Australia’s COVID-19 crisis ends Hollywood’s Down Under dream run

Chris Hemsworth's action thriller will now be filmed in the Czech Republic.

Chris Hemsworth's action thriller will now be filmed in the Czech Republic. Photo: Netflix

Just when veteran Australian actor Russell Crowe thought the cast and crew of his blockbuster Poker Face had survived the production’s strict COVID-safe bubble, the dream run has sadly hit a speed bump.

In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Crowe confirmed one of the crew had tested positive to coronavirus and the production has been “immediately paused”.

With only six days left shooting, the film’s COVID team and NSW Health were also investigating a “second possible positive”.

“The crew have been masked on set the whole time except for 3 individuals with medical exemptions. We feel for the crew members involved, like all the people on this show they are both very committed team players and diligent in their approach to their work responsibilities,” he wrote.

Crowe was optimistic, however, saying “we hope this situation will be confined and we can be back up and running very soon” having already been on the road in Kiama on the NSW south coast, harbour-side at Barangaroo and Fox Studios in Sydney for the past 11 weeks.

So close, yet so far.

With more than 13,000 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in NSW alone in the past two weeks, and Victoria and the ACT enduring crippling lockdowns with dozens of new cases reported daily, it’s no wonder some film and television productions are on shaky ground.

Just over a year ago when the global pandemic struck the film industry, the eastern seaboard states were magnets for movie houses, with reputations as safe go-to regions.

Not so much now.

Despite productions being given the green light to develop their own “bespoke” strict COVID guidelines within each state’s public health orders, some big budget films are just pulling the pin.

Entertainment business news website Variety reported on Wednesday Chris Hemsworth’s action film Extraction 2 – the planned sequel to one of Netflix’s most successful original movies – will now shoot in Prague.

“Ditching” Australia, sources said Netflix and the Russo brothers’ AGBO production company [producers and writers] told the crew on Friday, saying “the decision to move was motivated by COVID and shutdown concerns”.

Variety said the attraction to film in Australia had “waned in recent months due to a low rate of vaccination, the arrival of the more infectious COVID-19 Delta variant and a sprawl of localised logistical complications”, mainly the ongoing lockdowns in suburban Sydney and Melbourne where screen production hubs are well established.

“Juggling border restrictions, authorised worker lists and changing local rules is becoming too troublesome for large film crews”.

Funding for the film industry in Australia

Julia Roberts, Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman have all filmed projects in Australia in the past 12 months. Photo: Getty

The news comes just a month after Natalie Portman suddenly pulled out of Days of Abandonment, slated to be filmed in part at Fox Studios in Sydney.

Leaving hundreds of cast and crew without jobs, and millions lost, HBO said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter on August 3: “Due to unforeseen personal reasons, Natalie Portman has stepped down from HBO Films’ Days of Abandonment prior to the start of filming.

“Unfortunately, the production will not move forward”.

Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis was also reportedly halted “temporarily” on Queensland’s Gold Coast, with its release date pushed out six months to June 2022.

And in June, Netflix announced it had stopped the Australian production on Melissa McCarthy’s God’s Favorite Idiot, cutting the number of episodes from 16 to eight.

Chris Hemsworth and director George Miller at Sydney’s Fox Studios announcing Furiosa back in April. Photo: AAP

Not all doom and gloom

Let’s be glass half full for a minute.

Queensland, where there has only been a handful of cases and a few easy-to-manage snap lockdowns, is open for business.

On August 24, federal Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher announced a new Disney+ TV series based on the classic Jules Verne novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is set to be filmed on the Gold Coast early next year.

He said it would generate more than $170 million for the local economy.

They’ve handed out $23 million to the project, all part of a $500 million government incentive to bring international productions to our shores.

Only half has been distributed to date so there’s more in the kitty.

Nautilus will directly create more than 290 jobs for Australian cast and crew, more than 2200 extras roles, and use the services of an estimated 200 businesses across the country when they begin filming early next year,” he said.

Ten-part Netflix series Irreverent, about an American crook hiding out in a small Australian reef community in Far North Queensland, is also gearing up to start shooting this year at Mission Beach.

And Hemsworth has to come back.

By November, pre-production of Mad Max franchise movie Furiosa begins, bringing, by then, a much-needed Hollywood atmosphere back to our shores.

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