Taiwan-based movie productions are increasing thanks to both domestic and international efforts.
With the whole world as an option, competition for filming destinations is fierce. But thanks to a mix of government-backed financing, talented and cost-effective crews, and a host of scenic areas in close proximity, Taiwan is seeing a steady rise in foreign companies choosing it as a shooting location for films and commercial productions.
“There has always been interest in shooting [in Taiwan], but throughout Covid-19, there was even more because we never shut down,” says Luke Cameron, owner of the Taipei-based company Stone Soup Productions. “And now that the country is open again, we’re seeing more producers and directors coming in to work on their projects with us rather than remotely.”
Throughout its 10 years of filming in Taiwan, Stone Soup Productions has shot commercial content, documentaries, and feature films for a broad cross-section of clients and industries, including HBO, NBC Universal, Sony, and Subway. It has also won The Borderless Production Award from the Media Innovator Awards (a global B2B digital publishing group based in Canada) in 2021 and 2022, proving Taiwanese-based creative companies can compete and win on the world stage.
“We’re seeing an increase in film and TV companies here in Taiwan, which will continue as more content is needed locally for online subscription-based apps,” Cameron notes. “Netflix has offices here now, as does Disney and even CNN. The uptick in commercials and corporate productions will also continue, as Taiwan is a major player in economic growth in Asia, including electronics and manufacturing.”
The potential benefits of hosting a major production are massive. Along with being a creative platform for talent, movies can provide locations with international recognition. For the 2008 romantic musical drama Cape No. 7, southern Taiwan saw a considerable upsurge in tourism following the film’s release.
Filmed entirely in the south of Taiwan and directed by Taiwanese screenwriter and director Wei Te-sheng, Cape No. 7 became Taiwan’s highest-grossing domestic film, earning almost US$14 million. Beyond the dollars, it scooped six awards at the Golden Horse Awards (regarded as the Oscars for Chinese-language films) and firmly put Taiwan’s production talents on the global stage.
Other Asian examples include Tomb Raider, which used Siam Reap in Cambodia as a shooting location. The ancient root-riddled city and temples of Angkor have since seen a large increase in visitor numbers, ensuring the preservation of this UNESCO site.
Cameron says his company has noticed an increase in foreign companies looking to shoot in Taiwan rather than China, citing China’s strict laws, anti-Covid measures, and higher-priced crews. Taiwan, in contrast, “is a democratic island with multiple kinds of landscapes and climates,” he notes. “There is a strong English presence here, and film crews are up to date with shooting practices used in North America and elsewhere.”
Budgetary benefits are also a factor in choosing Taiwan as a location. “The cost of crews is slightly lower here than in the United States or Canada, and your dollar will go further on longer shoots,” Cameron says.
But Cameron believes there’s more the government can do to attract production to Taiwan. The Taiwan government could “make their tax breaks more lucrative for productions and easier to understand. At the moment, they offer some, but [the regulations] are hard to understand, and there’s not much information on their website.”
Financing, film crews, and local knowledge
Compared with Hong Kong, Taiwan’s film industry has struggled to gain international traction in the past. One factor was the previous lack of interest by the government in investing in the domestic film industry. Lan Tsu-wei, president of the Taiwan Film & Audiovisual Institute, says that in the 1980s and ’90s, Taiwanese money went to sponsoring Hong Kong movies – such as Wong Kar-wai’s 1994 film Chungking Express – rather than Taiwanese films.
“Hong Kong movies were much more advantageous than Taiwanese,” Lan says. “They were more commercial, and they knew how to talk to the audience. Wong Kar-wai especially also has the ability to organize all kinds of movie stars for his films.”
For example, Chungking Express featured Hong Kong’s Tony Leung, one of Asia’s most successful and internationally recognized movie stars, as well as Taiwanese star Brigitte Lin, Chinese singer Faye Wong, and Taiwanese Japanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro. Such casts would draw attention from audiences from several countries.
But as the Taiwan government establishes comprehensive content creation support, that is now changing. One example is the Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA). Established in 2019 by Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture, TAICCA aims to promote innovative growth in domestic creative content by supporting production development and overseas market distribution.
With the goal of licensing Taiwanese-produced content to overseas markets, TAICCA participates in up to 20 international festivals and trade fairs annually. It also assists overseas creative businesses looking to use Taiwanese locations, crews, and on-camera talent.
TAICCA provides filmmakers with several grants. For feature films and series, the organization will finance 3% of a production’s budget, up to NT$2 million. For documentaries, which generally require less money than feature films, TAICCA will finance 10% of the budget, up to NT$2 million. And for short and long-form animation series, up to NT$3 million in funding can be provided toward 15% of the production.
For a feature film, series, documentary, or documentary series to be eligible for funding, it must include “Taiwan elements” in at least two of the following four categories: story concept, character setting, creative team, and adaptation from texts.
Stone Soup Productions is one of many companies that have received assistance through TAICCA. “We finished a three-week-long project they funded alongside a 3D LiDar scanning group from the UK at the end of 2022,” says Cameron. “Some people from TAICCA came out and observed the project and were very helpful throughout. TAICCA is also becoming more creatively involved with film and immersive content.”
For filmmakers wanting TAICCA to assume a more significant role in their production, a program is also offered in which TAICCA takes on the role of international co-funding and co-production partner. This program is aimed at the film industry’s elite, including directors or producers nominated for Cannes, Venice, Berlin International Film Festival, or the Academy Awards. It’s also open to international channels and streaming platforms.
Co-funding and production financing under this program supports up to 30% of the total budget, with a cap of US$300,000. Requirements are that the production has international distribution and co-financing, has secured 70% of its total budget, and has eligible “Taiwan elements” in its main crew, story, and/or language. Additionally, cast, shooting location, production crew, and/or post-production must be from or completed in Taiwan.
Izero Lee, CEO of TAICCA, says that since 2021 the organization has already invested in around 20 projects from various countries, including Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, Nepal, Norway, Portugal, and Singapore.
Another organization providing funding is the Taipei Film Fund. For a production to be eligible, it needs to work with local crews and/or post-production facilities, have a Taipei city reference, or have at least 25% of scenes shot in Taipei.
Taipei Film Fund is provided by the Taipei Film Commission (TFC), which was launched in 2018. It is Taiwan’s first governmental investment scheme that targets international co-production or co-financed projects exclusively. With this fund, there’s no cap on the invested amount for each project, and the TFC also offers location scouting, shooting support, and free marketing services. It’s a comprehensive incentive package that enables foreign production companies to have everything ready before they even hit the ground in Taiwan.
With the global reach and availability of streaming platforms far outstripping those of cinemas, more content is required to satisfy audiences’ appetites. Big productions are now being shot outside Hollywood’s main areas and Bollywood, the world’s traditional film-producing powerhouses, with Southeast Asia providing ready audiences for local content.
Netflix is a prime example of a content producer making films and TV shows in numerous locations aimed at both the global market and specific regions. And with offices in Taiwan, Netflix is deeply involved with several Taiwanese productions.
“The definition of a global show or film is shifting because of the rise of streaming. Great stories can come from anywhere and be loved everywhere,” says Shawn Yang, head of public policy at Netflix Taiwan and Hong Kong. “For a show to be loved globally or become ‘global’ content, we believe it has to feel authentic to local audiences, and that can only be achieved if the show or film is made locally.”
The traditional way of filmmaking often entailed large film crews flying overseas to film specific scenes, a time-consuming and expensive approach. But an increase in cinematic education and domestic production has made it possible to localize production to a higher degree.
“We also lean on the expertise and insights of the local industry and our content partners to help us achieve this vision and elevate Chinese language content to the next level,” says Yang.
Local cultures and stories are presented to global audiences, with many regional legends, beliefs, and characters being shared widely. The 2022 Taiwanese horror film Incantation, directed by Kevin Ko, is a perfect example. The film was released in Taiwan cinemas on March 18 last year and became the highest-grossing Taiwanese horror film of all time. It received international distribution from Netflix on July 8, 2022.
“Authentically told stories have the power to travel beyond borders,” says Yang. “We’re breaking down geographical, language, and cultural borders with great storytelling, or what Director Bong [Joon-ho] called the ‘one-inch barrier’ (of subtitles).”
Yang says Netflix started investing in original Taiwanese content in 2018 because it sees the market as a viable place to test a variety of content genres, including genres that are underrepresented on screen.
Successful locally produced shows include The Victims’ Game, Light The Night, Mom, Don’t Do That!, and Incantation. And according to Yang, content originating from Taiwan has proven popular with Mandarin speakers in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Netflix doesn’t operate in China.
With talented crews and creatives on hand, a subtropical island with plenty of sunny days for filming, a vast array of natural and artificial locations, and financial incentives, Taiwan is fast emerging as a premier filming location. Whether international production companies will take advantage of these benefits on a larger scale remains to be seen.
But in the long run, it may not even matter. With several international successes, Taiwan’s home-grown talent base is proving, production by production, that quality and unique creativity are hallmarks of Taiwanese film and TV crews, writers, and directors.