Thailand promotes its locations and film-making talent to the West

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 November, 2013, 6:30am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 November, 2013, 6:30am

The coming of age of horror cinema in Thailand might seem like an odd subject for a princess to address.

But Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya has become an ambassador for the nation's growing reputation as a hub for slasher, horror and monster films.

Recently the princess led a delegation of Thai officials, including the country's deputy prime minister and minister of commerce, in their first Los Angeles road show to promote the country's resources, talent and desirability as a film location.

"Through training, technological investments and exposure to foreign productions, the Thai film industry is now firmly established as one of the most dynamic and reliable production platforms in Asia," Princess Ubolratana said at a reception. "Already famous for its stunning locations and the friendliness of its people, Thailand is now offering highly skilled crews and state-of-the-art production, post and special effects services, at very competitive prices."

Thailand is the latest Asian country to roll out the red carpet for Hollywood. But it is playing catch-up.

Companies in India and China have already formed partnerships with a number of studios such as DreamWorks Animation, Walt Disney Studios and 21st Century Fox. They've also become key sources of low-cost labour for the outsourcing of animation and visual effects work.

Still, Thailand has a well-established film industry with state-of-the-art animation studios and production facilities. The nation's film and TV industry directly contributes US$2.22 billion to the local economy, supports 86,600 jobs and generates US$81 million in tax revenue, according to Oxford Economics. Homegrown movies, such as the 2004 horror film Shutter have been adapted in many countries.

This year alone, about 550 foreign productions filmed in Thailand, according to the country's film office. Its exotic geography has served as a location for such well-known movies as the Oscar-winning The Deer Hunter (1978), Good Morning Vietnam (1987), and the 1974 James Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun.

More recent Western films shot in Thailand include The Hangover Part II; the crime drama Only God Forgives, starring Ryan Gosling; and The Impossible, in which Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play tourists caught in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian ocean tsunami.

"They have superb resources, they're enthusiastic and they're hard-working," says Lawrence Sher, director of photography for The Hangover Part II, which filmed for three months in Thailand, mainly in Bangkok. "We really had a great experience with the Thai crew."

However, Thailand faces stiff competition. In animation, studios have long-standing relationships with companies in South Korea, India, Canada and New Zealand.

Thailand "can be a very important market for animation production, but they're not there yet", says Cort Lane, vice-president of animation development and production for Marvel Television. Thailand does not offer a film tax credit programme, though it waives income taxes on actors' salaries and is weighing further inducements.

"We might have to consider a more attractive incentive package, but we are just getting started," says Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, deputy prime minister and minister of commerce for Thailand. "We have good locations, beaches, the forests, culture and we also have skilled crew people at low cost."