Jump to the content zone at the center

Department of Cultural Affairs

Feature Story

Taipei Film Commission Connecting dreams with reality in the film industry

Renowned U.S. filmmaker John Carpenter once said that his three Ps for making films are passion, patience, and perseverance. Be it famous or rising filmmakers, making movies is undoubtedly a long journey involving the three Ps. It is also arguably true that knowing where to get the material support is crucial to the filmmaking venture.

In January 2008, Taipei City Government set up the Taipei Film Commission (TFC), a multifunctional organization that provides location scouting, liaison with all necessary government and private agencies, co-production, marketing, and talent training. It aims to transform Taipei into a premier destination for film and television productions in Asia.

Film crew of British-German joint collaboration “Chinese” shoot a scene at the Grand Hotel in Taipei.The film commission has provided assistance to more than 127 TV and film productions in 2009, including 18 international collaborations; within five months from January to the end of May this year, 139 producers and filmmakers had come to the TFC for help.

The number of assisted cases not only translates into time and effort spent on realizing filmmakers’ dreams, it also means boosting the local economy and creating employment opportunities.

According to the TFC, as many as 4,000 employment opportunities were added since the launch of the commission and generated NT$1.2 billion in economic benefits.

Lee Lieh, producer of the local box-office hit “Monga,” said shooting films in Taipei used to involve a lot of hassle. “But with help from professional crews from TFC, finding locations and shooting scenes in Taipei have become a lot easier.”

“Monga” was one of the two local films that won the shooting grants from the city government in 2009. Films that either win shooting subsidies from Taipei City, or films that grab major awards at the Taipei Film Festival, get free marketing support. The same goes for a film with at least one-fourth identifiable images shot in and of Taipei.

One of the main shooting locations of “Monga” was in Bo-Pi-Liao old street area in Wanhua District, Taipei City. The high box-office return and free media exposure turned Bo-Pi-Liao into a popular tourist attraction for local and international visitors, and business in nearby stores spiked more than 10 times.

Winning the support from the TFC, rising director Arvin Chen was able to shoot his first feature “One Page Taipei” inside Taipei’s MRT stations and trains. This was the first time that the Taipei MRT agreed to allow filmmakers to do so.

“No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti,” filmmaker Leon Dai’s feature that won the grand prize at the Taipei Film Festival last year,” borrowed help from the TFC and shot one of its major scenes on the overpass at Zhongxiao East Road near the highly-guarded Presidential Office.

The Taiwan-France co-production “Face” directed by auteur Tsai Ming-liang received assistance from the TFC when Tsai was looking for locations to shoot the flooding and raining scenes. The TFC went to the Council for Cultural Affairs and asked whether it could set up water pipe lines at the Huashan Culture Park and borrow 600 tons of water from Taipei Water Department to produce the effect Tsai desired.

Why shoot in Taipei?

TFC Director Jennifer Jao said TFC is a friendly organization that aims to provide help to filmmakers around the world to make films in Taipei. “Taipei is a city suitable for shooting and making films. It is a small but comfortable and convenient city,” she said in an interview with the Taiwan News on July 13. “You can go to any scenic spot in Taipei within an hour drive.”

Production crew of “Eternal Flames,” a TV drama produced by a Thailand company, shoot a scene at the Yangmingshan National Park in Taipei.This easy accessibility helps to form a cluster of talent in Taipei, “moreover, filmmakers enjoy utmost freedom and liberty when shooting their films in Taipei,” she said.

China also wants to become the most popular filmmaking destination in Asia, but it is a big country with many different customs and cultural habits. In addition to the fact that the wages of Chinese workers is rising, the censorship system in the film industry makes China a less friendly place for filmmaking compared with Taipei.

But China is not the only competitor in the region.

In 2008, Taipei bid to collaborate in the film “Happy End” directed by Arnaud and Jean-Maire Larrieu against Singapore, Seoul, Kyoto, and Hong Kong. The Kyoto side had even suggested covering accommodation expenditure for the film crew.

Taipei was finally chosen because of its hot springs and the easy-going personality of Taiwan people.

Jao said international filmmakers do not hold high expectations before coming to Taipei. But upon arrival, they usually change their plans and stay here longer than expected.

Take the British-German joint film collaboration “Chinese” for example. The film crew originally planned to shoot in Taipei for only three days. But in the end they spent 20 days shooting a whole lot of landscapes of Miaoli and Hualien. The TFC was the host who showed the film crew across Taiwan.

The Indian film crew of “Devru” initially thought of shooting a 10-minute scene of Taipei in its latest production, but the beauty of Taipei drove them to extend it to nearly an hour, Jao said. The first Taiwan-China co-production “Snowfall in Taipei” was entirely shot in Taipei.

China, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea are all competitive rivals, but Taipei certainly has its advantages, she said. Compared with Taipei, the standard of living in Japan is relatively high. But Taipei outperforms Seoul in terms of English-speaking proficiency.

Together for a better future

Jao said the international cooperation between Taiwan and international filmmakers could serve as a major boost to Taiwan’s film and TV industry.

Taiwan’s TV production crew of “Ni Yada” shoot a scene at the Presidential Office in Taipei.Many local people are passionate about filmmaking, but the environment does not allow them to bring out the best of their talent. “I often see local filmmakers selling tickets on the street for their new films,” she said, “but shouldn’t they be focusing on cinematic creation rather than selling tickets?”

With international teams coming to Taipei for filmmaking, local talents acquire a broader perspective; they also bring in more co-production and job opportunities.

It’s still too early to say whether Taiwan’s film and TV industry will go boom or bust, even though the number of people going to cinema for locally-made movies is going up, said Jao.

In her view, local commercial films such as “Monga” and “Cape No. 7” are essential for the development of the local film industry. Taiwan was known for art house films in the 1990s, but commercial films sustain the industry, she added.

Her biggest concern is the drastic pace with which Taiwan’s film and TV talents are flowing into China.

The TFC is a multifunctional commission and need not be compared with the Kaohsiung Film Commission or with the Taichung Film Commission.

“Filmmakers can apply for shooting grants from Taipei Film Commission and at the same time go for subsides from Kaohsiung Film Commission,” she said. “We should work together for a win-win future.”

In March, the TFC launched a new service—the production concessionary card that gives discount on accommodation, dining, transportation, and laundry for filmmakers and producers when they shoot films in Taipei. The 60 participating business partners working with the TFC provide up to 40 percent discount to the cardholders.

In May, the TFC inked cooperation deals with Ile de France Film Commission at the Cannes Film Festival, marking a big step forward for the commission.

For more information about the TFC.