News Column

FEATURE: S.E. Asia's largest film studio opens in Malaysia

July 7, 2014

Siti Rahil

A newly opened film and television studio complex in southern Malaysia's Johor State is drawing international producers keen to tap the Southeast Asian market.

The British film and television producer Pinewood Studios Group last month officially opened the 550 million ringgit ($172 million) studio complex, Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios, in the Iskandar investment zone in collaboration with the Malaysian government's investment arm Khazanah Nasional.

Touted as the biggest film and television studio in Southeast Asia, the sprawling Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios sits on 50 acres of land, with another 30 acres of jungle available for expansion.

People involved in the business say there is a big demand for film and television content in Southeast Asia.

International film and television producers are attracted to the comparatively lower business costs in the region. They are also keen to develop projects with an Asian view.

Imagica Corp., a Japanese company specializing in production and post-production services, has set up operations at Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios, offering digital post-production to clients in the region as well as to international producers.

Imagica also plans to promote the digital distribution of content to companies, especially Japanese companies that are looking for new markets in the region.

One of the main factors cited by foreign film producers in choosing Iskandar is the financial incentives offered by the Malaysia government.

Since last year, Malaysia has offered a 30 percent rebate for approved production expenses to foreign film and television producers that use Malaysia for location filming or post-production, helping the country to stay ahead of regional competitors such as Thailand and Indonesia.

In addition, there is an existing 10-year zero corporate tax offered to any company that sets up operation in Iskandar in certain industries, including the creative industry.

Malaysia is also offering strong support by taking stakes in joint ventures with foreign companies

Khazanah has forged a "strategic alliance" with Pinewood to set up the studio in Iskandar, and a 51 percent stake in Imagica's Malaysian production facility.

Pinewood has clinched a deal with the U.S. studio Weinstein Co. to produce the 10-episode epic television series "Marco Polo" at its Iskandar studio.

The series is expected to be broadcast in the fourth quarter of this year.

Michael Lake, a board member of Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios, said Iskandar is "talking to several other producers from India, Australia and Japan" looking to make use of its facilities.

Indian producers, for example, are said to be moving away from traditional "Bollywood" films and are seeking a new look for their films and for Western markets, Lake said.

Japanese producers are also looking for places with lower costs as well as an opportunity to produce regional television programs to reach out to the population of Southeast Asia, he said.

Ken Kusaka, marketing manager at Imagica Southeast Asia Sdn. Bhd., which will begin operations at Pinewood Iskandar Studios next month, said it was the first time for the company to venture outside Japan, and Malaysia offers a better place than Japan for international exposure.

"If you want to expand your market the only thing you can do is to go outside," he said, adding the company had considered locations such as China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand before deciding on Malaysia.

"We are targeting both international markets and local markets," he said. "But not many people speak English in Japan, so it's very difficult to get any international customers there."

"Many Hollywood movies are searching for scripts from Asia. They are looking for many good stories because they need something new. They think Europe is pretty mature," he said.

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Source: Japan Economic Newswire

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