The Netflix-led streaming boom has inspired new film studio builds in Australia. But is it a gold rush or just fools’ gold?September 20, 2020
“The momentum is here to create something like this,” said Mr Gammon, whose company Cumulus VFX has done post-production work on Lambs of God, 2040 and Pine Gap. “We are taking calls from multiple films looking to shoot up here in the next year and the local industry is starting to fire up as well.”
The Northern Rivers region is home to many industry figures – most notably the Hemsworth brothers, Liam, Chris and Luke – and has become a screen production hotspot, with the Nicole Kidman-led series Nine Perfect Strangers and the Stan series Eden shooting in the area. Also in production is the low-budget feature film Bosch & Rockit, starring Luke Hemsworth and Isabel Lucas.
Netflix is also rumoured to be considering the area as a location for an upcoming production, though details are yet to be officially announced. In its submission in response to the federal government’s options paper, the streamer noted that “the search for stage space to service the production ecosystem is a worldwide phenomenon”.
In Australia, the Queensland government has responded by converting former cotton sheds into the SQ Studios facility in Brisbane. In Victoria, the state government is on track to build, at a cost of $46 million, a sixth soundstage at its Docklands Studios large enough to house big-budget Hollywood productions.
“If you want to be in this sector there are certain international preconditions that you’ve got to meet,” said Martin Foley, Victoria’s creative industries minister. “We’ve got far too much invested, and there are far too many opportunities, to muck it up.”
The global screen production sector was worth an estimated $103 billion in 2019; Australia’s share was $1.2 billion. A combination of language, skilled crews and a relatively cheap dollar makes Australia an attractive place for Hollywood – but they need the studios to shoot in.
But not everyone agrees. One studio veteran, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the pent-up demand generated by the explosion of streaming and the COVID shutdown could not be relied upon to sustain the long-term bookings. He said that when depreciation is factored in, studios typically lose money; for governments, they might make sense as drivers of employment, but for private investors they do not.
Ian Robertson, who retired as president of the Film Victoria board last month after nine years in the post,believes the state could double its share of production to $500 million annually in less than five years with a relatively small investment from the government of around $30 million a year to fund training and support local production companies.
“There’s an almost infinite global demand for quality screen content, and Australia generally is well placed to meet some of that demand,” he said.
But he doesn’t think studios are an essential part of the story.
“There’s an enormous amount of film and television in Australia that’s being shot in warehouses and sheds and things, and a lot of stuff can be shot on location,” he said. “The idea that you have to have an air-conditioned, sound-proofed, high-ceilinged building with everything that opens and shuts is not necessarily accurate.”
“I’m not saying studios don’t matter, and I think it’s very important for Melbourne to have a large world-class studio facility. But I don’t think it’s the be-all and end-all.”
Get our Morning & Evening Edition newsletters
The most important news, analysis and insights delivered to your inbox at the start and end of each day. Sign up to The Sydney Morning Herald’s newsletter here, The Age’s newsletter here, Brisbane Times‘ here and WAtoday‘s here.
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.