As the journalists, photographers, TV cameramen and media crowded past security to get up to the Dingxian Seafood Restaurant on the 86th floor of Taipei 101, excitement filled the air. It was the closing press conference of Luc Besson’s Lucy, and rumors were flying. Would Besson show up? Was he still angry over the paparazzi? Almost breaking into Mayor Hau Lung-bin’s (郝龍斌) introduction, Besson quickly dispelled those rumors.
“Let me set this straight. I never considered leaving Taipei even for a minute. I cast a city as like I cast an actor and Taipei with its friendly people, unique setting and full assistance from the mayor has always been my choice,” Besson said.
For Jennifer Jao (饒紫娟), director of Taipei Film Commission (TFC), who helped arrange the press conference, such situations are typical little bumps in the road.
“They go with the territory, where my job is to make Taipei known to the world and to bring international cinema to Taiwan.”
In that respect, Jao’s mind was already on the upcoming week and what she needed to get done.
She was flying to Los Angeles to attend the annual American Film Market (AFM) in nearby Santa Monica California. AFM is the largest film gathering in North America, attended by 8,000 representatives and industry leaders from over 70 countries.
“If I am going to pitch Taipei City, TFC and Taiwan films to the world, this is where I have to be.”
Fulfilling a need
Back in 2007, Tom Cruise in seeking a background venue for Mission Impossible 3 had liked Taipei 101, but found it too difficult to sort through the myriad of agencies needed for permits, so he went to Shanghai instead. Taipei realized this and created TFC to meet that need and fill that void.
“I wouldn’t have a job without him,” Jao quipped.
“Taipei now offers a lot to directors,” Jao goes on, displaying TFC’s recent 2012 Taipei Cinema Location Guide. It contains some 200 settings under 15 separate chapters to fit almost any kind of movie.
“It’s all about location isn’t it? And Taipei as a modern metropolis, offers that as well as innumerable locations ranging from Qing Dynasty and Japanese-era buildings on up to the present.”
Setting of course is not enough and Jao rattles off innumerable other ways that TFC also assists in funding, getting shooting permits, postproduction and promotion.
“Japanese director Takashi Miike shot his Japanese thriller and 2013 Cannes Film Festival entry, Shield of Straw [in] Taiwan,” she says.
With a big China market across the Taiwan Strait, a different TFC challenge is helping Taiwan directors access it and deal with it. Art may be art but with Taiwan and China, you cannot avoid politics. Censorship in China is one issue. Manga was rejected, but Cape No. 7 did get through.
Jao humorously quips, “A well-liked gift I have for visitors from China is the uncut version of Ang Lee’s (李安) Lust Caution,” Jao says.
China’s version has 17 minutes cut. Local directors also face the challenge of being true to art and true to Taiwanese sentiments. Jao admits to this challenge, but with a motto of “practice makes perfect” she continues to try and build bridges without sacrificing principle.
And money? Jao says TFC currently has US$1 million to aid foreign films and US$1.2 million to aid domestic films. There are rules of course, foreign and local films can get funding if they have at least 20 to 30 minutes shooting time of recognizable Taipei scenes, “not just shots in a hotel room.” If local films win awards, TFC will help in both Taiwan and international promotion.