At first appearance Craig Johnson could be any harried businessman, dressed in his staid white and grey corporate attire and constantly interrupted by his mobile phone. But move beyond the office uniform, and you'll soon discover a filmmaker who is in love with Dubai.

So much so, this unassuming New Zealander has decided to capture his infatuation on celluloid. But unlike a love-struck Romeo, Johnson does not intend to view the emerging metropolis with a sizeable expatriate population through rose-coloured lenses.

Aptly titled Expats, his pet project will take on a no-holds barred approach and will chronicle the life of immigrants living in Dubai.

"My film will not gloss over the ground realities or harp about the real estate boom or the towering skyscrapers mushrooming in Dubai," says Johnson, who runs the production house McMahon Johnson Films.

"The movie has a bit of everything. Issues like loneliness - despite all the partying and social dos - and the uneven playing field that tilts towards certain nationalities are also touched upon. Making it big in Dubai is another element."


In Dubai for the past five years, Johnson, 36, is the product of the fast-growing Arabian dream and has incorporated his own personal experiences into the script.

With a modest budget of Dh2.5million, this indie project is touted as the Dubai's first home-grown English production and is expected to hit the screens by December this year.

"The movie will begin production this September and will be ready by the end of the year to be showcased at the 2008 Dubai International Film Festival. We will also be screening it in other parts of the world at various film fests," said Johnson.

Hailing his movie as an ode to Dubai, Johnson says that his pet project will make Dubai residents proud.

Constantly aware

"My film would in no way hurt the sensibilities of UAE nationals. I am constantly aware of the region that I live in, the authorities and their rules," says Johnson.

With such a clear blueprint in his mind, Johnson is intent on translating his thoughts successfully onto the big screen. This to an extent explains his aversion to Hollywood production houses.

"In the past, I have worked on screenplays that were purchased by studio houses. The final product rarely resembled the original script. But with this film, I plan to remain in total control of the translation of my material from page to celluloid," says Johnson. Dubai-based production company Boom Films at Media City has climbed on board too.

Though the casting for three of the six lead actors has already been finalised, the hunt is on for actors who can play the role of the Indian couple and a European male. Auditions will be held this weekend.

"I am looking at actors in the age bracket of 28-35 years who can spare dates for a six-week shooting schedule in September," says Johnson.

Walking us through the casting process, Johnson says the script will be handed over to the actors on the day of the audition. The final decision will be taken and the chosen few will be notified soon after.

"Getting a head start on the project is my Arabian dream at the moment," says Johnson.

Do you have what it takes ?

The hunt is on for: Three lead characters (Indian male and female and one European male) plus 27 other actors for minor roles.

Audition dates: August 29 and 30.
Where: Radisson SAS, Dubai.
Ideal age bracket: 28-35 years.
Basic requirement: The on-screen charisma of George Clooney and the acting chops of Dame Judy Dench.

Seriously, anyone who has ever aspired to step into the limelight and all those who can spare dates for a six-week rigorous film shoot.

For casting enquiries and portfolio submission: e-mail