'Hangover: Part II' brings focus to country

BANGKOK — It seems that hangovers are not necessarily all bad.

The decision to shoot Todd Phillips’ “The Hangover Part II” in Bangkok has given officials in Thailand confidence to lure back big foreign shoots.

At the same time, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2010, has burnished Thailand’s reputation internationally and brought a new focus back on the local biz.

Despite a history of political instability, the local economy has posted steady growth — even during the worst of the political crisis since the 2006 coup.

Even Zach Galifianakis has described Thailand as “the most un-boring place,” and tourists kept coming despite all the turmoil.

So it’s no accident that the Thailand Film Office is part of the Dept. of Tourism.

“We have the infrastructure and professional crews who work really hard. We are cheaper than other countries too,” says Wanasiri Morakul, director of the Thailand Film Office. “We also believe that in the next five years we will see more of an increase in the business because the government understands the business now. Within five years we should be No. 1 in the region.”

With this in mind, the Thailand Film Office is keen to build on this with its new ad campaign for 2011 — urging filmmakers to “Unleash Their Imagination in Thailand” — that launched at Cannes.

“We want studio executives and producers that have not thought of shooting here to realize there are no boundaries for their imagination to come alive in Thailand,” says Morakul.

The Film Office notes that Thailand has doubled for New York, 1940s Shanghai, modern-day China, New Orleans, Europe in the Middle Ages and an underwater world.

Thailand is certainly flexible. When Chinese authorities suddenly pulled the plug on the Weinstein Co.’s “Shanghai” a couple of years back, Thailand filled the gap to star as the Chinese city in the 1930s.

Last year there were 578 productions filmed in Thailand, including documentaries, commercials, features, skeins and musicvideos, generating revenues of 1.869 billion baht ($62 million), a rise of nearly 110%, after the figures had fallen by 56% the previous year.

This year, in the first quarter, the numbers are again looking positive. There were 22 U.S. productions in Thailand last year, and already this year, the country has hosted 11 U.S. projects.

While tourism and foreign productions look bullish, locals are apprehensive about elections that will take place July 3, only the second since 2006. Pundits are predicting a close race between the dominant Democratic Pary and opposition Puea Thai Party.

But one thing that strikes visitors to Thailand is how the country gets by, indeed, thrives, with a fair degree of uncertainty. The economy is booming and the atmosphere is bullish.

“What is Thailand’s biggest draw? Gorgeous locations, amazing crew, first class accommodation and food,” says Nicholas Simon, a producer at production services provider Indochina Prods., which is a Global Production Network affiliate.

“Thailand is currently a regional center with international-caliber crew, studios, equipment and post houses, drawing work from the region and as far away as India, Europe and the U.S.,” says Simon.

Among the editing and post facilities in Thailand are Oriental Post, located at Kantana’s Bangkok film complex, and Technicolor.

Low wages and proven costs are also a great incentive. And last year Thailand introduced an income tax exemption for foreign actors, a production VAT refund and a tax credit of up to 25% for foreign film productions.

“Thailand will continue to develop as they are open to attract foreign professionals working in Thailand and the Thai companies continue to stay on the cutting edge of technical developments by investing in facilities and next generation equipment,” says Simon.

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