In mid-May the Thailand Film Office, a unit of the Department of Tourism, announced its first foreign production to take advantage of a film industry incentives programme launched last year – a UK feature called Close.
Described as a “buddy action movie” that follows elite female bodyguards who offer protection to the rich and famous, Close is set to begin filming in June, starring Swedish actress Noomi Rapace as a counterterrorism expert tasked with protecting a young heiress in Bangkok.
Thailand was chosen as the location as it offered both a backdrop to the film’s theme of millionaire lifestyles and a contrasting vibrant street level atmosphere, Vicky Jewson, the film’s director, said.
“Bangkok has so much texture and so many layers. Our scout surpassed my expectations,” she told industry media in mid-May.
Cannes red carpet
Under the incentive programme, approved productions are eligible for a rebate of up to 20% on their total costs.
A key requirement is to spend at least BT50m ($1.4m) in-country during the production process, with rebates capped at BT75m ($2.2m).
On top of this, productions can qualify for further rebates: 3% for hiring local cast or crews, thus assisting in skills transfer and deepening the pool of local talent, and another 2% if the completed film shows Thai culture and locations in a positive light, thus promoting tourism.
Unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival in May last year, just days after the Cabinet ratified a broader industry support programme, the incentives scheme formally came into force on January 1. Returning to Cannes this May, officials previewed and screened several new Thai productions, using the opportunity to once again promote the incentives scheme.
Applications to take part in this incentive programme are available three times a year, in January, May and September.
To access the scheme’s rebates, producers must first obtain permission for their project from the Thailand Film Office and meet certain criteria, though a streamlined one-stop shop for processing applications means permits can now be granted within 14 days.
Filmmakers must then submit audited documentation to the assessment panel within 90 days of the end of the shoot or post-production period, after which, if approved by the incentives committee, payments will be cleared within 60 days.
Despite having a strong production base, Thailand has faced stiff regional competition in recent years in attracting foreign producers.
Both Singapore and Indonesia have stepped up investments in media infrastructure, while Malaysia – which also has invested in new studio and production facilities – introduced a 30% incentive scheme in 2012 to attract foreign filmmakers, helping to offset its higher production and post-production costs.
In launching its own incentive scheme, an idea first floated some 20 years ago, Thailand has increased its competitiveness and boosted its appeal as a shooting locale.
Behind the scenes
Thailand has long been seen as a prime location for foreign media productions. Last year the country hosted 779 separate overseas shoots, a 7.6% increase on 2015, with productions ranging from commercials and music videos to feature films. Most overseas productions were shot by crews from Japan, China, India and Europe.
While most were also shot for commercials – a format not covered by the new scheme – and documentaries, officials hope the new incentives will attract more big-budget features.
Even with the incentive scheme in its infancy, Thai officials estimated that foreign film shoots will generate domestic revenues in excess of $90m this year, a figure expected to rise as more overseas producers seek to take advantage of the rebates and support on offer.