Even as physical borders face travel restrictions, Asian film professionals are confident that co-productions can flourish in the region.

Liza Diño-Seguerra, chairman and chief executive officer of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), said, “Something I see now is the regional cooperation happening among Southeast Asian countries and among Asian countries and I hope that this continues.”

She was speaking on the latest ScreenDaily Talk today (Monday, October 26), sponsored by the FDCP, which examined film production restarting in Asia during the pandemic, as well as the challenges and opportunities of co-production and financing for the future.

Watch the ScreenDaily Talks in full above

Diño continued, “I hope that through the partnerships among the regional countries we create a stronger market, and see the value and the opportunity here to maximise audiences within our region… We feel it happening because there are a lot of activities and collaboration happening right now among the filmmakers.”

In 2019, the FDCP launched its incentive programme, offering a 20% cash rebate for foreign production; as well as an international co-production fund. Projects already accepted for the latter include Lav Diaz’s When the Waves are Gone and Lorcan Finnegan’s Nocebo.

This week during Busan’s Asian Film & Contents Market, the FDCP has unveiled another co-production fund specifically for Asian collaborations, offering up to $150,000 per project. It opens for applications in January 2021.

Singaporean producer Jeremy Chua of Potocol Films said that as long as governments still support their co-production financing schemes, the future looks bright for co-productions in Asia and beyond.

Chua, whose credits include Lav Diaz’s A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery and Bradley Liew’s Motel Acacia, said, “In Southeast Asia, the new cooperation schemes have made it possible to work inter-regionally. This is a very new way of young directors - who made short films together - making first features together. As an independent producer who has access to funds in the region, it’s a really good time.”

Like the rest of the world, most Asian countries have their shooting protocols for COVID times approved by the government. In some countries, including Singapore, those restrictions – like the number of actors who can be on a film set – are being loosened as the COVID situation improves.

Chua is currently working on several video projects that emerged for the Singapore International Festival of Arts, having decided to wait until 2021 to shoot two of his own features. “So many independent Singaporean films now are co-productions,” he said. “We have crew that are coming from Europe, or other parts of Asia, so it’s not practical to shoot now because of travel restrictions.”

New ways of working

In the Philippines, 295 productions have already registered for the programme to learn about the safety measures; the government also provides disaster relief. “A lot of our productions are really itching to start,” said Diño. The Nocebo team plans to start shooting the thriller there in March 2021, according to producers Brunella Cocchiglia and Emily Leo.

Kim Hyo-jeong, producer at South Korea’s Film Line, noted she had learned how to do remote shooting this year – with a Japanese director working on a TV show shooting in Korea. “It took two to three times longer,” she said, for the director to communicate with cast and crew remotely. “However it was a good experience to learn that communication is important.” 

Kim was optimistic that even with some physical co-productions paused, now is a “good opportunity to plan and develop new content and scripts, and we are developing co-production projects… We should plan new ideas that can be can be produced face-to-face or non-face-to-face.”

Jacqueline Liu, production director at Hong Kong-based One Cool Film Production, added that production is bouncing back in Hong Kong itself, as well as in China. “Still a lot of production is happening in China. Crew members or directors have to do the quarantine time, which is 14 days, but because the scale of the productions is higher and it means shooting for a longer time in China, it’s worth it to do the quarantine.” The Hong Kong government has invested extra funding in COVID times to keep co-productions flourishing.

As a further support to the local industry that has been hit by COVID, in May One Cool started a new partnership with Emperor Motion Pictures to work on a joint slate with Hong Kong filmmakers. The goal was to support the incomes of freelance film workers – “to provide more working opportunities” – with an initial 10 low-budget features. Three of them have already shot.

Like elsewhere around the globe, insurance is a major concern – and most Asian countries haven’t introduced production guarantee funds like the ones available in the UK and Germany among others. Diño explained that “production insurance is not a norm in the Philippines. It’s only now that we’re discussing coverage and understanding what production insurance means for local productions.” The government is currently discussing ways to help producers minimize their risks.

The experts said they still have faith in the theatrical experience, both now and long term, although Liu noted that “audience behaviour is changing, and during this pandemic time, most of the audience stayed home watching platforms or other entertainment from an online content provider.” She added that going to the cinema is seen a great group activity for families, not the same as one person sitting with their laptop at home. Declining theatrical revenues have been an issue for a decade or more, but Liu added, “we are still hopeful to have a theatrical release, and some works we should enjoy on the biggest screen.”