International Profile: Country's main lures are its spectacular scenery for location work and well-appointed facilities
Thailand has a solid tradition of moviegoing, but its main lures for bizzers are its spectacular scenery for location work and well-appointed facilities. There were 636 foreign productions shot in the nation last year, a rise of 45% over the previous annum. Los Angeles location manager Michael J. Burmeister, whose recent resume includes “Spider-Man” and the “Twilight” saga, says the infrastructure is as good as that in Los Angeles. “The production design is good, the soundstages are cheap and the level of craftsmanship is very high,” he enthuses. The film and television industry in Thailand contributed $2.2 billion to the country’s economy and supported 86,600 jobs in 2011, the most recent year for which those figures are available. The sector is so strong that the government recently bowed a Thailand Intl. Film Destination Festival. And the digital boom is creating opportunities in the nation’s TV sector.
Bangkok is a busy metropolis with often hellish traffic, but the buzz is fantastic, and its young people crowd shopping malls and outdoor eateries late into the evening. It’s a long schlep from Europe and the U.K., but those who’ve made the trek say it’s worth it.
The city of Chiang Mai in the north is considered a top destination. Phuket and Phi Phi island are home to some fabulous beaches. Ko Tapu has been called James Bond Island since it was featured in 1974’s “The Man With the Golden Gun.” For coral reefs, there’s Ko Tao, while Bangkok has dazzling palaces. Doi Suthep-Doi Pui National Park in Chiang Mai is a paradise of flora, while mountains and forests are plentiful in the northwestern province of Mae Hong Son.
Many people think of Buddhist temples or of clubs that provided sexual R&R for soldiers during the Vietnam war. Tales persist about both extremes, and of a mysterious Yank linked to various intelligence operations in the region during the 1950s. In 1967, he walked into the Malaysian jungle and disappeared, but his legend is going strong in Thailand.
Thailand lures foreign productions because they bring in direct revenue, and help attract tourists. Foreign companies will find facilities aplenty. Matthew Szabo, director of operations at the Spice Shop post-production house in Bangkok, boasts that his operation is 30% faster and cheaper than Europe. Don Robinson, head of Siamlite Intl., touts his company’s facilities and staffing levels. “And if you need something and we don’t have it here, we’ll get it in L.A. or Hong Kong,” he says. The industry generated tax revenues of $81.4 million in 2011, according to the Motion Picture Assn. Meanwhile, the National Federation of Thai Film Assns. expects the local pic industry to double in size this year, with the key films being “King Naresuan 5,” “Tom yum goong 2” and horror pic “Pee mak phra khanong.” Big Western movies in recent years include “Hangover II” and “The Impossible.” The massive success of the Chinese movie “Lost in Thailand” has resulted in a noticeable rise in the number of Chinese tourists.
WORDS OF CAUTION
Thailand is popular as an American tourist venue, and Americans are welcome, but English is not as pervasive as one might think. Thailand also is prone to major political upheavals, but is a country that is able to thrive, despite an often bewildering level of political instability, largely because it is unified in its reverence for the monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In 2011, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was elected to replace Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose coalition government came to power in December 2008 after a court decision. Her election was the nation’s second since the military ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup in 2006 for corruption.
The World Bank forecasts the Thai economy will grow 5.3% this year, up from the 5% prediction it made in December, while the nation’s currency, the baht, has risen approximately 4% against the dollar this year, and is at levels not seen since the Asian financial crisis in 1997. As the country’s political problems ease, Thailand is emerging as a darling of global investors, says economic analyst Paul Krake of View from the Peak.
Competition in the Thai TV market is intense. The pay TV business is growing strongly, with revenues up 53% last year, according to the Hong Kong-based TV org, Casbaa. More than half of households watch programs via satellite, the highest satellite TV penetration in the region. Competition is expected to intensify with feevee newcomers such as Cable Thai Holdings, GMM Z and RS, as well as the TV Anywhere Web TV service, which allows viewers to access content via multiple platforms.
Thailand at a Glance
Size: 198,120 SQ. Miles
Largest city: Bangkok, 6.9 million people
Religion: 94% Buddhist
Population: 67.5 million
Urban dwellers: 34%
Average age: 34.7
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose film “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” took the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2010.
Mobile phones: 77.6 million
Online users: 17.4 million
Landlines: 6.6 million