INTRODUCTION

The history of the film industry in Thailand can be traced back to the year 1897 where a play called ‘Parisian Cinematograph’ was shown by a foreigner to the Thai public. The play was considered the first film shown in Thailand. Later in 1924, Henry McRay, an American Producer from Universal Productions conducted the first film production in Thailand by shooting the film ‘Nang Sao Suwan (Miss Suwanna of Siam)’, using Thai actors and actresses. This was the starting point where the Thai film production industry is believed to emerge. However, film was not common at that time due to high ticket prices and only became affordable to the public around 1897-1906.

Film industry is among the most popular and important forms of entertainment and digital content industry in Thailand. According to the Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA), the digital content industry, which includes film industry, generates thousands of millions to Thailand’s industrial market and is also expected to expand each year. The fact that film can easily reach large numbers of people, regardless of gender, age, or location, makes it a powerful tool for disseminating information such as arts, cultures, traditions, beliefs, as well as advertisements for goods and services. Moreover, film industry can also contribute to the increased employment for local people and the competitiveness of service businesses, as well as provide an opportunity for expanding businesses at both domestic and international levels.

According to the Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce, the income generated from the Thai film industry from both domestic and export is worth more than 26,000 million THB. This income includes income from film making outsourcing, film production, and post-production service, as well as foreign filming service in Thailand (location shooting). Due to the high market value of this industry, it attracts a wide number of investors and businessmen, as well as public stakeholders. However, even though there are countless of films available on the market, the choice of providers seems to be limited. In the past, there used to be a lot of local and standalone cinemas throughout Thailand, while nowadays, film providers are limited to only a few big companies. Since big companies would usually show Hollywood or high-budget films as they tend to make more profit, independent or local films can be seen to struggle with finding showing time.

Nevertheless, as the digitalization around the world has radically changed the consumers’ behavior of consuming films; from going to cinemas to streaming films online at home. Thailand is among many countries which are affected by this phenomenon. Moreover, due to the COVID-19 situation where going to cinemas is restricted, watching films at home seems to be a perfect entertainment alternative. In the past, movies were usually made to be screened in cinemas, creating an exclusiveness to the access to the content, and as the time passed, they would be made accessible via DVDs or online. Therefore, in order for the consumers to be able to see fresh films, they would have to go to cinemas. However, in these days, more people have chosen to watch films on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu Plus. Since not only these streaming platforms offer a collection of films from the past to choose from, but they also create and produce their own original content and make such content available on the platforms without having to be shown in cinemas first. Moreover, the subscription fees for their services are relatively low, compared to the price of a single movie ticket. According to an online statistics portal, the number of users of the streaming platform ‘Netflix’ in Thailand has tripled within only two years from 105,000 users in 2017 to 358,000 users in 2019, and is expected to reach more than 546,000 users in 2020. The emergence of these online streaming platforms has completely changed the consumers’ experience of watching films. In addition, these streaming platforms can be seen to provide hope for independent and local films to be able to compete in this industry and offer more diverse choices of films to the audience.

The government of Thailand has recognized the potential of film industry to generate income into Thailand and promote Thai culture, tourism, products, and services. Thus, it has supported the development of Thai film industry by issuing numerous policies and measures to facilitate and enhance the businesses in this industry, including sending a group of Thai delegates to explore markets abroad, inviting international businessmen to a domestic trade negotiation and visit film sets in Thailand, and taking Thai directors and shooting crew to visit production sets abroad. These initiatives not only could lead to a positive impact on the trade, but also improve shooting skills of Thai personnel and technology. In addition, the Department of International Trade Promotion has been building partnerships with organizations and organizing activities to promote trade and investment with foreign countries, aiming to increase the export value of the industry. Moreover, film industry in Thailand also receives support from international stakeholders, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Japanese government. In 2019, the UNESCO, with financial support from Japan, launched the “Mobilizing Film Professionals for Cooperation in Asia” initiative, which aims to enhance skills, knowledge, and collaboration among film professionals and policy makers in Thailand and across ASEAN. Concerning the trend of online streaming services, as well as the domestic and global efforts to support and promote the film industry in Thailand, it can be seen that this industry could be a promising arena for investors and businessmen to play in.

FILMING IN THAILAND

Thailand has a lot to offer when it comes to filming services. Not only it has diversified geographical scenery that can act as stunning shooting locations, but also rich historical and cultural heritage which can form unique storylines for films. Thailand has been featured in many films worldwide, including Hollywood blockbusters ‘The Hangover Part II’, which was filmed in Bangkok and later sparked an international enthusiasm for the country’s city life, and ‘The Beach’, which was filmed in Maya Bay on Phi Phi Island and made the place a must-visit destination for tourists around the world. Moreover, Thailand also has talented and professional production crews and skilled cast who are recognized by many international film institutes. For these reasons, Thailand is among the most famous countries for filmmaking in the world.

Filming in Thailand is subject to regulations and guidelines issued by the government of Thailand and is governed by several relevant agencies, including the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, Film and Video Screening Office, Ministry of Culture, Thailand Film Office, Department of Tourism, Ministry of Tourism and Sports, and Ministry of Commerce. Foreign filmmakers who wish to film in Thailand need to apply for a filming permit with the Thailand Film Office (TFO) through an officially registered coordinator before entering Thailand. The officially registered coordinator is an agency who has been registered with the TFO as an authorized person to coordinate between the foreign production team and the responsible agencies in Thailand regarding licenses, permissions as well as legal documentation.

The coordinator will submit the filming permit application to the TFO on behalf of the foreign producer. Once the TFO has received the application, it shall propose such application to the Film, Video and Digital Media Committee for consideration. The consideration period of the Committee depends on the type of film applied for the permit. For TV commercials, music videos, TV programs, public relations and documentaries, the consideration period usually takes no longer than three working days to complete. For, docudramas, TV dramas, feature films, mini-series, and reality show, the consideration period will be completed within ten working days. Moreover, supporting documents required for the permit consideration are also different. For example, a storyboard is required for TV commercials, details of content and objectives of program presentation are required for TV programs, and a synopsis, a treatment (a detailed story of the film) and a final script are required for docudramas, TV dramas, feature films, mini-series and reality show. Once the decision of the Film, Video and Digital Media Committee has been made, the committee will notify the coordinator to liaise with the foreign producer and relevant government agencies for further proceedings.

In addition, in 2016 the government of Thailand also introduced incentive measures for foreign productions who wish to film in Thailand, with the aim to attract international filmmakers and increase the number of high-investment productions. According to the Thailand Film Incentive Measure Guideline 2017, foreign filmmakers who have been granted a film permit are eligible for up to 20% cash rebate, consisting of 15% main rebate and 5% (3%+2%) additional rebate. Productions with local spending in Thailand of more than 50 million baht are eligible for the main rebate of 15% of the spending. Moreover, if the productions employ Thai nationals in key creative and crew positions, and the productions represent positive images of Thailand such as its beautiful scenery, culture or traditions, they will be eligible for the additional cash rebate of 3% and 2% of the film production investment budget respectively.

According to the Thailand Film Office, the incentive measures have proved to be a great success. In 2019, the office reported six high-budget productions have applied for the incentive and already obtained cash rebates. Moreover, the number of productions applying for the incentive is also rising, including big-budget films from the United States who have applied for production expenses of 250 and 330 million baht each. Furthermore, the world’s leading media streaming platform “Netflix” is also reported to have applied for the incentive, with the expected expenses of 350 million baht.  In 2019, Thailand made over 4,800 million baht of revenue from foreign productions. As shown by the statistics, the highest number of foreign film productions come from European countries, followed by Japan and India, respectively.

It is very interesting to see countries like Thailand to have realized the potential of the film industry in being a significant source of income and to have taken concrete efforts to promote the country’s heritage and good images through films. Not only the Thai government provides structured and systematic procedures for filming in Thailand, but also offers incentives to boost investment from foreign productions. Therefore, Thailand could be considered one of the most enticing shooting locations for international filmmakers.

COMMENTS ON THE PROCEEDING TO FILM IN THAILAND AND THE REGULATION

On the regulation and proceeding to shoot in Thailand, H&P lawyers have prepared the following comments:

Before shooting the film, permission from the Thailand Film Office is required. The requirement and timeframe vary depending on the content, type and location of the production.

Before getting the permission

Documents Requirement

Apart from the application form, the applicant needs to submit the supporting documents declaring the details of the production, including; the treatment for documentary or storyboard for TV commercials; the list and details of the foreign film crew; the schedule date and location.

Besides, if the production includes the interview, the applicant shall submit the scripts, content and question for each interview or the permission letter from such person may be needed in some cases. Moreover, the applicant shall submit the letter allowing to use the location as well.

Coordinator

The applicant is required to engage the coordinator having the Certificate of Registration for Film Production Services Coordinators. This licensee shall be the person who coordinates with the Film Office from the beginning till after getting the permission.

Timeframe

Typically, the process will not take over 5-14 days. However, in case of negative content or adverse action towards Thailand or any government organization, the process will take longer as the Film Office needs to send the script to each organization mentioned to review first.

After getting the Permission.

Foreign Crew Work-Permit

If there is a foreign crew included in the production team, each person who will be working in Thailand over 15 days, is required to have a non-immigrant multiple type visa from the Immigration Department and the work permit from the Employment Department.

Film Office Representative

Throughout the shooting, there must be an officer from the Film Office to monitor the production assuring that the product is made within the scope of the permission. In case the location is outside Bangkok, the film maker shall cover all expenses of the officer i.e; transportation, food.

BOI INDUSTRIAL ZONE FOR MOTION PICTURE PRODUCTION (MOVIE TOWN)

Thailand Board of Investment provides 5 years Corporate Income Tax exemption to movie town projects. In order to obtain this tax incentive, the facilities must include:

– Indoor studio and outdoor studio

-Post production services, e.g. film developing and duplicating, special effects, computer animation, sound lab

If you need legal advice in Thailand for motion picture production and filming, please contact our lawyers at [email protected]

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