Thailand lures foreign productions with cash-back incentives

By Thomas Schmid

Thailand’s government at long last is going to implement a new cash-back program to attract foreign movie productions to the country. The initiative, which has already been approved by the Thai cabinet, was announced on May 14 during a reception at the Thai Pavilion at the recent Cannes International Film Festival. The program, which will come into effect as of January 2017, will offer up to a maximum of 20 percent cash-back on local production expenses, provided certain conditions are met.

General Tanasak Patimapragorn, deputy prime minister and chairman of the National Film and Video Committee, who personally announced the incentive program at Cannes, said that 15 percent of local production cost could be returned to all foreign movie and television productions that spend a minimum of $1.5 million in Thailand by using local production and post-production facilities and services. A further three percent cash-back can be gained by using Thai creative talent, and another two percent is available to films that provide special benefits in promoting Thailand’s tourism.

Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, who was also present at the function, welcomed the initiative, which she said would not only support the country’s production services industry but also help bring images of Thailand to screens across the world. This would benefit the local tourism industry, she said.

The cash-back program had been in the making for a considerable time, as Thailand sought to counter similar initiatives already implemented by some of its neighboring countries. For example, a comparable cash-back program is currently offered to foreign movie productions by Malaysia—albeit at a rate of up to 30 percent of total local production cost.

Seagal to Shoot Two Movies in Thailand

In related news, 1980s and 1990s action star and martial-arts fighter Steven Seagalannounced during a recent trip to Thailand that he plans to make two movies in the country, the local newspaper Khao Sod reported. The actor, a longtime admirer of the Southeast Asian country and its exotic culture, reportedly paid a visit to the National Reform Steering Assembly (a sort of interim parliament) to inform its deputy chairman Alongkorn Pollabutr about his plans.“[Seagal] intends to make two films using locations in Thailand,” the newspaper quoted Alongkorn as saying. “It will be a public-relations effort for beautiful Thailand, such as its locations, cultures, arts and martial arts.”

The deputy chairman reportedly described Seagal as an actor with “longstanding ties with Thailand” and a man who “practices Buddhism and loves and respects His Majesty the King [of Thailand].” The former action star has already shot at least one other action film in Thailand, 2003’s Belly of the Beast, in which he was also cast in a lead role.

China-Foreign Co-productions Soar

China Radio International (CRI) has cited a report issued by the China Film Association suggesting that the number of movies co-produced between foreign and Chinese companies reached a record high last year. According to the report, a total of 94 co-production projects were initiated in 2015, a respectable 17 more than in 2014. Of these 94 projects, 60 were eventually approved by China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), effectively green-lighting them so they could start shooting.

Filmmakers and studios from 11 countries reportedly collaborated with their Chinese counterparts on these projects, including companies from the U.S., the U.K., India, France, Japan, South Korea, Italy and Australia. However, co-productions between Mainland China and Hong Kong (S.A.R.) accounted for the majority of them, with 48 projects initiated and 38 approved by SAPPRFT. Among them was China’s biggest blockbuster in history, Raman Hui-directed Monster Hunt, which broke box-office records with more than RMB2.4 billion ($365 mil.) in ticket sales last year.

U.S.-China Producer Team to Play Tetris

In a related development, Chinese and American producers have announced a collaborative film trilogy based on everyone’s favorite 1980s videogame, the iconic Tetris. According to Chinese lifestyle, arts and entertainment news website, the first film of the supposed franchise is to be one of the biggest U.S.-China co-productions to date. Producer Larry Kasanoff of U.S.-based Threshold Entertainment Group and Chinese producer Bruno Wu of Seven Star Works recently confirmed the first Tetrisinstallment will have a budget of approximately $80 million, with production scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2017. Filming is planned to take place entirely in China, while about one-third of the ensemble cast will comprise Chinese actors and actresses.

“Today, there are so many great sources on which to build a movie blockbuster, and videogames are certainly an amazing category with their huge international following. So, to have this legacy brand Tetris is a great first project for us with Larry [Kasanoff], who knows his way around the landscape,” quoted Bruno Wu as saying. Wu is the founder, co-chairman and CEO of Sun Seven Stars Media Group, one of the biggest private media and entertainment investment companies in China, currently boasting some 60 different film production companies in its portfolio. Kasanoff, on the other hand, certainly is no stranger to adapting popular videogames into live-action movies, having the producer credits for two Mortal Kombat films under his belt.

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