Nicholas Simon is a veteran Hollywood producer, with films like “Act of Valor” and “City of Ghosts” to his credit. Recently, his crew shot at a shipyard in Chittagong, for an upcoming Hollywood film. Although he was not at liberty to discuss anything about the film, Simon spoke to The Daily Star in general about his experience and the potential for Bangladesh as an international filming location.
How did you end up here in Bangladesh to shoot?
Simon: I've been working in Asia, mainly Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand since 1994. I have a new company, that has worked in Hollywood films like “Act of Valor” and “Transformers 3”, and we also do high profile international TV commercials. A Hollywood studio called me up six months ago and said they wanted to shoot here in Chittagong. I'd never thought of shooting here, so I did some research, and found out there has been very little international production here. I eventually contacted the US Embassy, and they connected me to four companies here. Eventually, I chose Adshop, Tariq's (Tariq Anam Khan) company for the liaison here, convinced the studio that it was possible logistically and in terms of permissions, and here we are.
Tell us about the shooting experience here.
Simon: It's been amazing, actually. I just spoke with the foreign crew that came here, and they were all blown away with enthusiasm. A lot of the Bangladeshi crew wasn't very experienced, but they were very eager to learn, and there was no ego issue. All in all, I think incredible doors were opened.
The actors were not here for the shoot. Is this a common thing for Hollywood films nowadays?
Simon: The way films are made now, especially large Hollywood movies -- if you look at “The Hobbit”, or “Harry Potter”, so much of what is filmed is not on location. It's shot in studio, and then the outdoor location is shot, and then put together in chroma-key. On one side, I understand that people would want Hollywood stars to shoot here, but the studio would never consider it; it would be too big of a hassle and expense. I like to look at the positive side, though; the technology opens up locations for filming that would otherwise not be feasible.
What are the prospects for Bangladesh as an international filming location?
Simon: I think you have huge potential to replace India as a location. India is one of the most difficult places in the world to shoot in, firstly because of the visa situation, and then -- for the lack of a better word -- the presence of a heavy mafia, whether you're looking for a location, or hiring people. It's complicated and expensive, so for international features and TV commercials, India doesn't have a very good reputation. So why not shoot Calcutta (Kolkata) here? Or Bombay (Mumbai)? I think it's a huge market you can tap in. I know for my clients in England or in the States, my company will promote Bangladesh, particularly for international TV commercials, because the market for it is so much bigger. We've already sent location scouts to the Sunderbans. We've also sent someone to take photos of Sonargaon. And also, in our industry others will hear that we came here and shot on budget and on time, and our accounting was all legit, and they'll make a note of it. Even some of the crew that worked said they would recommend this to other production companies they work with.
What do you think Bangladesh lacks, in terms of being feasible for such future ventures?
Simon: What I was surprised is that you have almost nothing of a tourism industry. Tourism and film production go hand in hand. What do we need? We need good food, good places to stay and good communication. Apart from the planes, transportation is a pain. You don't have many hotels, and they are incredibly expensive. This same hotel where we're staying now would be one-fourth the price in Bangkok. That's where this country is not competitive. But if people start seeing more in films and TV commercials, they will take more interest and the tourism sector can benefit from that too. Also, the lack of equipment and crew is a setback, but those issues are nothing a production company can't handle, if they decide to shoot here. Once the critical mass gets there, the rest can be figured out. So yeah, I am excited!