Taiwan’s Funding & Rising Status As Global Production Hub: Part One
Taiwan was one of the few territories that emerged from the pandemic relatively unscathed. As an island, it was relatively easy for the government to secure the borders to control the spread of Covid, so production carried on more or less uninterrupted, and cinemas mostly remained open during the pandemic. The lack of Hollywood releases during this time gave local films space to breath, and the industry also benefitted from a reverse brain drain as many Taiwanese who had been working in mainland China returned home.
In addition to these unexpected Covid benefits, the industry has also received a boost from the activity of the Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA), the government agency launched in 2019 to support Taiwan’s creative industries. Not only is TAICCA supporting local film and TV production and infrastructure, it is also positioning Taiwan as an international co-production hub through its new funding schemes. It has also launched the Taiwan Creative Content Fest (TCCF) in early November as an industry event to build bridges between Taiwan and the rest of the world (mainland China is welcome but not really present).
This edition of Streamlined takes an in-depth look at the TAICCA funding, and the future potential of Taiwan’s creative industries, but as there’s so much to say, the newsletter will be split into two parts. This first part is focusing on co-production funding and the NDF.
TAICCA Funding Extends Beyond Asia
Taiwan has had film and TV support programmes for decades, taking the Korean system with its combination of public and private investment as inspiration, but it wasn’t until the launch of TAICCA that these schemes had much consistency. TAICCA supports local film and TV production through several initiatives, but of most interest to international producers is the Taiwan International Co-funding Programme (TICP), which provides investment of up to $300,000 or 30% of a production’s budget.
The funding requires Taiwanese elements in the production team and/or story, although the definition of these elements appears to be quite flexible. It also requires international distribution to be in place. It does not require production to take place in Taiwan or to have a Taiwanese co-producer on board, although most productions find it easier to have a local partner. TAICCA expects profit-sharing for a period of five years, if the production breaks even, with the maximum amount recouped equal to its initial investment.
TICP can be combined with the separate 30% cash rebates offered by Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture for productions that shoot in Taiwan, but the total amount of Taiwanese government funding cannot exceed more than 49% of a project’s total budget.
What makes the TAICCA funding different to some other co-production schemes in the region is that it is not limited to Asian productions, although it has funded several Southeast Asian films (including Cannes Critics Week winner Tiger Stripes, Sundance entry In My Mother’s Skin, Berlin title Tomorrow Is A Long Time and documentary Divine Factory) with partners from Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore.
Some of the international films from outside the region that have accessed TICP include The Last Queen, produced by France’s Patrick Sobelman and co-directed by Algeria’s Damien Ounouri and Adila Bendimerad; The Human Surge 3, from Argentina’s Eduardo Williams; The Settlers, from Chile’s Felipe Gálvez Haberle; For My Country, a story about Algerian immigrants in France directed by Rachid Hami; and Black Tea (previously known as The Perfumed Hill) from Malian director Abderrahmane Sissako, which is currently in post-production.
Among these films, The Settlers premiered in Un Certain Regard at this year’s Cannes film festival; The Last Queen and For My Country premiered in Venice, and The Human Surge 3 in Locarno.
The Taiwan elements in some of these films may not be immediately obvious, but The Last Queen, a historical drama about an Algerian queen fighting a notorious pirate, worked with Taiwan for editing, sound and VFX, including with editors Matthieu Laclau and Yann-Shan Tsai, who have worked on several of Jia Zhangke’s films. The Settlers worked with award-winning Taiwanese sound designer Tu Duu-Chih. Black Tea chose to film scenes in southern Taiwan that were set in China, but difficult to shoot there due to censorship and other restrictions.
Taiwan is not slow to point out that its commitment to freedom of speech is one of the big advantages of working with the island, and it’s possible to make stories with supernatural, historical, political and LGBT elements, which are usually off bounds in China. (In fact, Taiwan’s Oscars submission this year, Marry My Dead Body, combines LGBT and supernatural elements in the tale of a homophobic cop who is tricked into a ghost marriage with a dead gay guy – not a premise that you’d ever come across in mainland China).
But Taiwan’s soft power ambitions go way beyond TICP and do so at an opportune time, with China turning inwards and Hong Kong slowing down, partly because of its dependence on the mainland China market. At the recent TCCF, it became clear that Taiwan is positioning itself as a partner for international film agencies and private companies through a string of cooperation agreements signed with France’s CNC and Series Mania, WarnerMedia Discovery, Japan’s Kadokawa Corp and CJ ENM Hong Kong, the Chinese-language production arm of Korean studio CJ ENM. Then there’s also the potential catalyst effect of Taiwan’s National Development Fund.
NDF Funding Could Also Be A Game-Changer
Launched in the 1970s, Taiwan’s National Development Fund (NDF) is a sovereign wealth fund that initially supported the island’s booming tech industry, including semiconductor star TSMC, but after lobbying from the Ministry of Culture is now also backing the creative industries. During this year’s TCCF, Taiwan’s Minister of Culture, Shih Che, took to the stage to talk about the recently approved ‘One Plus Four – T-Content Plan’ which has pledged $311m (NT$10bn) to support the creative industries.
“We’ve achieved a milestone this year – after support for semiconductor and technology industries, it’s finally the turn of the cultural content industries, with support that has been enacted through our laws and regulations,” said Shih.
The NDF has been supporting Taiwan’s creative industries for a while – it provides funding for TAICCA and has made equity investments into Taiwanese production companies – including Mandarin Vision, Screenworks Asia, Studio76 and DaMou Entertainment – sometimes structuring the investment as a joint venture with TAICCA. But it has recently also started funding individual film and TV projects and initiatives.
While the TICP funding is more appropriate for projects in the $1-3m budget range, the NDF funding could in theory be used for larger-scale film and TV productions. So far the funding has been domestically focused, but with TAICCA signing a wide range of international cooperation agreements, there’s likely to be conversations about foreign entities setting up bigger productions or even companies in Taiwan with NDF backing, so long as they contribute to the development of Taiwan’s creative industries. This all remains vague for the time being, but it’s reasonable to think the Taiwanese government would be open to at least listening to the right pitch.
Of course, Taiwan is heading towards a national election in January 2024 and this level of support may depend on the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) remaining in power. But so far, the more right-wing, China-friendly opposition appears to be divided and the odds of Lai Ching-te, current vice president and DPP presidential candidate, winning the election are looking good. We’ll know more after the election on January 13.
Next week in Streamlined: Taiwan’s support for series, why Taiwan is making this soft power push, and what Taiwan is (very wisely) not doing...
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