Government speeds up applications, permits

HONG KONG — The Thai government said Tuesday it would slash bureaucracy to make Thailand a more attractive location for international film shoots.

Moves, announced by the ministry of sports and tourism, however, fell short of introduction of new financial incentives.

The interim government’s cabinet meeting approved the establishment of a service center that will process filming applications and issue shooting permits within 24 hours.

Currently, these must be submitted to the Thailand Film Office at least 14 days before lensing.

Country fears competition from neighboring Vietnam and Malaysia, which offer low-cost locations and less red tape.

Spokeswoman Natepreeya Chumchaiyo said that Thai authorities would, however, continue to monitor movie content and production practices to ensure cultural sensitivity and to protect the environment.

With its rich diversity of locations ranging from tropical jungles and mountains to bustling modern cities, Thailand is one of the most favored international locations and in 2006 attracted some 400 movie, TV and music videos.

However, the value of inward spend dropped to some Bt1 billion ($28 million) in 2006, compared with $39 million in 2002.

Decline occurred before the September military coup and recent wave of bombings in Bangkok and the far south of the country.

With film policy in Thailand closely allied with tourism, environmental concerns run high.

Twentieth Century Fox’s “The Beach,” which was shot in 2000 in a National Park, has been embroiled in years of court cases. In November the Supreme Court upheld an earlier ruling that the production had damaged the environment and ordered a cost study.

Recent Nicolas Cage starrer “Bangkok Dangerous” shot largely in the country.

Next big incoming production is expected to be Sylvester Stallone starrer “Rambo IV: In the Serpent’s Eye,” which will lense in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and bring in an estimated $5 million.

Thornsiri Manoharn, who started her first term as Tourism Authority of Thailand governor last Thursday, said she was confident that the tourism industry would bounce back by 2010 and hit revenue target of $15.3 billion from foreign visitors.

TAT is also the largest provider of coin for the Bangkok Film Festival, which was postponed from later this month to July.

This week there were mixed opinions about strength of local film sector from other quarters.

Influential research and policy institute, Kasikorn Research Center said Monday that it expects Thai movie industry to grow by 10% in 2007 to some $154 million at retail prices.

Institute pinned most of the growth on the expansion of country’s theatrical exhibition sector and ever-improving facilities.

However, it warned that film is facing stiffer competition from other forms of entertainment, that movie-going is not increasing and that higher ticket prices could put off viewers.

It urged hardtop operators to modernize ticketing outlets, introduce flexible pricing and, following the Dec. 31 bomb blasts, to increase security at multiplexes.

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