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Wednesday, 23 February 2011 22:53

Sought-After Asian Locations

Written by  Nathan Hoturoa Gray
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TopAsia_HongKong_Victoria_HarbourSelecting the top three filming destinations in Asia is always a challenge, what with China’s vastness and financial strength, Japan’s stability, Singapore’s strong financial incentives and Hong Kong’s good business taxes. South Korea and Taiwan, both with established film industries, also offer various tax breaks, while Thailand’s cheap filming costs still manage to attract numerous films each year. And with Burma’s chaos alleviating and the emerging economies of Cambodia and Malaysia in good stead, the West continues to look to Asia as a source of financial capital and readily available markets, given the ongoing financial challenges plaguing the global economy.

With such high competition, P3 Update presents three of the top filming spots in Asia and gives the lowdown on the latest incentives, co-production alliances and films arriving on their shores.

HONG KONG

With magnificent skyscrapers, intricate temples, a breathtaking harbor and bustling multinational vibrancy, Hong Kong is forever destined to be one of the most spectacular places to film in the world. Attracting approximately 150 local and international films and TV productions a year, Hong Kong maintains a low, simple and predictable tax regimen that features low profit-tax rates (currently based at 16.5 percent for corporations and 15 percent for unincorporated entities). It also has no sales tax nor tax on capital gains, dividends or interest –– only income and profits derived from Hong Kong are subject to tax, so overseas employees visiting the territories for more than 60 days in a tax year are liable to pay a salaries tax.

Hong Kong’s Film Services Office (FSO) offers a one-stop, hassle-free facilitation service, making the Asian city a great place to base one’s cinematic quest. Set up in June 2009 under the auspices of the Create Hong Kong (CreateHK) Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, the dedicated government agency has been formed to drive and champion the creative economy of the region. The FSO has obtained agreements from over 3,000 organizations to use their premises for location filming, and has published these location reference materials for the industry. Additionally, the FSO deals with more complicated matters, such as lane closures, police hire for traffic control and special permits.

The Film Development Fund (FDF) has had $300 million injected since 2007, expanding its scope to finance up to 35 percent of small-to-medium-budgeted film productions (of not more than HK$6 million per film project). The 14 films currently funded include Aberdeen, 37, Beach Spike, Lola Mania and Echoes of the Rainbow (winner of the Crystal Bear Award at the 60th Berlinale Film Festival). The Film Guarantee Fund (FGF) aims to assist local film production companies to obtain loans from local participating lending institutions for producing films committing a maximum of HK$30 million per project.

Hong Kong’s vibrant and eclectic locales continually host high-profile projects, such as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution and the upcoming Contagion, starring Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard and Gwyneth Paltrow. Filmmaker Alex Law (Echoes of the Rainbow) is concerned with the ongoing drive for redevelopment that threatens to demolish the city’s film-friendly historic areas, but he currently enjoys shooting in Hong Kong and has utilized its 1960s architecture.

THAILAND

From the sheer cliffs of Krabi to the thick, humid jungles of the Northern provinces, Thailand is blessed with some of the most diverse and spectacular scenery in the world. With cutting-edge equipment, state-of-the-art postproduction facilities and well-trained, experienced crews, Thailand continues to attract productions, such as Oba: the Last Samurai; Shanghai; The Scorpion King: Rise of the Dead and The Hangover Part II.

TopAsia_Thailand__director_SK3According to Thailand Film Office (Thailand’s Film Commission) Director Wanasiri Morakul, the greatest number of foreign production teams was from India and Japan with European and Korean productions following close behind. “Foreign filmmakers consistently note the availability of [Thailand’s] top-quality equipment, exotic locations and multilingual/cultural Thai crews that work extremely hard,” explains Morakul. And Thailand Department of Tourism Director, General Supol Sripan, announced statistics for the Thailand Film Office that added up to 578 productions filmed in Thailand in 2010, earning the country Bt1.87 billion ($60 million) in 2010, which doubled from the Bt900 million ($30 million) earned in 2009.

Sripan expects additional industry growth in 2011 because the Cabinet approved the exemption of film shooting fees in areas owned by state offices. The seven offices include the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation; the Department of Fine Arts; the State Railway of Thailand; the Treasury Department; the Royal Forest Department; the Royal Irrigation Department and Suvarnabhumi Airport. This incentive would apply to both local and foreign film production teams. And the Cabinet approved additional incentives that are still under review by the Revenue Department.

The Thailand Film Office staff is very busy handling locations and permits in their “one-stop” service center, but they are willing to take on more. “We hope additional growth will come from roadshows in Europe and Russia later in 2011 and also an inbound roadshow of top studios, producers and location coordinators that will spread the word about Thailand’s industry,” says Morakul.

SINGAPORE

Combining futuristic skyscrapers, beachside islands and natural foliage, the parcel-sized island of Singapore simply sings to filmmakers. The cosmopolitan, colonial outpost boasts an abundance of modern and old-world charms, and the heart of the Orient is conveniently situated in the one centralized location. With locals fluent in English and Mandarin, the East/West gateway interfaces easily within the international community. Comprised of cutting-edge technology with a range of state-of-the-art, one-stop broadcasting facilities, Singapore is the hub of choice for many filmmakers. It’s currently home to major broadcasting companies like AXN, BBC World, CNBC Asia, Discovery Networks Asia, HBO Asia, MTV Asia, Nickelodeon and Walt Disney Television.

TopAsia_Singapore_Botanic_Garden_swan_lake_gazebo_day_ext_04The Media Development Authority (MDA) is the first port of call to commence one’s cinematic journey. It facilitates contact with various media companies and provides information on locations, cast and crew, facilities and technicians, regulations and other issues so productions can film, edit and finish entire projects seamlessly. Over the past few years MDA has developed the most comprehensive cinematic ecosystem in Asia, comprising funding schemes, co-production initiatives and a number of government-to-government agreements (including New Zealand, China, Canada, Korea and Australia), so that both co-production companies can benefit from filmmaking initiatives as if their project is a national production in their respective countries. This enables co-operating companies to more freely pool resources and create a larger distribution network for quality exportable media content in each other’s domestic and international markets.

The film Neon Sign is a co-production project that involves Singapore, China and Korea and represents the first film to receive support under Singapore’s MDA International Film Fund (IFF), which was launched at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009. The IFF’s objective is to enhance international co-production arrangements with Singapore production and co-production companies by co-investing up to S$5 million in each selected feature film. Eligible projects include live-action, animated and stereoscopic 3D content, and should include meaningful level of activities in development, preproduction, production and/or postproduction that are undertaken in Singapore. Bait, The Harvest and Cooktales are the latest films to be funded by the IFF, aided by a healthy US$50 million deal signed between MDA, CJ Entertainment, Bang Singapore and Asia Media & Technology Capital.

Scrawl Studios and MDA also recently signed five new co-production deals amounting to US$13.5 million (S$19 million) and involving international partners from Canada, France and Taiwan. These projects include Almost Extinct (with CCI Entertainment Canada) and Hunter the Wereboy (with France’s Planet Nemo Animation). Other collaborations of note include MDA and Tiger Gate Entertainment (a joint venture of Lionsgate and Saban Capital Group) and MDA’s film development initiative with Fortissimo Films.

The latest films to screen under the Singapore Film Commission’s New Feature Film Fund (NFFF) 2010, which funds up-and-coming local talent, include Forever (directed by Wee Li Lun), Sandcastle (directed by Boo Junfeng) and Gurushetram: 24 Hours of Anger (directed by TT Dhavamanni). The projects are slated to receive up to 50 percent of their respective total preproduction budgets or a maximum of S$500,000. Recipients of the NFFF can also access an additional S$30,000 for advertising and promoting the films in Singapore. Recent additions to the funded list include Endless Day, Get Meaty, Camera and Causeway.

These growing international linkages and media collaborations expose the winning combination of Singapore’s economic stability, pro-enterprise culture, skilled workforce and progressive intellectual property framework, which puts them at the heart of a new dynamic Asia.

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