At the height of the pandemic last year the Australian entertainment industry found itself desperately fighting for life.

Film and television production across the country came to a grinding halt as COVID restrictions took hold and thousands of jobs on both sides of the camera looked like they would be wiped out in the blink of an eye.

It was as dire a situation as the industry had ever found itself in and some insiders thought it may never recover.

Fast forward a few long months and Australia's enviable handling of the virus together with a massive injection of funds from the federal government to encourage international production has seen the country emerge as the hottest prospect for filmmakers around the world.

Business is booming, new jobs are opening up every day and our shores have been swamped with some of the biggest names in Tinseltown.

Hollywood has relocated Down Under.

 

Chris Hemsworth in a teaser from Queensland movie Escape From Spiderhead. Picture: Instagram/ Netflix
Chris Hemsworth in a teaser from Queensland movie Escape From Spiderhead. Picture: Instagram/ Netflix

This is good news for those stars who get to keep working their magic in front of the camera, but it's even better news for the thousands of Aussies who rely on the industry being up and running to pay their mortgages, put food on the table and send their kids to school.

The screen sector is big business in Australia. Contributing more than $5 billion a year to the economy and employing around 31,000 people, any kind of collapse would have been devastating.

A number of big budget projects that are taking advantage of the government's location incentive scheme - which was given a massive $400 million top up in July last year to create a pipeline of work stretching to 2027 - are already filming or getting ready to start soon.

Together with existing subsidies - and not including attractive state-based incentives - the scheme allows producers to claim up to 30% of their spend in Australia.

 

Liam Neeson on the set of Blacklight, currently being filmed in Australia. Picture: Rob Leeson.
Liam Neeson on the set of Blacklight, currently being filmed in Australia. Picture: Rob Leeson.

These big productions, including Thor: Love and Thunder, Ron Howard's Thirteen Lives and Blacklight, starring Liam Neeson and Guy Pearce, will bring in about $700m and create almost 10,000 jobs.

Thor alone, which is being filmed in Sydney, will employ 2500 locals.

Two films being shot in Victoria by Dick Cook Studios - Ranger's Apprentice and The Alchemyst - will receive $19.5m in incentives and in turn generate 4500 jobs and a return on investment of around $140m.

The perfect storm of funding and our COVID-19 position that is attracting unprecedented attention is strengthened up by Australia being home to some of the world's best behind-the-scenes talent.

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson will soon begin shooting Young rock on the Gold Coast.
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson will soon begin shooting Young rock on the Gold Coast.

 

Production companies who would once bring a large contingent of their own crew if they were filming in Australia are now choosing to use local talent as it is seen as equal or superior to those around the world.

"At the moment it's almost impossible to film in large parts of America or the UK or Europe so it's a moment for us," said Graeme Mason, CEO of Screen Australia.

"We have a country with an enormous amount of talent and it isn't just the movie stars. We've got writers, we've got directors of photography, editors and really great people who build sets and special effects."

Ausfilm, who market Australia as a world-class destination for international filmmakers, has fielded inquiries from production companies totalling around $2.8 billion of potential business, a big jump on previous years.

CEO Kate Marks said when a big production comes to film in Australia, the economic reach is far greater than the project itself.

"Whether it's buying up so much material at the local hardware store or catering out of the local caterers and getting food supplies," she said.

"And then hotel nights and retail and hospitality - there is a huge flow on effect which is why we do what we do and why government supports it."

 

 

Chris Hemsworth with director Joe Kosinski and co-star Miles Teller on the set of Netflix movie Escape from Spiderhead on the Gold Coast. Picture: Instagram/ @chrishemsworth
Chris Hemsworth with director Joe Kosinski and co-star Miles Teller on the set of Netflix movie Escape from Spiderhead on the Gold Coast. Picture: Instagram/ @chrishemsworth

 

 

Chris Spry, who runs Fin Design and Effects, a visual effects company that has worked on movies such as Thor: Ragnarok and Logan, said when COVID took hold he feared his business might not make it through.

"A lot of our shows were shooting when the pandemic hit and sort of just paused so there was definitely a few scary moments there, where it's like "I don't know if we'll actually get through this'," he said.

"I've always thought the industry would come back up, it's just whether we would stay intact as a business and kind of ride through it."

With the help of JobKeeper and some post production work Fin Design and Effects were able to keep a core staff of about 35 through the tough months but are now back up to employing more than 70 people as the work continues to come in.

"Through the last half of the year as they found ways to get back into production, shows spun up again and everything has kind of come back online," he said.

 

WHAT'S A MOVIE WORTH?

Escape From Spiderhead (USA)

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett

Production Co: Netflix

Shoot State: QLD

Shoot Date: Nov 2020

Investment: $21.58m split between this production and TV series 'Pieces of Her' (Location Incentive)

ROI: $47m

Jobs: 360

 

Liam Neeson on set for the new action movie Blacklight, written and directed by Ozark’s Mark Williams. Picture: Rob Leeson.
Liam Neeson on set for the new action movie Blacklight, written and directed by Ozark’s Mark Williams. Picture: Rob Leeson.

 

BLACKLIGHT (USA)

Dir: Mark Williams

Starring: Liam Neeson, Guy Pearce

Prod Co: Lightstream

Shoot State: VIC, ACT

Shoot Date: Nov 2020 (VIC), Jan 2021 (ACT)

Investment: $5.8m (Location Incentive)

ROI: $43m

Jobs: 500 jobs (VIC), 60 Jobs (ACT).

 

 

 

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (USA)

Dir: Taika Waititi

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Chris Pratt, Matt Damon

Prod Co: Marvel

Shoot State: NSW

Shoot Date: Jan 2021

Investment: $24.1m (location Incentive)

ROI: $178m

Jobs: 2,500

 

Ron Howard will shoot his Thai Caves Rescue Film ‘Thirteen Lives’ in Queensland. Picture: Getty
Ron Howard will shoot his Thai Caves Rescue Film ‘Thirteen Lives’ in Queensland. Picture: Getty

 

THIRTEEN LIVES (USA)

Dir: Ron Howard

Starring: TBC

Prod Co: Imagine Entertainment

Shoot State: QLD

Shoot Date: March 2021

Investment: $13m (Location Incentive Program)

ROI: $96m

Jobs: 435

 

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson’s TV series takes a comedic look back at his extraordinary life. Picture: Instagram
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson’s TV series takes a comedic look back at his extraordinary life. Picture: Instagram

 

YOUNG ROCK, JOE EXOTIC AND IRREVERENT

Prod Co: Universal

Starring: Dwayne Johnson (Young Rock), Nicholas Cage (Joe Exotic)

Shoot State: QLD

Shoot Date 2020 - 2022

Investment $19.5m (Location Incentive)

ROI: $140m

Jobs: 1000 Jobs

 

THE RANGER'S APPRENTICE (USA) AND THE ALCHEMYST (USA)

Prod Co: Dick Cook Studios

Starring: TBC

Shoot State: VIC

Shoot Date: 2021 TBC

Investment: $30m

ROI: $192m

Jobs: 4,500

 

 

Originally published as Big stars, bigger bucks: Inside our blockbuster boom



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