How to use Taiwan as a filming location
Taiwan has seen several noteworthy projects from abroad in recent years, including Luc Besson’s Lucy, Martin Scorsese’s Silence and Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat. These are just a taste as to the plethora of international shows and movies that have been shot on this tropical island. There are all kinds of reasons to shoot here but even more so once you permanently locate here, if you’re lucky enough to do so.
Crew here ranges from extremely proficient and trained to your weekend warrior. Unless you have money and can set yourself up with gear or even a roll of gaffer tape, you’re not getting hired. But there are local film schools and places to learn, from the local rental shops to tv stations that you can cut your teeth with and work on some pretty cool productions.
Taiwan is still quite new to foreign production but with the aforementioned projects that have recently shot here, its popularity as a filming location is starting to catch on. The Government has production incentives but like any country they have an extensive checklist that you will have to adhere to and it might be cheaper to just do it on your own anyways.
Goods and services in Taiwan are much cheaper than other parts of the world. It is a first-world country but the cost of living (even hotels) is a fraction of what you’d pay in other first-world countries. Food and drink are also cheap, so feeding your cast and crew won’t chew into your overall budget too much. There are multiple rental houses in Taipei and in every other city there are at least one or two. These places rent everything from Arri/RED cameras down to simple DSLR’s and GoPros. The cost is also cheaper than other western countries. Knowing a local fixer will help with this as you need to have a rapport to bypass huge deposits and some rental shops don’t speak much English.
With that said, even though Chinese is the main language here and a lot of people speak English, getting a bi-lingual fixer to assist you will not go unnoticed. You’ll go to places that don’t speak any English and having a local to help you will get you past barriers, legal or otherwise. Permits are not required everywhere, especially outside of Taipei, but if you’re going to be setting up a lot of lights and have a crew of more than five people then it is a good idea to go through that process so you don’t get shut down.
We were shooting a feature in 2015 and the police showed up. They asked what was happening (we had a balanced crew of locals and foreigners) and when we explained that we were making a movie, they calmly sat on their cruiser and asked if they could watch the process and had a cigarette as we filmed the scene.
Obtaining a permit here is sometimes a lot easier than western countries. I think that this is because film production is still quite new and many places don’t feel that having a road closed is a nuisance yet, but rather something cool to see. Every city has a film office that can assist you and a lot of places are free to film in (even when closing streets), you just have to go through the paperwork process which is in Chinese, hence getting that local fixer is key.
Getting around the island is also very easy. There is a high-speed train (THSR) that goes from Nangang, Taipei to the southern most city of Kaohsiung. It takes roughly one hour and 40 minutes and is only USD55 per-person each way. If you pre-book through a site called KK Day and have a foreign passport, you can get unlimited three day passes for USD75. Both Kaohsiung and Taipei have a subway system that is easy to use and figure out. Taxis operate in every city and start at roughly USD2.50 USD, and UBER is in most cities as well which is easier if you don’t speak Chinese.
The weather is extremely pleasant but it can get a lot colder than you might expect. In the mountains it can get down to -3°C or colder and some areas even get snow. The cities will see temperatures around 5–10°C and with the humidity it feels quite cold. Luckily winter is only around from late December until late February, and the rest of the year it’s very warm. Typhoon season is from June until October but we’ve had typhoons as early as April and as late as December. They can last one to five days but Taiwan’s infrastructure is mainly concrete so they don’t have the same effect as a hurricane hitting the USA. With that said, they do bring a lot of rainfall which could hamper your shoot for a week – unless you’re making a disaster film.
Overall, Taiwan is an excellent location for any kind of production. There are areas that could double for Europe, Canada, the USA or even Australia. The studios here are terrific and are a fraction of the cost of one in a western country. Your best bet is to do some homework, reach out to a local production company here (we’re also cheaper than western companies but offer the same services) and then book your plane ticket!
If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
Luke Cameron was born in Canada and now resides in Taiwan. He is an accomplished and award winning filmmaker. Over the past two years he's worked on projects with Richard Mille Watches, Patagonia, Quiksilver and Adiva Scooters to name a few. Most recently he directed and produced a feature length documentary entitled The Way, which is currently playing at multiple festivals around the world. He has a BA in Film and Screen Media from Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, and is part of the team at Stone Soup Production.
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