The Thai government is considering increasing the value of its production rebate scheme in order to improve the country’s competitive position in the race for international film and TV shoots.
The current scheme was introduced in 2017 and offers a 15% rebate against location spending for those projects spending a minimum of THB50 million ($1.49 million) on services in the country. The current rebate can be increased to a total of 20% of local spending, if the film hires Thai crew in key positions (3%) and is considered a benefit to national tourism promotion (2%). The rebate is capped at THB75 million ($2.24 million).
Earlier this month Danucha Pichayanan, secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Council, said the Centre for Economic Situation Administration was considering increasing the production incentives to 30% for productions spending THB50 million to THB100 million ($1.49 million – $3 million) spending range.
Details have not been established and the proposal may be finalized only in January 2022.
Thailand’s subsidy is lower than neighboring Malaysia and regional rival Australia, which both operate a 30% scheme. But the country’s advantages include a choice of sound stages, a wide variety of locations, a local post-production base and a pool of skilled crafts folk, many of whom have experience working on previous inbound international movies or who have traveled abroad to work on pictures shooting in more financially generous locations. In Bangkok, Supreme Studios has built one of Asia’s largest LED volumes for virtual production.
In recent days, regional authorities have said that they plan to soon reopen Maya Bay, the idyllic Koh Phi Phi location made famous by Danny Boyle’s Leonardo DiCaprio-starring film “The Beach” of 2000. The site suffered such huge damage from over-tourism that in 2018 it was shut down, even for local visitors.
In 2020, some 176 foreign films shot at least partly in Thailand, of which 74 were movies and 33 were series. The Thailand Film Office recently told Variety that five foreign movies are currently filming on location in the country. Major shoots that visited during the COVID time included Disney’s “Ms Marvel” and Apple Studios’ “Shantaram,” with Thailand standing in for India in the latter.
Netflix and SK Global’s series about the 2018 Thai caves rescue recently shot at and around the actual location in the north of the country. But “Thirteen Lives,” the Ron Howard-directed feature film on the same subject opted for Queensland, Australia instead.
Pichayanan said that his office is also considering proposing measures to ease Thailand’s bureaucratic burden on incoming foreign films and series.
These include: improving work permit procedures; reducing high import taxes on production equipment; straightening out state agencies’ confusing regulations for use of public areas; and removing the requirement for foreign actors take a blood test for syphilis. He made no specific reference to withholding taxes on foreign actors’ salaries, which local production service companies have been lobbying for government to reduce or remove, and no reference to easing of censorship or the script approvals regime.
The Thai economy has been badly hit by the COVID crisis, in particular the government’s botched response to vaccines, though vaccination rates are now catching up, and the minimal economic support measures that contrast with financial stimulus packages in developed nations.
The tourism industry has been particularly hard hit. Whereas 40 million visitors per year were expected before the pandemic, the total this year may be as low as 1-2 million. While Omicron variants of the coronavirus have now been found in Thailand, there have not yet been reports of its local transmission.
The military-led government this week said that, having opened its borders from the beginning of the tourism high season in November, it does not currently anticipate a return to lockdowns.