Film Industry in Thailand – A Producer’s Guide
| 15 MIN READ |
Written by Marco Neveu
History of the film industry in Thailand
Most remarkable films shot in Thailand
Music Videos, Documentaries and Short Films
For many of you, the film industry in Thailand is, for the most part, a mystery. And to be fair, to shoot a film here, you don’t actually need to know it. If there is anything relevant that you’d need to know, we will let you know it beforehand. But those who are on the fence about shooting here because of uncertainty or simply want to know more about what the state of the art of cinema in Thailand is like, this goes out to you, dear reader.
In this blog, I’ll cover the topics in a rather introductory and superficial way, only going into the meat of the matter in their own dedicated post.
History of the film industry in Thailand
Thailand is now one of the hottest countries in Asia for film productions, with incredibly skillful cast and crew and all kinds of film equipment. But this is a rather recent development, 25 years ago the Thai film industry was still rather young and very local. To be frank, the history of Thailand’s film industry isn’t really well known, if at all except for the most basic things which I will of course cover.
But it pretty much traces its history back to the start of the 20th Century and has been evolving ever since, in conjunction with Hollywood and other influences, from France to Japan. Often times it has struggled to be itself, to find its own unique traits and niche like how Bollywood or K-drama carved their own huge market. Yet the Thai film industry and it’s products have, remarkably, endured and grown a lot since the turn of the century. Year by year, film producers, artists, directors, cinematographers, and film crew are trained in the various film programs propping up in universities and schools around the country.
One thing to know about the history of the film industry in Thailand is its close link to the Royal family and politics. Film has been brought over and heavily sponsored by the Royal family in its twilight years. Thai cinema has also often been the playing ground of politicians. And since those years a Film Board has existed, meticulously controlling the film industry and censoring the things that they have considered out of line. To us, a film production service company, we contact and work with the Film Board to make shooting your films in Thailand possible. Hopefully, if you read more about the industry’s history you will understand more about the importance and power this mainstay of the industry has.
When it comes special cast and crew, to the mise-en-scene, you truly need a competent team that can perform and conform with the international industry standard. And in many ways, Thailand takes the extra mile here. Whether you are looking for a special kind of cast, like stunt performers, dancers or animal performers: Thailand has them and they are very good. An example would be perhaps stuntmen for action scenes, many of them in Thailand are professionals in MMA and especially Muay Thai, being the home of this popular martial art and all that. They have had a lot of experience through the sheer amount of action films shot in Thailand, many of these are Hollywood film productions.
But I think the most important to mention is the art department. With our experience working with art directors in Thailand, we know first hand of the dedication and skill they put into realizing your vision and needs. Whatever you need on set, from costumes and props to building set pieces, the professionals we work with will make it work for you. They can transform a Thai back-street to an alley in Japan, Vietnam or even the US. Many film producers we have worked with have noticed the dedication art directors and crews put into building sets, sticking perfectly to deadlines.
Most people would agree that the visionary behind a film is its director. In Thailand a few directors have really marked its cinematic history, a few others are now representing the changing trends, culture, and society of this vibrant country. I would like to explore and show you some of the biggest names in the Thai film industry along with their trademark films in another blog post coming up soon.
Conforming to the booming art scene in Thailand, there is an increasing amount of art, music and culture festivals being organized. A notable example you might have heard of is the ‘Coachella of Asia’: Wonderfruit. Most people think of the partying and dancing, but most of the events and stalls are actually representing Thailand’s entire art scene: from food to architecture, and TED-like talks to films. Every year you can expect at least some short films to be shown along with art installations and food stalls. And for most culture festivals, small indie films are a staple.
But when it comes to ‘pure’ film festivals, there are again many to chose from each with a different approach to the art. Some festivals are sponsored by the Film Board and officials and benefit from big sponsors and industry members, often with their own award ceremonies and a red carpet just like Cannes, BAFTA or the Oscars. There are also reputed festivals dedicated to their own niches such as World cinema or indie films aiming to expand their audiences by giving regular people chance to discover their artistry. Many are actually sponsored by the various embassies, spreading their own nation’s cultures.
Thanks to Bangkok’s art community you can also expect some smaller festivals who present underground content, complete with a bohemian approach that is often missing from the larger film festivals. While the crowd might be simple film aficionados rather than professional film producers and directors and are more inclined to cheap beer, sometimes it’s good to take a break from the champagne and industry bubble (right?). Of these smaller festivals, many focus on the social issues or politics tackled by the films or documentaries, often accompanied by talks and discussions. Personally, for artistic and cinematic expression, Thailand has never brimmed with so much life. If there’s any moment to check out Thailand’s film festivals, its right now.
Thailand has had a lot of film movements, but its most recent and in my opinion the most interesting are the recent independent films. A wild departure from corny and formulaic films whose only worth are its entertainment value (hopefully most of the time), these films are generally truly art. With young producers, directors, and artists, these films don’t aim for a wider mainstream audience but much like the films at Sundance, they aim for a niche crowd: either dialling up the corniness by 100% much like Sharknado or tackling more serious subjects and themes like homosexuality, radically departing from traditionalist and often closed-minded views generally embraced by mainstream media and entertainment in Thailand. There is also a variety of experimental projects and short films, the most notable once going on to screenings at Sundance or Cannes and sometimes, even winning awards.
In a dedicated blog post, I will list some of the most important indie films produced in Thailand that might interest you.
Most Remarkable Films shot in Thailand
I might have mentioned a few times that a lot of Hollywood films were shot in Thailand, keeping Thailand’s film industry on its toes to produce big film productions that require the professionalism of a western crew.
While Thailand offers a variety of locations for shooting, the foreign film production service industry was really born in the post-Vietnam War era when artists decided to translate their experiences onto the big screen. As such many of the most remarkable films were shot in Thailand for its resemblance to Vietnam and its ease of access. Shooting war films isn’t the easiest, and Thailand has had to learn to deal with big foreign film productions starting with one of the most intensive and epic genres.
Thailand has also served as a set piece where it’s, sometimes, clichéd reputation of ladyboys, nightlife, and corruption has served as the backdrop of many international films. As I have mentioned earlier, our reputed martial artists and stuntmen have also been highly coveted, especially considering many films shot in Thailand were action films. Many of these action films have gone down to become classics, but a few went down rather as cult classics (like the few Mortal Kombat films, *sigh* *cringe*, truly remarkable).
I will run down some of the most remarkable films shot in Thailand. I’ll keep it restrained to those who have had more than only a few scenes shot here. But I will have to give an honourable mention to two films who shot a little bit here. The first is the Battle of Hydaspes in Alexander by Oliver Stone, a remarkable feat of production using the Royal Thai Army as extras with war elephants and period costumes. The second, rather boring but nevertheless a fun fact is the approach to Kashyyk in Star Wars Episode III, yes the movie sucked but those were nice shots (later filled with CGI of course).
Asian horror movies are often considered a class of their own, and Thai horror has a special place in the mix. With a rather big cult following online and quite popular in the rest of Asia, Thai horror films have recently found a little surge in popularity in the West thanks to internet and meme culture. Often with small production budgets, these films offer a special kind of horror that has a heavy base in local folklore and superstition. The sense of dread and fear in these films aren’t really existential like cosmic horror or don’t really deal with the same sense of morality as you’d get from horror with a Judeo-Christian basis like The Exorcist. Horror film aficionados know the merits of J-Horror (like The Grudge) and if that is the kind of thrill you enjoy, Thai horror has a lot of the same roots (a lot of grudges, and women with long black hair and white dresses to be exact). Well, horror films in Thailand aren’t really sophisticated, to be honest, but they are a lot of fun. Violence and jump scares are what people know them for, along with some of the weird unique eerie ambiance that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the film.
Horror films are probably one of the most popular local film genres in Thailand, benefitting from rather cheap film productions and a big audience. Maybe it’s the heat that makes people seek a chilling experience. And unexpected take on horror by some directors in Thailand is the blend of comedy and horror, one moment you might be catching your breath from laughter when a jump scare cuts your breath completely.
I’ll also dedicate a blog post to list some unique/exciting horror films that really capture the experience or simply some of the films that export well to other countries.
Music Videos, Documentaries and Short Films
At Umoon Productions, we have worked on many music videos, a lot of which we still watch and jam to. Thailand is a major tourist destination and music videos shot here often play on peoples wanderlust. Often using the tropical beaches, vibrant nightlife or even martial arts to frame the music videos, these make people dream of a world so different from their own.
Thailand has also hosted a lot of documentaries, yet filming permits can be strict when it comes to showing a real Thailand, nevertheless, there are real stories to be found and told here and we will get you that story.
There are also a lot of short films shot in Thailand, and for the growing artistic community, short films are an easier gateway into cinema and festivals both local and international.
Again I will list some of our staff picks for some of our favorite music videos, short films, and documentaries soon.
Cinema photo from Thai World View
Pen Ek Natanarung-Film Director photo from Alliance Francaise Bangkok
“Wonderfruit Festival” photo from Travel Begins at 40
Indie Films – Bangkok Screening Room photo by Bangkok Post
Horror Film photo by FILMDOO