Foreign projects continue to shoot in Thailand

Columns

Despite what you may have read in the papers and seen on TV, life in Bangkok goes on as normal. As a matter of fact, in the month of March (during the latest political shenanigans), shooting on 22 foreign projects—12 ads, six documentaries, two music-videos and two feature films—took place in Bangkok, according to Dr. Seksan Narkwong, director of the Tourism Development Office, under which the Thailand Film Office operates.

Prakit Piriyakiat, deputy governor for marketing communication of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, also confirmed that the shooting of the Korean reality show "I Love Sunday—Gold Miss Diary" went ahead as scheduled in Bangkok. This is a popular show among students and office workers, attracting an audience of 4.86 million.

In January and February, 116 productions were filmed in Thailand, generating 213.14 million baht (approx. US$6.6 mil.) in revenue. Productions included 40 documentaries, 60 ads, five feature films, seven TV series and four music-videos. Japan was the top foreign production source, with 33. India contributed 22 and Europe 20.

In 2009, 496 films were shot in Thailand, generating 897.83 million baht (US $26.8 mil.), a drop of 56% from two billion in 2008.

Dr. Narkwong said the Film Office expects income from film shoots to recover to about 1.2 billion to 1.5 billion baht by the end of this year. Through March 2010, 133 applications had arrived to shoot productions in Thailand, with six or seven for feature films.

In other Thailand Film Office news, a reception was scheduled at the Talesai restaurant in West Hollywood during the AFCI Locations Show in April to celebrate Thailand's being named one of the top film production centers in Asia and one of the top international filming destinations by P3 Update magazine.

More than 100 international location coordinators, studio vice presidents for physical development and press were invited to the reception, with Thai food on the menu.

Malaysia Eyes Overseas Sales
The National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia (FINAS) has been the rudder of the Malaysian film industry for more than a decade. Picking up greater powers when the National Film Policy came into effect in 2005, FINAS is just now beginning to steer the Malaysian film industry into uncharted foreign-sales waters.

The industry has not grown as quickly as those in neighboring countries such as Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong. Growth was restricted, basically because of policies set by the government.

A decade ago, only seven films were produced annually, with ticket sales amounting to RM10 million (US$3.01 mil.). By the end of 2009, the number of releases increased to 26, with collections amounting to RM50 million (US$15.07 mil.).

"This year the outlook is expected to be better," said FINAS director-general Mohd Mahyidin Mustakim to Bernama. "We expect box-office collections to reach RM55 million [US$16.58 million] off 30 releases."

"We admit that Malaysian films, especially fictional films, have yet to make an impact," noted the director-general. "This problem is not only peculiar to Malaysia but also to other nations. Only real good productions can go far.”

Mahyidin said that FINAS has collaborated with the National Geographic Channel, Discovery and History Channel to produce several documentaries on Malaysia that were broadcast worldwide. "This not only helped to highlight Malaysia on the international stage, but also helped to train local industry players as the programs were produced under the supervision of renowned broadcasters," he observed.

A total of 14 documentaries were produced last year alone—five by FINAS and Discovery Networks Asia, two by National Geographic Channels and seven by AETN All Asia Networks.

In 2008, among the documentaries produced were The Lion Dance King, Restoring Merdeka, Malaysia Special Smart Tunnel and Becoming a King, while 2009 documentaries included Fight Master Silat and Among the Great Apes with Michelle Yeoh.

FINAS also threw several other lifelines to the local industry. It provides several basic facilities including the Compulsory Screening Scheme and the entertainment duty refund to help local filmmakers. The compulsory two-week screening prerequisite gives local film producers an opportunity to compete with foreign productions.

Producers can now complete almost the whole film production process at the Digital Mix Stage Studio located in Jalan Ulu Klang that started operations last year. Only the print copy of the film needs to be done overseas.
And to promote Malaysian fictional, animation and documentary films, FINAS has identified annual film markets—the American Film Market, Cannes, Hong Kong and Busan in South Korea, where filmmakers will be subsidized to attend with their films.

Under the Film Arts and Multimedia Fund, FINAS plans to approve 20 projects involving an allocation of RM500,000 (US$150,000).

"We also want to see at least six films processed at the Digital Mix Stage Studio," Mahyidin said, citing the need to develop human resources in this field. A total of 38 workshops and six "master class" programs would be held at the same time.

In promoting films, FINAS has plans to extend film enthusiast club networks from 40 to 60 by the end of 2010.

"The network now has 5,000 members and they gather every week to watch Malaysian films using screening equipment supplied by FINAS, like home-theatre systems and digital projectors," Mahyidin added.

FINAS' efforts are creating a nurturing environment which is energizing the local film industry and encouraging the opening up of more theatres in the future. Currently, there are more than 90 theatres with 500 screens nationwide. These efforts are also enticing foreign investors who see that the government is serious about long-term growth of the industry.

Contact Scott Rosenberg with relevant news stories at prdivision@gmail.com. You may also follow him on Twitter scott_cos.