Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Urging the industry

The Bangkok Post sent a business reporter to attend a discussion on Thailand's film industry at a film market exhibition that was part of the Bangkok International Film Festival. Not surprisingly, the experts said more needs to be done.

The industry needs to not only address its local obstacles to growth but also look for opportunities abroad. They noted that other countries, particularly China, are opening their doors to investment in the movie industry, with Hollywood studios such as Columbia TriStar already having set up a studio on the mainland.

Christopher Knight, a senior manager of PricewaterhouseCoopers (Thailand) Co, said that Thai producers should form ties with producers in China and Hong Kong to position themselves for future growth.

At the same time, Thai producers needed to team up to lobby for stronger incentives from the government if they were to compete with other countries.

Film standards also needed to be improved to meet international levels, while more had to be done to crack down on piracy.

Rick Griffiths, partner in technology, information communications, entertainment and media group of PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada, said the Thai industry had lost opportunities to produce films for foreign studios due to the lack of bilateral treaties with other countries.

Canada, for instance, maintained treaties with both Hong Kong and China to allow production crews of the two countries to take advantage of financial aid for film projects.

Mr Griffiths said developed nations would play a supporting role in promoting the local industry by providing financial support for independent filmmakers.

Pantham Thongsang, producer of Tifa Co, a production house wholly-owned by GMM Grammy Plc, said that Thai independent film producers faced difficulty in the market due to the lack of state support.

''Last year was a diamond year for the Thai film industry, with many films like Cannes-winner Tropical Malady, Beautiful Boxer or Ong Bak succeeding in the international market,'' Mr Pantham said.

''But what next? I worry that the industry will not have quality films to go abroad.''

The government should offer state subsidies to local independent filmmakers, and thus support industry growth, Mr Pantham said.

He pointed to countries such as South Korea, France, Australia and Canada as good examples of how state support helped spur industry growth.

More examples how tough it is for filmmakers, especially indie directors, can be found in the documentary Malady Diary, which chronicles Apichatpong Weerasethakul's struggles in getting Tropical Malady made.

Of course, some business is getting done at the festival, the Bangkok Post reports. Film deals worth at least US$250 million are expected to be concluded during the five-day trade show.

Last year $100 million of film deals were done at the film market. The number of exhibitors this year - 300 - and attendance - 500 - is triple last year's.

The largest foreign delegations are from China, India, Japan and the US.

"Bangkok has quietly and quickly become what I believe to be the premier film capital of Southeast Asia. Some of that is because of the brilliance of the independent films that are made here," film market organizer Christine Rush told the Bangkok Post.

She said Bangkok featured some of the most advanced production facilities in the world and Thailand had become a favourite shooting location.

Here's more on the deals from the Post:
Tae Sung Jeong, chief operating officer of Mediaplex Inc, a movie production house in South Korea, said the company was in talks with partners from Japan, China, Thailand and Hong Kong to set up a company to finance films that would be released worldwide.

The move would tap the growing popularity of Asian movies, with $30 million injected into the company to finance about 15 films a year within the next five years.

The Thai partner would be Matching Studio Plc, he said.

Director Nonzee Nimubutr (Nang Nak, Jan Dara) said a $6-million movie project called Queen of Pattani was in a pipeline by partners from Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. The Thai investor would chip in around $1.5 million on the film based on the history of Pattani and due to be released in late 2006.

Nonzee said the films would be released in Asian countries and western markets. There would be more collaboration between Asian partners in the film industry in the future to expand the target audiences and share expertise between film makers.

However, Nonzee suggested that the government should exclusively promote the film market instead of connecting the event with tourism.

In another development, Matching Motion Pictures has joined with Universe International (HK) Co in a 200-million-baht production of a thriller entitled Re-cycle, featuring Thai movie star Jetrin Wattanasin and Hong Kong starlet Lee Sinje.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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