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Pattaya Daily News

09 September 2008 :: 22:09:33 pm 1980

Thailand as a Film Location

Thai cinema may not be the best known in the world, but Thailand is certainly gaining fame as a country in which to make films. It has countless, hugely varied locations, a wide range of accommodation, well equipped studios, knowledgeable and hard-working crews, a welcoming culture, an attuned administrative infrastructure and represents excellent value for money. Little wonder then that film-makers from around the world are zeroing in on Amazing Thailand as one of the places to make films.
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Major foreign films have in fact been shot in Thailand for more than four decades. They include Tarzan in 1962, The Man with the Golden Gun (ninth in the James Bond series) in 1974, and Oscar-winning The Killing Fields in 1984. Of late, the country has been gearing itself up for even more productions from different parts of the world, notably India’s fabled Bollywood.

In many productions, Thailand’s excellent film infrastructure makes it ideal for doubling up for somewhere else. Recent examples include Burma in Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo 4, China in John Cusack’s Shanghai, and Hong Kong and Venice in Michael Clark’s Street Fighter. These followed in the footsteps of some other major productions, including Oliver Stone’s Alexander, Beyond Borders with Angelina Jolie and Around the World in 80 Days with Jackie Chan.

A veritable Who’s Who in international cinema have made films in Thailand — Brian De Palma, Michael J. Fox, Sean Penn, Mel Gibson, Nicholas Cage, Hugh Grant, Renée Zellweger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Amitabh Bachchan, Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Leonardo DiCaprio, Colin Farrell, Roger Moore, Denzil Washington, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris — to name but a few.

The Bangkok International Film Festival, now in its sixth year and due to be held again in the last week of September, has helped showcase the riches of the kingdom to the international film community.

Oliver Stone

When international stars like Miranda Richardson and Oscar-winners Michael Douglas and Jeremy Irons attended, they were treated to glimpses of Thailand’s vast film-making resources. Such visits have helped get the word out and put Thailand firmly on the world’s cinematic map.

Actors Gerard Butler, Miranda Richardson and
director Joel Schumacher attend a press conference
at the Shangri-La Hotel to talk about
“Phantom of the Opera”
presented at the 2005 Bangkok International Film
Festival in Bangkok, Thailand.
Patrick Riviere/Getty Images
Actor Michael Douglas makes an appearance at
the Bangkok International press conference for
“The Phantom of the Opera”.
© Leonard Cachola

Chris Doyle

Francois and Wisit
As a result, Thailand has benefited from an increasing number of creative collaborations. World-famous Australian cinematographer Chris Doyle has made two Thai films with local director Pen-Ek Rattanaruang. Celebrated French director Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp production house backed talented Thai director Wisit Sasanatieng. Top Hong Kong film-maker Wong Kar-wai has chosen to edit some of his films at Kantana Group’s Bangkok facilities.

A Hollywood great, director Francis Ford Coppola, meanwhile came to Bangkok to edit Suriyothai for international distribution. This epic, amazingly sumptuous costume drama about courtly intrigues in ancient Siam was made by Coppola’s old friend, the veteran Thai director Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol. This year, independent Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul raised Thai cinema to an altogether new level when he was invited on to the main jury at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

Last year, it was reported that as many as 523 shoots (which include feature films, shorts and a large number of commercials, music videos and episodes for television series) took place in Thailand, generating an estimated 1,072 million baht in revenue. By June 2008, a total of 297 feature films and shorts had already been shot in what could turn out to be a record year.

Why Thailand?
When the India International Film Awards (IIFA) were held in Bangkok recently, many top stars from the world’s biggest film industry — certainly in terms of productions, numbers employed and size of audience — came to town for a heavily publicized three-day event. Interestingly, almost every Indian actor attending seemed to have already shot a film in Thailand, and there was nothing but praise for Thailand’s excellent facilities.

According to Kulthep Narula of Benetone Films, which co-ordinates most Indian filming in Thailand, there has been a major shift in Indian location work away from Europe to Asia in recent years. Thailand gives “excellent value for money” in all departments, he says. Over 90 Indian films were made in Thailand last year.

In a five-year period, Narula’s company has co-ordinated some 40 films and numerous commercials. One recent film, Chandnichowk to China, re-created old Shanghai in Bangkok as there were problems getting the necessary permits to shoot in China. The multi-million dollar American film Shanghai was shot in Thailand for similar reasons.

© bangkokdangerousmovie.net
Chris Lowenstein of Living Films, which was involved in Shanghai as well as Nicholas Cage’s Bangkok Dangerous, says Bangkok offers great options for all kinds of production, big and small. In addition to co-ordinating a number of Hollywood shoots in Thailand, his company has been contracted by smaller European film productions, as well as for advertising and corporate work. One corporate job called for an elaborate robotic solar factory, which was mocked up without any problem in Pattaya along the Gulf of Thailand’s always sunny Eastern Seaboard.

One of the smaller films made recently was Malaysian-Canadian director Hunt Hoe’s 1st Bite starring Thai actress
‘Mamee’ (Napakpapha Nakprasitte), and Canadian actor David La Haye. The story is set on an island in Thailand and in Montreal, Canada, and relates “the strange plight of a beleaguered chef who, while romancing a mysterious woman, discovers the diabolical Zen of cooking.” Apart from the compelling food and wonderful weather, actor Hoe was so impressed by the facilities in Thailand that he opened Aviva Communications, which specializes in music videos. He has been encouraging Canadian companies to consider Thailand for shoots.

Veteran British-American actor-director-producer David Winters, who has worked on some 200 projects in Hollywood, has also set up an office in Bangkok with an eye to joint productions.

“Thai technicians are superb,” says Manu Gargi who was line producer on the US$ six-million Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li made by Hyde Park Entertainment, a company that has built a solid reputation on the credits from numerous Hollywood films. Neighbouring countries were checked out for Streetfighter before it was concluded that Thailand offered the best infrastructure and value for money.

“It is also an advantage having offices for Technicolor and Deluxe here, which makes it easy for foreign film units to process their films,” Gargi adds.

Santa Pestonji
I often tell foreign producers that we can provide anything from a needle to a battleship,” says Santa Pestonji, son of Rattana Pestonji, considered the father of modern Thai Cinema. The Pestonjis own Santa International Film Productions, the pioneering film services production company in Thailand. Formerly known as Hanuman Films, its film productions date back to the 1950s. Its credits include Lace II in 1986, The Beach in 2000, and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith in 2005.

Santa says he plans every movie in detail including back-up locales and reserve units. He also works closely with local authorities. He said this came in particularly useful during the crowd-sequence scenes for American Gangster, which went on to garner two Oscar nominations in 2007.

“The Americans were really impressed by the Thai public’s disciplined behaviour,” he says. Apart from big features, the company has also co-ordinated numerous advertising shoots ranging in cost from US$ two-million to 17.

Narula of Benetone Films says his company has handled over 130 foreign commercials in Thailand for companies from countries as varied as Dubai, Israel and the Czech Republic. With its rich natural and historical endowments, many programmes featured on the History, Discovery, Animal Planet and National Geographic channels have been made in Thailand, according to Ric Lawes of Location Thailand. As a fresh source of business, South Korea provided Thailand with 39 shoots in 2007, mostly for television serials and music videos. Better established Japan continued to top the Asian list with 154 shoots, while Hong Kong generated 25.

New Trends & Technology
According to Santa, Thailand has managed to stay on top of technological advances and remain competitive.

“Our film facilities have kept track of new technologies, and now count among the best in the world,” says Pakinee Chaisana, whose company, A Grand Elephant, specializes in high-end commercials and finds nothing wanting in Thailand.

“The Thais are quick learners, and after working on so many big Hollywood films, have now developed a lot of technical expertise themselves,” says Mutita Na Songkla of Legend Films, the company which co-ordinated the US$11-million shoot in Thailand for Rambo 4.

“The camera equipment here almost beats Hollywood,” raves Jeff Hare, a young American director who shot his fourth feature, Bitter/Sweet, in Thailand. The film includes local stars Mamee and Akara Amarttayakul, and American actors Kip Pardue and James Brolin. Hare was so impressed by the technical facilities available that he decided to do all the editing in Bangkok as well.

The best-known editing and post-production facilities in Thailand are at Oriental Post, located at Kantana’s Bangkok film complex, the biggest in Southeast Asia. The operation has the most up-to-date equipment for features, animated films and videos. It also does work for major studios like Paramount and Fox. Many top Asian film-makers meanwhile opt to do their post-production work in Thailand because of the very competitive pricing. “People are conscious of price, speed, efficiency, quality — and we can guarantee all that,” says John Galvin, director of post production at Oriental Post.

The acclaimed Thai animated film Khan Kluey created waves at festivals around the world, and was positive proof of the remarkable progress the country has made in applying animation technology.

Film crews and equipment are readily available in Thailand with a large number of production services companies to choose between. They include Siamlite, Gear Head and LightHouse. One of the best known is V.S. Service which for over twenty years has supplied everything from transporter vans to lights, cameras and personnel. “One of the most popular things with foreign units is our mobile motor-home,” says ‘Daeng’ Somchart Karanpaisarn proudly.

The governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Phornsiri Manoharn, has made clear the importance being given to facilitating foreign film shoots in Thailand. TAT offices around the world have been equipped to provide all kinds of information, and have also become involved with laying on fam-trips for foreign film-producers wishing to visit potential locations. Locales already used include Chanthaburi, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, Kanchanaburi, Khon Kaen, Koh Chang, Krabi, Mae Hong Son, Phuket, Saraburi and Ubon Ratchathani.

The Thailand Film Office (TFO) at the Ministry of Tourism and Sports was set up last year as a one-stop centre to improve film facilitation services to overseas film-makers. Until the TFO’s creation, foreign shoots were monitored by the old Thai Film Board.

“Once relevant papers have been submitted, we try to issue a permit to shoot within three days,” says TFO director Wanasiri Morakul. The Thailand Film Office works with the Department of Fine Arts or the Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department when shoots are planned for historical sites or in national parks. There are also plans afoot to collaborate more with the Bangkok Metropolitan Police.

The office has been involved in producing high quality booklets, giving details of location-spots all around the country. According to Wanasiri, over 40 countries have made films in Thailand so far, among them a number of new countries like Poland, Turkey, Venezuela, Norway, Brunei and even the British Virgin Islands.

The Thailand Film Office has been making its presence felt by promoting Thailand at the film markets of top film festivals, like Cannes , Pusan , Hong Kong and Los Angeles . Future

Although the future augurs well for Thailand, Santa Pestonji believes prospects would be even better with more financial breaks on offer.

“We’ll score hugely over our neighbours if the government offers tax-incentives such as VAT refunds,” he argues.

There may be some support for these kinds of measures. Says Tourism Minister Weerasak Kowsurat: “We are seriously considering this sort of thing. Film shootings are an important source of tourism, and I’m happy that legislation has just been passed for the full facilitation of film services.”

Lekha J Shankar is an Indian journalist based in Bangkok who writes on cinema and tourism for leading publications in both India and Thailand. She has travelled to numerous film festivals around the world, getting to know at first hand a wide range of film personalities.

Lekha has been an active participant in the Bangkok International Film Festival since its inception in 2003, and served as its international media co-ordinator in 2007. She has interacted with many international film celebrities visiting Bangkok for the film festival or for film shoots.

Lekha is presently programming Thai films for the International Film Festival of India, and serves as Film Co-ordinator at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, where her monthly film screenings have attracted a strong following.
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Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : Travel

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