International film makers boost Thai coffers

Thailand is by far the most popular regional site for foreign movie production.

One of Thailand’s hidden success stories during the pandemic has been the domestic film industry.  Over 70 foreign films have been made here during 2021, generating around US$250 million in revenue.  Prime minister Prayut Chan-ocha, in a recent speech, urged more cash incentives to encourage the big movie trend.  At present, if a production house spends more than 50 million baht in the kingdom and uses Thai workers alongside foreigners, it can get a cash rebate of up to 20 percent.

Thailand has hosted hundreds of foreign movies, especially US productions, in the last half century.  They have included The Ugly American, The Beach, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Killing Fields, The Deer Hunter, Star Wars III, Good Morning Vietnam, Tomorrow Never Dies and The Railway Man. This sheer diversity reflects Thailand’s many stunning locations as well as its skilled filming crews and good quality studios and props.

Hollywood star Russell Crowe, recently in Thailand, to shoot scenes for a Vietnam era movie The Greatest Beer Run Ever delighted the Thai public in general –  and the prime minister in particular – by praising the local hospitality, food and the Phuket Sandbox tourist program. Prayut stated that the government would “unlock” the movie-making business in the country to attract even more filmmakers.

Actor Russell Crowe in Gladiator (left) and as he is today.

What the prime minister has in mind is probably more discounts for companies which spend at least 100 million baht in the country: the thousands of foreign film staff are an important source of tourist revenue.  He also favors concessions in the visa rules for foreign filmmakers who currently require a non-immigrant visa and a separate work permit if they are here for longer than 15 days.  The process is sometimes slow and bureaucratic.

So far this year, Bangkok has been the most popular location for mega-cash international movies, followed by (in order) Phuket, Samut Prakan, Pathum Thani, Phangnga and Chiang Rai.  Pattaya has at least two professional media companies.  Much of their work has been digital advertising, shoot music videos, weddings, experimental movies, news etc. Historically, the most famous Pattaya-based documentary was Big Trouble in Thailand which, almost 20 years ago, recounted the sometimes-controversial work of the tourist police and its foreign volunteers based mostly in the sexpot Walking Street.  Of course, it is now derelict.