Life on the 3 way


Life on the 3 way

Dubai-based movie producer and director Craig Johnson talks to City Ti mes about his upcoming film, Expats, and what made him shift focus from stand-up comedy to film

By David Light

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Published: Tue 26 Aug 2008, 10:20 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 2:51 PM

“I’VE ALWAYS had a passion for writing,”

began Dubai-based movie producer Craig Johnson, “my love of film came from that passion.”

Craig, originally from New Zealand and a writer and director for many years, has recently issued a casting call for parts in his first regional film Expats, a movie based on expatriate life in Dubai. The movie, Dubai’s first home-grown fulllength English-language production, is scheduled to start filming in mid- September and expected to hit the screens by the end of the year in time for the Dubai Film Festival.

The auditions, to be held on August 29 and 30 from 9am till 3pm at The Radisson SAS Media City, includes three major parts - a European male, an Indian male and an Indian female - all aged 27-35 along with a variety of minor roles for all nationalities. The other major roles have already been cast with actors based in the UK.

Deconstructing the expatriate dream

With his script, Johnson, who has been living in the city since mid 2003, has tried to explore the idea behind the Dubai dream and the multiple realities that expats in the city face through the intertwined story of three immigrant families who land in Dubai from different parts of the world seeking wealth and a brighter future.

Coming to the City of Gold, all three families, two from the West and one from India, face very different trials and tribulations as they go about their day-to-day lives.

“There is no lead role,” Craig continued, “everyone has near enough an equal part so the audience will not get fixated on one particular character.”

The write stuff

Having started writing in the stand-up comedy scene back in New Zealand, Craig’s movie talent blossomed from that.

“I did enjoy writing and performing stand-up and achieved some success. I always felt there were people better at it than me though so I focused on just the writing. Three years ago I started writing Repping, a story about travelling salesmen.”

Repping, a feature length screenplay was purchased by Hollywood-based Supreme Media Group in late 2007.

Although a triumph for any screenwriter that his work is due to go into production next year, Johnson experienced dissatisfaction at the tampering of his script by the studio to fit a Hollywood mould. “By giving away control of my creation, it felt like the script was losing sight of the original story line I envisioned. From that point on I decided to produce all my future screenplays and remain in total control of the translation of my material from page to celluloid. Expats is solely my creation and has been copyrighted in Dubai. I am very proud that I am making a movie that I think a lot of people across the many cultures living here will identify with. Without the experience of Repping I would never have written Expats so it goes to show something good comes out of every situation.”

‘An amazing place’

“Dubai is an amazing place to make my directorial debut for a feature film. I feel I know the city and its people and like Woody Allen said ‘you should always write about what you know.’ It used to be the American dream but now it’s the Arabian dream that modern day emigrants seem to be chasing. The Arabian empire is definitely on the rise with Dubai at the heart of it and Expats is the story of some of those people who leave their native countries and everything they know to come and try to take advantage of the opportunities that a growing empire brings. I hope this is the first of many productions here.”

For Expats, Craig decided to go completely local and his production company McMahon Johnson Films is drafting skilled technical talent from UAE for the movie. “The experience of getting together a feature crew here has not been easy.

This is the first movie of its kind being released internationally but hopefully it is one that can break through and do well so we can spur on other films to be made here. I’m going to Dubai Studio City for their support and to see what they can do to help. After all it is not just a plot of real estate; we need to see if making a film here really does work. If it does then a lot more talent will follow this film.”

Craig will be shooting in both Bombay and all over Dubai in order to create the perfect film based on expats. Its four to six week shooting schedule is relatively short but being an independent film they have the luxury of not being tied to a studio’s schedule. “I hope to have the film shot and edited in about eight weeks than have the final product ready for the Film Festival. I think it would be great to have a film about Dubai premiering in the biggest festival in the city. As for the future I have a couple more scripts I am working on, one of which will definitely be shot again in Dubai.”

Fancy being a star?

Interested actors can register to have their shot at fame by sending in their portfolio, including vital stats, nationality, picture and age, to the contacts listed at the end of the article, and they will be given a date and time slot for the audition.

McMahon-Johnson is also inviting investors to become involved in the project by making available ten shares for purchase at Dh250,000 each to foot the movie’s Dh2.5 million production budget.

“Dubai has so much potential in nurturing a film industry - the variety and the range of talent in this city is promising and the potential profits staggering. For the canny businessman it could be an investment with returns that can rival and exceed real estate,” Craig added.

For casting queries and submission of portfolios, please write into

For investment queries, please contact Craig Johnson directly at

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