Australia

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Overview and productions

It is not unusual for all Australia’s studios to be full, as they are now, but it is uncommon for every available empty warehouse to also be crammed with international filmmakers. Two factors are at play: the dishing out of the $310m (a$400m) sweetener announced in mid-2020, and the country’s success at dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

That said, there was a long history in place of servicing productions well, due to world-class studios, dependably good weather, diverse locations, an attractive lifestyle and experienced, skilled crew. Not surprisingly, crew shortages are now in evidence.

Working Title Films’ Ticket To Para­dise, directed by Ol Parker, will soon start spending some of its $5m (a$6.4m) grant, which is on top of other incentives, meaning George Clooney and Julia Roberts will be the latest in a long line of celebrities to grace Australian shores.

Work has begun on The Shrinking Of Treehorn, the first of four original animated and live-action hybrid projects under Sydney production powerhouse Animal Logic’s joint venture with Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment. It is Howard’s animated directorial debut, and he has also been making Thirteen Lives — about the real-life Thai cave rescue — for MGM in Queensland.

The surge of activity is prompting government and private interests to weigh up the building of new facilities. Expansion is already well under way at Docklands Studios Melbourne — the new 3,700 square metre superstage is set to increase capacity by 60%.

 

Marketing body Ausfilm, which has an office in Los Angeles, constantly pumps out information about Australia’s attributes, but US producers who have worked in the territory — or with Australians abroad — are generally eager to jump on a plane if the figures add up. The final cost of production is always key: only a strong Australian dollar and uncompetitive incentives have disrupted the regular stream of offshore projects in recent years.

"With generous screen production incentives, diverse locations, world-class studios, and a successful effort by Australia's state and federal governments to contain the Coronavirus, filming in Australia offers producers and storytellers so many practical and creative opportunities. The Made in NSW fund further highlights the exciting opportunities to film in Australia," says Kate Marks, Ausfilm CEO. 

Marvel’s commitment to shooting in Australia has been a boost to Sydney’s already film-friendly profile and follows the establishment of a VFX studio in 2019 by Disney-owned Industrial Light & Magic, Lucasfilm’s visual-effects division.

While in Victoria, the local government has given the region a further boost by launching a new $33m package to entice productions, of which $19.2m will form a new Victorian Screen Incentive Program.

The vast majority of the fund is to be committed in 2020, including for the Hollywood action film Blacklight, starring Liam Neeson, which was shooting in Melbourne from November. The project will employ 340 local crew, more than 825 casuals, cast and extras, 50 local post-production, digital and visual effects professionals and support 30 Victorian businesses ranging from catering to transport.

In October 2020, the eight-part thriller Clickbait for Netflix and NBC-Universal resumed production at the government-owned Docklands Studios in Melbourne, which is soon to start construction on a nearly 40,000 square feet superstage. The federal government provided $3.5m (a$4.9m) to Clickbait, with support also coming through Film Victoria’s production incentive attraction fund. 

Crew and infrastructure

Australia has three world-class studios in different states: Queensland’s Village Roadshow Studios, Fox Studios Australia in New South Wales, and Victoria’s Docklands. The fact there are only three does limit the number of big-budget films that can shoot at any one time, plus Fox is expected to prioritise Marvel movies now that it is owned by Disney. That said, warehouse space can be used, as evidenced by New Line’s Mortal Kombat when South Australia’s Adelaide Studios was not big enough.

Visiting producers regularly label local crews as being the best in the world and often only bring in a dozen from abroad, but this might change if A-list crews are not available.

Companies that generate their own IP and service offshore production include EQ Media, Goalpost Pictures, Hoodlum Entertainment, Jungle Entertainment, Kojo Studios and Matchbox Pictures.

La Brea, is the latest TV series being channelled through Matchbox by owner NBCUniversal; Young Rock, was one of the studio’s first after the $310m (a$400m) was committed. When announced in early May that La Brea would receive a grant of $7.5m (a$9.7m), the federal government said it had “distributed more than $175m (a$226m) under the location incentive to attract 23 international productions to Australia, generating more than $1.3bn (a$1.7bn) in private investment, providing more than 13,000 employment opportunities for local cast and crew, and creating work for over 13,800 businesses”.

There are plenty of alternative studio options as well, such as the Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre, which consists of a group of three adjacent buildings covering 70,000 square meters of space. There are three self-contained acoustically separated theatres, including the Goldfields theatre, which is a 9,000 square metre multi-purpose event space with a retractable 1,000-seat theatre and 39,000 sq m of pillarless space. Hollywood action movie, Blacklight, written, directed and produced by Ozark co-creator Mark Williams, has taken over the centre for filming.

Australian crews are world-renowned and experienced at working on big-budget Hollywood productions. 

Australia is a big country and an integrated air transport network serves all the state capitals and many of the regional areas. European productions also now benefit from the recently launched non-stop flight between London and Perth in Western Australia.

 

Locations

To cover all of Australia’s incredible locations would take the entire Guide. The country offers beautiful sandy beaches, historic rock formations, colourful reefs, modern cities and endless national parks.

One of the surprise alternative locations worth looking into is Adelaide. The capital of the state of South Australia doubled for South Africa in Francis Annan’s Escape from Pretoria, for the UK’s Footprint Films. The film stars Daniel Radcliffe in the true story of white anti-apartheid campaigners who were jailed in 1978 for supporting the African National Congress, but then pulled off a daring escape.

Mark Blaney, Footprint Films, producer of Escape from Pretoria, says: “On our recce there, our production designer Scott Bird showed us a picture of Cape Town in the 1970s, and it looked exactly like Adelaide now.

“With the invaluable support of local outfit Arclight (the film’s sales agent), we took possession of the main street in Adelaide at 6pm the night before our shoot date and set about transforming it into Cape Town. This included putting in coin operated parking meters, old cars with South African number plates, changing the street signs and shop fronts. We did such a convincing job that a South African woman living in Adelaide felt like she’d been transported home.

“For the prison sequences, we took over an old Holden car factory, which was a massive site with huge warehouses. The interior of the two main prison wings were built in one of the warehouses.

“The project was a real combination of local crew and production talent and the support of South Australia Film Corporation who were also backers. If there was ever a moment where you weren’t quite sure of something you could pick their brains on the local angle on stuff.”

 

Size matters

 

Australia is a very urban society, with two of the three major studios in the heart of Sydney and Melbourne, and the third on the Gold Coast about 60 kilometres from Queensland’s capital Brisbane. All are less than an hour from international airports. The US is about 1.3 times bigger than Australia, with a population of 330 million compared to Australia’s 25.7 million. Air travel is advised. Melbourne to Brisbane is a two-hour flight whereas driving would take about 20 hours. Economy fares start at about $270 (a$350).

 

First person to contact

Erin Stam, vice-president of international production, Ausfilm
erin.stam@ausfilm.com

 

 

 

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