Successful Australians share their secrets about Hollywood

Australians who have made it in Hollywood share their thoughts on Tinseltown at SXSW Sydney.

Australians who have made it in Hollywood share their thoughts on Tinseltown at SXSW Sydney. Photo: Getty

Australia’s state and federal governments are among the most supportive to the screen industry in the world, but directors on Aussie sets are among the most poorly paid.

That was the view of Phillip Noyce, the famed director of Rabbit Proof Fence and Salt, who was among Australia’s Hollywood exports who spoke on a panel at SXSW Sydney on Monday.

Joining Noyce and actor Charmaine Bingwa on stage at SXSW Sydney were Jason Clarke and Amy Wang, with moderator LA-based manager Bec Smith.

“I grew up in the most government-supportive film industry, perhaps in the world. I mean, we’ve got Screen Australia, NSW, South Australia, Queensland – 70 supporting bodies, supposedly providing everything to film actors,” Noyce said.

“So I can only speak as a director [who was] asked the question: ‘Well, why would a director growing up in an environment with so many choices with so much support … Why would you want to leave and go to America?’

“And it’s a simple answer for directors: ‘Because directors are the lowest-paid people on most film sets in Australia’.”

After making Dead Calm in the late 1990s, which starred Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill, Noyce set off for Hollywood, where he remained for several years and got treated to the high life.

On the other hand, Bingwa’s path to Tinseltown was unconventional.

Charmaine Bingwa was working in the corporate world before following her passion.

Before taking to the stage Bingwa was looking out of the Westpac building, which was her last job before she decided to take the leap and pursue acting.

“I don’t come from a Hollywood family. I had no idea about the steps to get there or anything like that. If anything, I’ve just followed my passion for the craft the whole time,” Bingwa said.

That leap of faith paid off, as Bingwa was the recipient of the Heath Ledger Scholarship in 2018 and the roles flowed in.

The Zimbabwean-Australian actor has gone on to star in The Good Fight and Emancipation alongside Will Smith.

Hollywood’s changing landscape

Amy Wang was a writer for Crazy Rich Asians 2, after the first film was one of the Asian-American stories that helped “open up the market”.

“[It] allows me to kind of tell the stories I wanted to tell and embrace me as a filmmaker and because of that, I’m making my first feature film next year that’s got a Chinese-American, female main character,” Wang said.

Bingwa noticed a shift in demand in the middle of COVID, following widespread Black Lives Matter protests after George Floyd’s death.

“I just watched the scripts change that were coming through, I watched the types of stories we were getting, which to me is the whole reason I do this,” Bingwa said.

“I want to be able to represent people from more marginalised parts of society and under-represented parts of society.”

For Noyce, a “73-year-old white male”, he recognises films like Rabbit Proof Fence would be in better hands if it were made today.

“I’d say if I was embarking on Rabbit Proof Fence now, I would have to find five, six or 10 Indigenous directors who could do a better job,” he admitted.

“So it’s a very different world that we work in now, but as a 73-year-old white male, I can say I had my day.”

All thanks to Paul Hogan

Jason Clarke recently starred in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, and admitted that Nolan had made fun of his stint in Home and Away.

Although Hollywood was his Rome and was always the goal, he notes that it is a completely different culture in Los Angeles, where people have come from all over.

“It’s a very strong community of like carny folk, that really have come from everywhere that are just trying to produce something out of nothing with other people’s money,” he said.

Noyce said many Australians had doors opened for them in Hollywood thanks to Paul Hogan.

Whether Australians are like Hogan or not, generally, they tend to stick out in a town like Hollywood, for all the right reasons.

“I think authenticity sings really loudly over there, in a place that, it sounds like a cliche, but a place that is known for being kind of artificial,” Bingwa said.

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