South East Asian neighbours Malaysia and Singapore seem headed for an era of wide-ranging film industry co-operation, according to FilmBiz Asia.
This could lead to the presentation of a formal bi-lateral co-production treaty between the two countries by the end of 2012.
In the short and medium term the moves are being driven by the impact of the Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios, which are now under construction within half an hour travel time from Singapore, and the prospect of Malaysian financial incentives being put in place to stimulate usage of the new studios.
The rapprochement between the two sometime rival states is also a reflection of longer term film industry trends, in particular the growth of film production and box office in Malaysia and, second, the realisation that neither has the global scale to make much of a difference on its own.
“We are small compared to regional giants like India and China,” said Mohd Naguib Razak, director general of Malaysia’s National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia (FINAS) Perbadana Kemajuan Filem Nasional Malaysia at an industry encounter yesterday in Kuala Lumpur. “But we want people to look internationally and start to earn revenues abroad.”
He said that the country’s animation sector had pointed the way and that fiction and documentary sectors could follow.
“TV has been a pioneer in Singapore-Malaysia co-operation, several Singapore titles have recently shot in Malaysia,” said Aubeck KAM (pictured, right), CEO of Singapore’s Media Development Authority (MDA). “We need now to think in terms of ‘Singapore Plus’, be open to co-productions and exploit IP on multiple platforms.”
The two sides were taking part in a three-day series of company visits, business matching opportunities and seminars that involved a visit to Kuala Lumpur by some 33 Singapore companies. A return visit to Singapore is expected to be arranged within a couple of months.
Proceedings on Tuesday’s day of discussions were kicked off with a presentation by Michael LAKE, CEO of the Pinewood Iskandar Studios project. He reported that the studios will have five state-of-the art sound stages for film and a further two dedicated TV stages.
These will be surrounded by a 10 acre backlot, workshops and a full range of post-production facilities that will enable a film to go from concept to digital master without leaving the site.
The co-production treaty is intended to be a “high quality agreement” that allows film-makers to combine the two countries’ available strengths, such as Malaysia’s range of locations and Singapore’s well-developed post-production facilities, while also creating a larger domestic market for the resulting titles.
It was not clear at this stage whether the eventual treaty will span film and television or only feature films, nor whether purely financial co-productions will be permitted.
But officials from both sides both stressed that the treaty be flexible enough to enable the participation of third party producers, and that it can be combined with the two countries’ existing collection of bilateral treaties. (Singapore has six. Malaysia is in advanced treaty negotiations with Australia.)
“We won’t set 49:51 ceilings on participation. We must leave room for third parties,” said Kam. “Both parties see their cooperation as at the heart of building a wider ASEAN regional film industry.”
One implication of treaty co-production is the dual nationality of the resulting films and those films’ access to local finance and national treatment on both sides of the border. Kam said that the MDA currently offers production finance of up to 40% of Singapore spending.
Razak said that FINAS and Malaysian government departments are also actively working on “multiple scenarios” for financial incentives. These could include rebates and other location attraction schemes.
A point of particular interest to the film-makers assembled at the Kuala Lumpur Hilton Hotel was the future of Malaysia’s “compulsory screenings” regulations. These currently require Malaysian cinemas to give two weeks of priority treatment to local films, and would by implication be extended to co-production films made under the proposed Malaysia-Singapore treaty.
The MDA’s Kam said that “it is not appropriate” that a matching requirement be introduced in Singapore, but he pointed out that Singapore provides government support for local films in domestic and international markets.
Away from the formal presentations, Malaysian officials said that compulsory screenings regulations are anyway to be relaxed as the number of Malaysian films reaching theatres increases.
Naguib said that 49 Malaysian films were released in 2011 and that market share had climbed to 21%.
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