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Fifty years ago, if a filmmaker wanted to shoot a film against an exotic backdrop, it was usually built on a backlot in Hollywood. Nowadays, Hollywood goes out into the world, and films Paris in Paris, Tokyo in Tokyo or Kathmandu in Kathmandu.

However, the notion of actually filming Black Hawk Down in Somalia could never be more than a fantasy, for the onetime vacation destination for wealthy Italians is, unfortunately, as anarchic and dangerous now as it was in 1993. "When I first read the book," recalls Branko Lustig, "I told Ridley that I would go to Mogadishu to scout, but soon discovered that no one issues visas for Somalia. The only way to get to Mogadishu is to travel to Ethiopia and then try and hire a boat to take you there. It's not exactly practical."

"Mogadishu is a no-go zone," adds production designer Arthur Max. "It's dangerous and overrun by armed militias. So knowing that it would be impossible to film there, we decided to scout locations in the Mediterranean area, including Israel, Jordan, Egypt, as well as Southern Spain and all of North Africa. We finally settled on the area of Rabat and its neighboring city of Sale, on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, as they were the closest to all of the research materials that we had seen—photographs and films—to the architecture and terrain of Mogadishu."

"We had to do this film relatively quickly," says Ridley Scott, "because we started in March and were going to release in December of the same year. It's really about decisions, and how fast you make them. While I was mixing Hannibal, I asked Branko and Arthur to scout locations. We looked at the photographs they came back with and went straight in to Morocco. That's how you get a kick start."

Branko Lustig had already done other films which filmed partially in Morocco, as recently as Gladiator, which had filmed in the southern desert city of Ouarzazate (or the "Desert Hollywood," as it's come to be known). Thus, he had wide knowledge of the Moroccan film industry and its personnel. Over the years, Lustig had gotten to know and befriend the noted Moroccan film director Souheil Ben Barka, who had since become head of the Moroccan film commission known as the CCM (Centre Cinematographique Marocaine). "I had some guarantees from Mr. Ben Barka and the Governor of Sale that we could film there, and after Jerry and Ridley approved the locations I returned to Morocco with a letter for His Majesty King Mohammed VI, sending him a script that had been translated into French.

"The King and his ministers reacted positively," continues Lustig, "feeling that it was about an historical event and was in no way slanted against Muslims. They not only agreed to allow us to film there, but also put a great deal of Moroccan military materiel, from tanks to Humvees and helicopters, at our disposal."

It was to be a propitious choice. Rabat, the capital of the Kingdom of Morocco, is a progressive French and Arabic-speaking North African city with a good infrastructure, which could provide, the necessary hotel accommodations, restaurants and attractions to provide for a huge cast and crew looking towards more than four months of location filming. The ancient city of Sale, across the Bou Regreg River from Rabat, featured remarkable similarities to Mogadishu. Both are cities at the edge of a great ocean (albeit on opposite sides of the African continent, with Sale on the Atlantic and Mogadishu on the Indian Ocean), but unlike Somalia, Morocco could afford the filmmakers the cooperation of King Mohammed VI, the authorities at the CCM (Centre Cinematographique Marocaine) and their expert, highly experienced film workers.

"Morocco has had a lot of companies from around the world come in to film," notes Jerry Bruckheimer, "and has a considerable national moviemaking com

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