KOFIC: global ambition, local budget

Following the recent announcement of a somewhat bizarre incentive scheme by Thailand, Korea follows suit with one of its own. It's less bizarre but very narrowly targeted and seems to suggest Korea's
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Following the recent announcement of a somewhat bizarre incentive scheme by Thailand, Korea follows suit with one of its own. It’s less bizarre but very narrowly targeted and seems to suggest Korea’s idea of the world to which it should promote itself doesn’t extend much beyond low-budget Asian filmmakers.

The scheme is specifically targeting inbound production rather than co-production, as foreign producers must foot 80% of the production bill for a project to qualify for the cash grant. The value of the grant is set at 25% of qualifying expenditure, which is a lot better than NZ’s 15%, but the picture is not quite as pretty as it appears from the headline numbers.

The scheme is available to companies spending a minimum of KRW1 billion/US$934,000. However, the budget for the scheme is capped. The total commitment from the government this year is KRW3 billion/US$2.5 million, which equates to a qualifying spend of US$10 million. The scheme certainly isn’t targeted at attracting major international productions.

Further limitations on accessing the scheme come in the shape of qualifying criteria which must be met. The intention of the scheme, according to the announcement by the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) is that it shall operate

for the purpose of tourism promotion, job creation and other economic benefits. It is also aimed at encouraging the hosting of location shooting and post-production of foreign audio-visual works and thereby enhancing the production capacities of Korean film industry and creating an international production network around it.

To be approved for the scheme, a production will be assessed on the degree to which the work creates tourism; the degree to which the work contributes to Korean film industry’s capacities; and that its spend represents a minimum 80% spend in-country by the foreign producer. Productions must also shoot for a minimum of 10 days in Korea.

Despite the Korean VFX and post industries gaining a good reputation in recent years for its work on Asian blockbusters, in particular John Woo’s Red Cliff, Feng Xiaogang’s Aftershock and Yoon Je-kyoon’s Haeundae, spend on post and VFX work is limited to 50% of the qualifying spend.

The scheme is available to TV productions as well, although certain types of both feature and TV production are excluded from eligibility: documentaries, animation, commercials, reality programmes, sports events, and educational programmes.

The scheme’s budget could easily be swallowed by a single inbound US production, although the intention is to spread the money around if possible. The budget levels the scheme will support – at least while delivering the full 25% benefit to producers – probably makes it more attractive to smaller budget productions, especially those from other Asian countries.

Korea has one of the better developed industries in Asia (in skill if not scale) and sees its films screen on the international festival circuit with more regularity than those of any other Asian country. Korea has long expressed a desire to crack the international sales nut – and included that task in the brief for KOFIC’s recently-appointed new head. It is difficult to see how the scheme will further that.

Because the money comes from the government’s tourism budget, there is a risk that the projects supported under the scheme will be those that better present Korea as attractive tourism destination rather than those which will deliver a real benefit to the industry.

Still, if one has a suitably-budgeted production and Korea appeals as a location, 25% is better than is on offer anywhere else in Asia. The scheme runs an annual application round (closing date 30 September). Chapter and verse, including the regulations and application process, are here.

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