Malaysia has been a destination for foreign filmmakers for some time now, but the country is now set to transform into an international filmmaking hub with the support the creative industry is receiving from the Government. While this may not be a key issue in the lead up to GE 13, it is illustrative of how a proactive Government can transform an entire industry.
In fact, the development of Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios is expected to place Johor at the forefront of our creative industry and transform the state into Malaysia's movie capital.
The studio complex is located on a 20-hectare site in Nusajaya at the heart of the Iskandar Malaysia Development Region. By the end of next year, Pinewood Iskandar will create 1,500 jobs in an export-oriented industry, with financing from overseas estimated at around RM1.8 billion over the next decade.
Pinewood Iskandar chief executive officer Michael Lake said the company was marketing Malaysia as a destination for filmmaking as well as promoting it for other companies to set up their creative infrastructure.
"Johor is going to be the real beneficiary economically of what we're doing here," Lake noted.
Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios will be the largest independent integrated studio facility in Southeast Asia, offering state-of-the-art film stages, TV studios and post-production suites from early 2013.
It will have two television studios, both 1,114.83 sq m, with seating capacities of 600 and 800 people, respectively.
There will also be five film stages covering a total of 9,290.30 sq m, two 1,858.06 sq m stages, two 1,393.54 sq m stages and a 2,787.09 sq m stage. The largest stage will have a water tank for productions involving work on or under water.
"This is not just about building the facilities in the hope that people will come, it's about building a big creative industry in Malaysia," said Lake.
Shamsul Cairel Abdul Karim, a local filmmaker at Maskarya Sdn Bhd, described the entry of Pinewood as a breath of fresh air because, other than offering new jobs, it would enable Malaysian filmmakers to take advantage of its vast experience.
"It knows the tricks of the trade well, which means it can do things much better from a technical perspective and, in turn, push forward local content and production."
Besides Pinewood, there will also be 14-hectare creative village to be known as 'Media@Medini', where most film equipment rental companies would be based.
"Pinewood will be a one-stop shop. A producer could walk up to the front door with a script and leave at the end of the production with a file ready to go to the broadcast television or the cinema," he said.
With the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS) announcing a new 30 per cent tax rebate scheme on expenditure incurred on filming in Malaysia, there has been increased interest in using Malaysia as a location.
The incentive will require a local spend of at least RM5 million for foreign productions and RM2.5 million for Malaysian productions. The scheme kicks off on February 1, 2013.
The first ever International Film Festival of Malaysia will be held from November 10-18 in KL. The new fest will be organised by FINAS director general Mohd Naguib Razak and producer Lorna Tee, with New York Times critic Dennis Lim acting as artistic director.
Parallel to the festival will be Malaysia's first-ever film market, the Kuala Lumpur Content and Communications International Market, which will run from November 15-18 and also bring together players from the television, music, gaming and fashion industries.
The Malaysian film industry is quite active, with 50 films being released this year and 70 to 80 expected next year. Box office receipts were RM594 million in 2011, double the level five years ago.
This is expected to jump even higher, once Pinewood Iskandar makes its presence felt.
"What we are doing here is laying the foundation of an international industry. We have started marketing in the United States and Europe, and we are getting lots of interest out of India about filming here," Lake said.
He also pointed out that some local producers, like KRU, for instance, would be able to take full advantage of Pinewood's large studios if they wanted to expand into bigger international-style productions.
This then is the creation of an international industry from scratch in Malaysia – something that the Government has proudly supported.
Pakatan, on the other hand, has been silent on the recent developments, including the successful launch of Legoland Malaysia, the first of its kind in Asia.
With the Opposition coalition busy trying to out the fires between allies while evading questions on its poor track record in the states it rules, Pakatan has understandably not been able to offer us a manifesto.
Judging by its lack of interest, even if Pakatan had a manifesto, one feels that the creative industry would probably not even figure in it.