Asian cinema ready to unite

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Phasit Wacharatham is keen to explore more coproduction opportunities with Chinese partners.

Phasit, founder and chief executive of Locman2011, a film-production company in Thailand, said he expects to see more coproduction in Asia's film and TV industry. He was in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region last month for the Hong Kong International Film and TV Market, or Filmart, a cross-media, cross-industry trading platform.

"We met representatives of film production companies from Beijing, Nanjing and Hong Kong and discussed plans for future cooperation," said Phasit, whose company works mainly with Chinese customers in film, streaming media, drama and TV commercials.

Filmart, held from March 11 to 14 and organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, attracted more than 7,500 participants from 50 countries and regions. There were 760 exhibitors from 27 countries and regions.

During the event, leading Chinese TV production companies such as Linmon Pictures announced plans for overseas projects, including Under the Skin, a Thai remake of a Chinese series, and the local series The Fairest Lady.

During Filmart Linmon Pictures also showcased the trailer for the Thai remake of its popular drama series Nothing but Thirty.

"I think there will be more coproduced films in the Asian market," Phasit said, noting that there are already Chinese movies starring Thai actors and Singaporean movies filmed in Thailand.

Locman2011 has worked with Chinese partners to produce films such as Thai Flavor and Kuang Zhan, TV series such as The Doll Master, and commercials for Chinese brands, including the dairy company Yili Group and the technology company Huawei.

Before Phasit set up his own company in 2011 he worked with the Matching Studio Public Company, now known as Matching Maximize Solution Public Company, a media producer in Thailand, and has rich experience in working with industry professionals from various countries, China in particular.

"Over the next five years we hope to work with Chinese companies to coproduce works worth no less than 1 billion baht ($27.45 million)," Phasit said.

The production capacity of the Asian film market will further expand and there will be more collaboration between investors and film production houses, he said.

Asia plays an important role in the global film and TV industry, with China being the world's second-biggest box office market and Japan being the third-biggest. India's Bollywood movies have achieved global popularity, and movies from South Korea and Japan have gained international recognition by winning Oscars.

Revenue of the Asia-Pacific video industry is estimated to have reached $145 billion last year, a figure forecast to rise to $165 billion annually by 2028, the consultancy Media Partners Asia said in a report.

Growing markets

"As the film markets in Asia are growing, companies, producers and filmmakers want to access those markets," said Thomas Barker, an honorary associate professor at the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra.

There is an opportunity to find new talent, discover a great breakout title, look for ways to expand the business, or explore new opportunities in a new market, Barker said.

"Broadly, coproductions are seen as a way to access investment and spread risk."

Sirisak Koshpasharin, vice-chairman of the Motion Pictures and Contents Association of Thailand, said Hong Kong's film market is considered one of the best places for those in the industry to meet each other and forge partnerships.

"Southeast Asians have grown up with Hong Kong content," said Sirisak, who was among the speakers at the Asia Content Business Summit during Filmart.

"We grew up with a lot of kung fu movies, and Hong Kong is considered one of the leaders in the film industry."

To promote coproduction in the film and TV industry, many Asian countries have adopted various measures to attract filmmakers overseas.

The Korean Film Council in South Korea provides a cash rebate of up to 25 percent of expenses incurred domestically for internationally coproduced and foreign projects shot in South Korea.

Thailand provides a rebate of 15 to 20 percent to foreign production with local spending of more than 50 million baht, with a maximum rebate of 150 million baht per project.

Forty-nine projects benefited from the incentive measures from 2017 to March last year, with 33 projects having received their rebate, four projects being considered and 12 projects now shooting, the Motion Pictures and Contents Association of Thailand said.

In Saudi Arabia, which has a thriving film industry, the government offers cash rebates of up to 40 percent on local production spending while providing support to get licenses and approval for a variety of unique shooting locations.

In the Philippines the FilmPhilippines Office was designed to revitalize the Philippine Film Export Services Office, which was established in 2007, to facilitate the institutionalization of a one-stop-shop system for foreign film and TV production, said Manet Dayrit, chief executive of Central Digital Lab Inc, a local postproduction company.

The FilmPhilippines Office offers location incentives to attract a range of international film and audiovisual projects for full-on production and postproduction in the country, as well as to foreign producers looking to do international coproduction with Filipino producers, Dayrit said.

Skills transfer

When different countries coproduce films together, she said, it allows the transfer of technology, knowledge and skills.

"We also (learn to) embrace each other's cultures and help each other's film industry (to grow) through coproductions."

Echoing her view, Fred Wang Cheung-yue, chairman of the pan-Asian facilities and movie services group Salon Films of Hong Kong, said film and TV coproduction is about collaboration in culture.

"Every country is now developing their own content. Asian culture should be put in a good position that everybody will learn from … neighbors nearby."

Wang said this will help countries develop quality film and TV products by developing their own culture rather than relying too much on Western-style products such as those from Hollywood.

A good reason for coproduction is that when countries work together on a film, it encourages cultural exchange, which in turn helps create more diversity in society, Wang said.

Kamil Othman, chairman of the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia, said Southeast Asian countries can learn from the European Union when it comes to coproduction, with European film producers working together to develop and market their movies to the whole EU.

"We have been proposing this (to ASEAN) for many years."

Government support is needed for more coproductions, he said.

Dwi Heriyanto, chief executive of Produksi Film Negara (State Film Productions) in Indonesia, said Asian countries need to first identify each country's characteristics and room for improvement because they vary greatly in terms of culture, language and market progress.

Some collaborative efforts entail a comprehensive analysis of each country's strengths and weaknesses in content creation for coproduction, Heriyanto said.

"For example, countries with a rich cultural heritage such as Indonesia can focus on producing culturally relevant content, while countries with advanced technology infrastructure can contribute technical expertise."

Phasit of Locman2011 has also experienced how language barriers can hinder film coproduction.

Working with his partners on a Singaporean movie, he said, all communication was done in English, and Thai actors had to memorize their lines in English.

"There are also movies filmed in Thai, but we need to add Mandarin subtitles."

Digital technology

With digital technology transforming the world, including the film and TV industry, Kamil of the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia said that technologies such as artificial intelligence are merely tools.

"At the end of the day, it is no different from the word processor."

What is more important in scriptwriting is to find things that touch the heart, he said.

"If you had to rely on AI to interpret your story, it is not close to your heart."

AI helps in certain areas of film production, but a human brain is also needed, he said.

Wang of Salon Films said it is natural that people of different regions communicate with each other and create new cultures, and he pointed to the Belt and Road Initiative, born of the concept of cross-border exchange thousands of years ago.

"In the content industry, hopefully, everybody has a good culture and can exchange with each other to create a better culture."

Apart from challenges in language and cultural differences, Barker of the Australian National University said, few resources are available for individuals or companies wanting to undertake coproduction, and information posted on the websites of film agencies in different countries is often incomplete.

"Building better resources is important as this will lead to greater transparency and provide clarity."

More funding and support for independent and non-mainstream filmmakers is also needed, he said.

Thanks to the internet and streaming services, there is now a lot more access to content from across Asia, so filmmakers and consumers are no longer limited to their domestic market, Barker said.

In addition to the rapid spread of film and TV content across the region, he said, film festivals contribute to the strong network of regional filmmakers, which presents opportunities for collaboration and investment from numerous sources.

Locman2011 said it will be among the few delegations from Thailand to take part in the 14th Beijing International Film Festival from April 19 to 22, and Phasit said he hopes to convince more Chinese companies to visit Thailand to film.

"China has one of the world's biggest entertainment and media markets, and Thailand has many talented directors and scriptwriters."

Many Thai film directors lack funding and opportunity, he said.

He said he hopes the governments of China and Thailand can work more closely together to encourage coproduction in the film and TV industry and create more opportunities for investors and directors to connect, which will greatly boost the film markets of both countries.

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