind of improvement, you will never find a perfect place to make a film. But with the enthusiasm I have seen in Jordan, I think that will carry the filmmakers to the place where they need to go.”

To learn more filming in Jordan, visit www.film.jo.

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