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Australia cashing in on a gold rush as Hollywood makes big-budget films in three states

Celebrities arrive in Melbourne to film blockbuster

Not since the glory days of The Matrix, Thin Green Line and Scooby Doo more than 20 years ago has Hollywood come knocking on the door so loudly and consistently to make films Down Under.

Across the eastern seaboard competition is set to escalate dramatically over the next few years for cutting-edge virtual production infrastructure, the largest studio lot in the South Hemisphere, facilities galore and access to thousands of film crews and extras.

State and federal funding incentives have been major drawcards for studios as well, especially the national Screen Production Incentive Scheme, the Post, Digital and Visual Effects (PDV) offset and the Producer’s Offset.

As someone once said in a famous film – “If you build it, they will come” (thank you, Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams).

According to VicScreen’s chief executive Caroline Pitcher, Australia is riding the global growth of screen production.

“Screen production continues to grow globally, and Australia is reaping the benefits of this incredible opportunity,” she tells The New Daily.

“Not just as a world-class destination to film international blockbusters but more so through positioning ourselves as a leading international creative partner.”

Screen Queensland’s incoming CEO, Courtney Gibson, shares the sentiments, as the film and television industry’s awards night, the AACTAs, makes its move to the Gold Coast and aligns itself with the Hollywood awards season.

She says that last financial year, 45 individual projects delivered investment of $230 million and 5400 jobs in Queensland.

“Every dollar allocated to us by the state government delivers over $10 back into the local economy,” she says.

“Sure it’s competitive, but it’s a global market so we compete with territories all over the world for business. And every state and territory in Australia has its own unique appeal.”

Queensland “rode the wave of record-breaking investment in Australian” drama by streaming services, with SQ supporting projects from Netflix, Stan, Disney+, Paramount+ and Amazon.

Netflix alone produced four titles, Boy Swallows Universe (in production), Irreverent, A Perfect Pairing and True Spirit.

Ms Gibson, says there’s nothing like being able to play host to the biggest movies in the world.

With Oscar-nominated movies Elvis (made on the GC) and stop-motion animator Lachlan Pendragon up for best short film with An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake, Screen Queensland’s boss is thrilled.

“Russell Crowe (AACTA president) said it – Queensland is leading the way when it comes to production.

“I think we are quite unabashed about our love for the screen business — it’s been fantastic to see True Spirit connect with audiences around the world, hitting the top five on Netflix’s global charts so soon after release.

The Portable Door is going to be a thrilling production, and it’s great to see a local company like Story Bridge Films working so closely with the visionary Jim Henson Company,” she adds.

Hugo Weaving has always been drawn to roles that sit outside the status quo – like Agent Smith in the Matrix series. Photo: Warner Brothers

Where we’re headed

In 1998 big-budget blockbuster The Matrix, starring Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving, was filmed across the streets and buildings in Sydney and Chinatown.

It won four Academy Awards, including Oscars for Australians David Lee (Best Sound Mixing) and Steve Courtley (Best Visual Effects), and brought Hugo Weaving to a new level of international attention.

One of the first American productions to be produced at Australia’s Fox Studios in Sydney, the film franchise made us believe we could see ourselves as a future powerhouse of screen production

It made us dare to dream big.

The Matrix kick-started a string of major international movies filmed at Fox Studios including Mission: Impossible 2 (2000), Star Wars: Episodes II (2002) and III (2005), Superman Returns (2006), Alien: Covenant (2017) and Peter Rabbit (2018).

Sydney – and across greater NSW – was home to 18 international productions over the next two decades, including The Wolverine, The Great Gatsby, Babe, Strictly Ballroom, Frost/Nixon and Mad Max: Fury Road.

And it’s set to ramp up big time.

“We have a slew of announcements coming up this year that we can’t talk too much about at this stage, but stay tuned,” teases Ms Pitcher.

“Our pipeline includes at least seven premium dramas, two comedies, one live action as well as a number of documentaries and locally made digital games.

“International projects don’t just bring direct economic benefits such as jobs and expenditure, they also enable creatives and crews to evolve their craft, develop their skills and invest in technical innovation.

“And it goes both ways – it’s an opportunity for our highly regarded talent to showcase their expertise, work ethic and artistry on some of the most highly anticipated productions in the world,” she says.

Ms Gibson has a strong interest in AI, the gaming industry and the security of future funding incentives. She intends to secure big projects by ensuring that these elements are all in place.

Brisbane animation group Chop Shot Post works on international feature films and TV series, including Paramount+’s Last King of the Cross. Photo: Screen Queensland/Chop Shop Post

Before and behind the cameras

Local post-production houses such as The Post Lounge, Pixel Zoo, Fika Entertainment and Serve Chilled have all capitalised on the growth of the aforementioned PDV incentive to secure work with some of the world’s leading film and television studios.

Competition is hot between the states to attract the raft of these small-to-medium businesses, with, for example, South Australia’s Rising Sun Pictures making the move to establish a new studio in Brisbane.

It quickly achieved a full production slate in a facility designed to accommodate up to 60 staff.

Visual Effects company Chop Shop Post is another, which worked on Paramount+’s Last King of the Cross, on set and in post-production.

It was on time, to budget, able to problem solve and delivered great visuals.

State-by-state battleground

Queensland, NSW and Victoria – with sprinklings of input from the remaining states and territories – are working on the big movies and series over the next 12 months.

Let’s see what’s in store.

The Portable Door trailer, with Sam Neill

Source: Twitter/Sam Neill

Queensland

Stan original film The Portable Door, a magical fantasy adventure starring two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained, No Time to Die) and multi-Golden Globe nominee Sam Neill (Peter Rabbit, Jurassic Park franchise) is set for launch in April.

Along with a host of Australians in the cast, the film is the latest to be shot entirely in Queensland.

Adapted from Tom Holt’s eponymous seven-book fantasy series, the film is directed by award-winning Australian director Jeffrey Walker (Ali’s Wedding, Stan Original Series The Commons) from a screenplay adapted by Australian writer Leon Ford (Griff the Invisible).

New South Wales

Dr George Miller’s Furiosa cast and crew spent months on the road last year setting up bases in and around outback towns such as Hay, Broken Hill and Silverton to film the latest instalment of a franchise which has brought in huge dollars.

If Fury Road (2015) was anything to go by, it cost $154 million to make and grossed $415.2m in box office receipts worldwide.

Furiosa is expected to become the biggest film ever made in Australia.

Starring Chris Hemsworth and Anya Taylor-Joy, it’s the largest production to be filmed in NSW (filming began in June last year), will create more than 850 local jobs and bring in about $350 million into the NSW economy.

Director George Miller said it was great to see the Mad Max franchise return to Australia. He said state and federal government support was “pivotal”.

“They made it possible for the film to be greenlit, shot in Australia and for the production to be based in our home state,” he said.

Metropolis, based on the 1927 Fritz Lang classic, is being made in Melbourne. Photo: Supplied

Hollywood on the Yarra

Out of all the productions on the drawing board, it is Victoria which may come through as the winner on this chess board.

Victoria secured its biggest screen production early last year with the epic new TV series Metropolis, based on the Fritz Lang classic.

It comes off the back of numerous international hits that have been filmed in Victoria, including NBCU’s La Brea and Clickbait, which reached the No.1 spot on Netflix in over 20 countries.

The eight-part series will create around 4000 local jobs and is the first of NBCUniversal’s projects likely to inject $416 million into the Victorian economy.

Written and directed by Sam Esmail, who also serves as showrunner on the series, and filmed in Victoria, the word about town is that Dune‘s Timothee Chalamet is set to star.

The infrastructure will include one of the largest permanent high-tech screens, the same tech used to bring worlds to life in the ground-breaking Star Wars series, The Mandalorian.

Metropolis is set to be one of the most technically ambitious screen productions in the world.

“The state-of-the-art infrastructure being built right here, along with our outstanding crew and locations, truly places Melbourne as amongst the world’s great screen production cities,” Ms Pitcher says.

Above all, the pipeline of projects supported by the Location Incentive and the Victorian Screen Incentive could contribute up to $621 million in direct spend across a five-year production period to 2027.

“The thing about the screen industry is that you can’t knock it down, it gets back up again. Even CCOVID could only made us stronger … screen creatives and crew worked harder than ever, safeguarding their own industry and continuing to deliver new content for keen audiences.

“Hats off to them!” says Ms Gibson.

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