EDITORIAL: How to make Taipei a movie star

Sun, Nov 03, 2013 - Page 8

The filming of French director Luc Besson’s new film, Lucy, in Taipei stirred up excitement over the past two weeks. Looking beyond the stir caused by reports that Besson might cut the shoot short because of vexation with paparazzi, the real issue should be Taipei’s strategies for attracting filmmakers to the city.

The Taipei City Government established the Taipei Film Commission five years ago to attract local and foreign productions after its efforts to persuade Tom Cruise to feature Taipei 101 in his film Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol failed.

Besson’s decision to spend 11 days in Taipei filming Lucy with Scarlett Johansson was exciting news for the city government, and it provided administrative assistance and financing to support the shooting. It blocked streets off and sent police to protect the crew’s privacy from the media and the public.

When the director got angry over the extensive media coverage of the production and the paparazzi dogging the site, he reportedly threatened to cut filming short. Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) rushed to slam media for disturbing the shooting and warned that the city would lose a great opportunity to market itself if Besson and his crew left. Hau even paid a visit to the French director and the film set to show the sincerity of the city’s willingness to be a good host.

The city government’s efforts to keep the director and his crew in Taipei paid off. Besson subsequently denied that he had planned to cut the filming short and praised his Taiwanese crew and the commission when the shoot was completed on Friday.

Besson’s praise of the Taiwanese film crew’s professionalism and the assistance of the commission serve as a seal of approval for the city’s policies. However, whether Taipei’s exposure in the film will raise its and the nation’s international profiles remains to be seen.

A UK newspaper article last week serves as a good example that there is still a long way to go before being featured in films gets Taipei and Taiwan the proper recognition abroad. The story run by the Daily Mail on Tuesday identified the city as “Taipei, China” in the caption of a photograph showing Johansson filming outside the Regent Taipei Hotel.

The newspaper later corrected the mistake, but the commission’s dismissal of the incident as a silly mistake made by a solitary news outlet reflects a lack of contemplation on the strategy Taipei should adopt to attract filmmakers.

It is crucial for the city government to think about what kind of image of Taipei it is trying to present through foreign films, as well as about how Taipei 101 and street scenes characterize the nation’s cultural significance. What can the city offer to domestic and international film crews so they will shoot in Taipei?

As Besson said on Friday, financial support is not the only factor he considers when deciding where to film. Good cooperation with local film crews, efficient transportation and photogenic scenery all contributed to him choosing Taipei as a location for his movie.

The city government and the commission should cultivate more talent in the domestic film industry to create a professional environment for moviemaking, as well as develop local culture and history to distinguish Taipei from other cities.

While devoting efforts to attracting foreign filmmakers, the city should also offer the same incentives and assistance to local directors to encourage the development of the national film industry.