Global crew competition heats up

Asia raising its standard, flaunts soundstages

SEOUL — These days, the benefits of attracting globe-trotting film crews are becoming more obvious to governments and film industry personnel around the world.

As various territories learn to market their strengths — be it spectacular locations, a well-equipped shooting environment, low costs, highly skilled crews or other incentives — competition is heating up.

Asia seems to represent a particularly diverse range of options for international productions. As the region’s film commissions and shooting services arrive at the annual Bifcom exhibition in Busan this October, there also is a sense that standards across Asia are being raised.

“Asian film commissions are definitely becoming more targeted and assertive in addressing the competition,” says Deborah Gabinetti, director of the Bali Film Center.

One example is the number of soundstages that are being built. This spring, Toho will finish a $42 million upgrade of its studio in the Tokyo suburbs, with two new 7,100-square-foot soundstages, bringing the complex’s total to 12. In Hong Kong, the Shaw Group has opened five new soundstages in its $200 million Shaw Studios, including a 70-foot-tall, 21,000-square-foot stage that ranks as one of Asia’s largest.

Last year, Workpoint Entertainment opened a studio in Bangkok, and new stages are also planned from Bali to Busan. Meanwhile China’s massive Hengdian World Studios is adding soundstages to its impressive collection of backlots. At the same time, post-production facilities are under construction at Toho and the Shaw Studios and in Busan.

Studio space and facilities may be a prerequisite for major international shoots, but the deciding factor in shooting a film in a particular territory is often the expense. To this end, both high- and low-cost locations are becoming aware of the need for tax breaks and other kinds of financial incentives.

Taiwan was the first in the region to introduce tax breaks in 2004, and China also offers a corporate tax reduction from 25% to 10% for international co-productions. This year, Seoul got into the game by offering a 25% refund on all in-city spending, up to a limit of $100,000 per film. The Seoul Film Commission also provides free airfare and accommodation to production staff engaged in location hunting. Other regions including Thailand and Bali are in talks as well with their respective governments to introduce incentives.

However, given the difficulty of navigating local regulations and customs, film commissions also realize they need to fine-tune the level of service they provide.

Gabinetti sees progress on this front. “These days there is greater communication in the region, especially the establishment of the Asian Film Commissions Network, a much more professional and coordinated structure in attracting foreign productions.”

Dubbed AFCNet for short, the network comprises 35 orgs from 11 countries and has been involved in joint promotional efforts and training.

This year, AFCNet added the Thailand Film Office, the Gold Coast City Council of Australia and the Film Development Council of the Philippines as members, and will publish an AFCNet directory with information about locations across the region.

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