John Cusack, Chow Yun-fat and Gong Li turned up for a press conference yesterday to talk about how much they love working in Bangkok, where they are shooting their latest movie, Shanghai. The press conference was held at Moonstar Studio, Southeast Asia's biggest studio backlot.
Having a facility like Moonstar is a plus, said the cast and crew of The Weinstein Company production. The legion of experienced film professionals in Thailand is another major advantage Thailand has over other countries in the region. Combine that experience with lower labor costs, you can see why Thailand is competitive with China. Add a planned tax-rebate policy into the mix and Thailand is a winner.
Kong Rithdee has more in a story in today's Bangkok Post (cache):
You have great production service companies, great crew and I was blown away by the quality of the sound stage _ it's first class,'' said executive producer Steve Squillante. ''But the topper to all of this is the tax rebate policy. [It is the policy that is being pursued] aggressively by other countries like Australia, England, as well as by many American states.
''It always helps if you build more infrastructure, perhaps another sound stage in the province. But what will help you recoup the value of those infrastructure is that you have an incentive that helps guarantee the amount of big foreign productions that would come here every year.''
Shanghai was originally going to shoot in China, but Chinese officials, sensitive to the WWII film's political tone, pulled the film's permits, prompting the production to move to London and Thailand. The director is Mikael Hafstrom, who previously worked with John Cusack on 1408. Hafstrom is loving Thailand. He's quoted by the Associated Press (via IHT):
Thailand invited us in a great way. We got the possibility to do this fantastic backdrop I couldn't dream of."
Cusack says shooting Shanghai is a unique experience. He's quoted in another story by the AP, via Canadian Press:
To do something that has a big budget, a great scope with a great director and great actors that has the quality and level of writing and the level of production design ... is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Cusack said.
Cusack said once he heard the filmmakers were interested in casting him, he aggressively lobbied for the part.
"Any actor in his right mind would want to do this film - would die to do it," he said.
Living Films is the Thailand-based production company running the shoot. Here's more from the Bangkok Post article:
The production employs 748 Thais and 52 foreigners,'' said Chris Lowenstein, managing director of Living Films. ''Usually Thailand is famous for outdoor locations, but I hope that Shanghai will help change the perception of foreign producers about our ability to construct huge sets in a backlot or sound stage.''
Half of the film is being shot in Bangkok, Si Racha and Samut Songkhram, after the production failed to get permission from the Chinese government to shoot in China. The rest of the film has already been shot on location in England.
Budgeted at US$10 million -- small by Hollywood standards but huge for an Asian film -- production of Shanghai is set to wrap on August 12, with the US release planned for December 25.
Other foreign films planned for production in Thailand this year include Chasing the Dragon, starring Wesley Snipes, and the in-production Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. The Pang Brothers recently wrapped up shooting Storm Warriors, a sequel to the smash-hit Hong Kong fantasy Storm Riders.
A plan to introduce tax rebates for foreign film productions was introduced last month. It's a lucrative market, according to an earlier Bangkok Post business story (cache). In the first six months of this year, there were 297 foreign productions in Thailand, up from 263 in the same period in 2007. Revenue from January to June this year was up to 1.37 billion baht from 487 million the same period the year before.
(Photos of John Cusack and Chow Yun-fat via Reuters/Yahoo News)