Thailand has long been known as a popular choice for filmmakers. Everything from high grossing Bond movies to popular reality TV series like Survivor have been made in the Kingdom. With a US$650-million Movie Town project scheduled to open in Chiang Mai 2012, Thailand may soon become Hollywood's favourite supporting actor.
As the film industry becomes increasingly global, renowned studios, directors and producers are drawn to Asia as a location, both for its dramatic set possibilities and also for the professional production services available. A strong but cost effective filmmaking infrastructure makes Thailand an attractive destination for movie production. Even for large scale Hollywood pictures like "Shanghai" and "Bangkok Dangerous" which were both produced in Thailand, there was no need to import large amounts equipment from overseas. Thailand has world class sound stages in Bangkok and 38 individual film studios spread across the capital. A wide selection of production vehicles includes motorhomes for actors, makeup and wardrobe trailers, even silent mobile film generators.
Chris Lowenstein is Managing Director of Living Films, a full service production company based in Thailand. In the last ten years, the company has coordinated more than ten major feature films, numerous television commercials, documentaries, music videos and still shoots. I would say that production in Thailand is about one third of what it would cost in the States or Europe he explained. "Productions generally save the most on labour, construction and art department costs, as well as accommodation rates and talent fees.
In fact, even compared with other South East Asian destinations, Thailand comes out on top. "I was recently in Malaysia and met with film production companies there," continued Lowenstein. Surprisingly, many of them are taking their films to Bangkok because theinfrastructure is better in terms of labs and equipment selection. This holds true for Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia too. It may be slightly cheaper to shoot in these countries, but they have very little infrastructure, so most things need to be brought in from Thailand anyway.
Based on this advantage, $70 million baht is being invested by Creative Kingdom Inc, the company behind Movie Town, to develop a White House Studio Complex. This will include studios, media offices and post-production facilities to attract representative offices from all the major Hollywood studios and eventually create a hub for the international filmmaking market in Southeast Asia. Lowenstein believes Movie Town will boost the film industry and other related businesses in many ways. By attracting film production companies that would not have considered coming in the first place, he says the project will create many new jobs and opportunities throughout the industry while raising Chiang Mai's profile as a creative centre for production and post production talent.
"There is such a plethora of different location possibilities within a short distance in Chiang Mai" he said. "All that is missing is the beach. But Movie Town will even utilize natural lagoon making technology out of Chile to create realistic sandy beaches."
"Shanghai" proved that Thailand is more than just a destination for movies about beaches. A historical drama starring John Cusack, Chow Yun Fat, Ken Wattanabi and Gong, Living Films also built the largest 'back-lot' film set ever in South East Asia for the production. The level of art direction and construction skill, coupled with the world class film stages available in Bangkok will almost certainly lead to more period films being shot in Thailand, even those not specifically related to the country and its people.
Before Movie Town is completed, more exciting movie projects are heading to Thai shores from countries around the globe. "We are currently in production on a high-profile Hollywood film that I am not yet allowed to talk about." added Lowenstein. "What I can say is that this film will be distributed world wide and will definitely help raise awareness of the film industry in Thailand.
By Jules Kay