Ciara Kenny

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Rising star of corporate films in the Middle East

WILD GEESE: Kirby Kearns, managing director of Resolution Production, Qatar: Kearns has worked around the red tape in the Middle East to build an award-winning corporate film business.

Mon, Jan 21, 2013, 09:35



WILD GEESE:   Kirby Kearns, managing director of Resolution Production, Qatar

Kirby Kearns: 'You have to be prepared for the red tape that comes with doing business in the Middle East'

Resolution Productions is located on the first floor of a relatively small skyscraper by Qatar’s standards. But like many of the buildings around it, the site where it stands was just desert when Kirby Kearns arrived in 2004.

The 49-year-old from Youghal first came to Doha when the Australian TV company he worked for secured a two-year contract ahead of the Asian Games.

“When I arrived the place was like a little fishing village, not totally unlike Youghal to be honest.” Now his office window looks out on one of the busiest roundabouts in the city and has a stunning view of some of the best modern architecture in the Middle East.

Gap in the market

While working in Doha, Kearns quickly realised there was a gap in the market when it came to corporate film making. “If a company wanted to make a video for their staff or to show clients, they had to fly production crews in from London or Asia and put them up in hotels for weeks at a time. It was also a much more closed country back then, so getting a camera crew in was a big hassle. You have to remember this was a time before Al Jazeera English had begun, so there was an element of caution when it came to the Western world. But I thought that if I could offer the same, or better quality service without that extra expense, I could be on to something.”

So after waving goodbye to his Australian colleagues, he decided to give life in the desert a go. “The first two years were gruelling. The business was just me. I worked from the spare bedroom in my apartment and I was the writer, director, producer and editor of everything that was made.”

The tipping point came in 2009 when Kearns landed a contract with one of the country’s biggest players, Qatar Gas. “I was asked to make 25 episodes of an in-house video that could be shown to the company’s 45,000 staff. But once I had Qatar Gas as a client, things really started to take off.”

Kearns employed his first person that year and within 12 months had 22 more. “Word of mouth really helped, but you have to be prepared for the red tape that comes with doing business in the Middle East. The goalposts can change a lot in terms of the laws surrounding business and things move quite slowly. People can also be put off by the fact that you must have a Qatari partner who owns 51 per cent of your business, but this isn’t as restrictive as it sounds. In reality they are a silent partner who you pay an annual fee to, which tends to balance out profit-wise when operating in a tax-free state.”

But the double-edged sword of business makes it hard to keep a good idea secret, and soon other budding entrepreneurs wanted a slice of Doha’s production cake. “The market here is saturated now, and I’m still one of the most expensive. I maintain that quality is worth paying for and thankfully my clients feel the same way.” And trusting his business instinct seems to be paying off.

Winning awards

Resolution Productions won an award for best editing at the 2012 Cannes Corporate Media and TV Awards in August. The weighty statuette of a black dolphin sits proudly on his office window, monitoring the traffic on the busy roundabout below. “The film was for the Qatar Museum Authority and it was called Be Amusing. They wanted to show that Qatar was more than just camels walking in the desert and Arabs looking grumpy.”

And his success continues. Last November Resolution Productions scooped three out of three statuettes at the Marcom Awards, an American body which honours the work of marketing and communication professionals. “There were about 6,000 entries from around the world. We won two platinum and one gold award, so we’re on a bit of a roll.”

So how does the father-of-two plan to keep the momentum going?

“I’m hoping to open the same kind of business in Saudi Arabia, using the same method I did here, even though I know it’ll be a lot more challenging. The country is known as the ‘Holy Grail’ of business as it’s a lot more closed than Qatar. People are less open to foreigners, but I’d definitely like to give it a try.”