Giving Australia A Push

A relatively recent tactic by Australia’s numerous federal and state film bodies of presenting a united face to the overseas market is bearing fruit in attracting more and more offshore productions Down Under.

Export Film Services of Australia (EFSA), an industry org launched by the government’s trade promotion organization, Austrade, encourages cooperation between the various bodies and is best known for arranging visits by international studio heavyweights to view Australian production and location capabilities. It also engages in “generic marketing” of the industry.

“We are pretty pleased with the runs on the slate of late,” says Austrade executive Dr. John Robertson, citing $A15 million ($11.2 million) worth of Japanese business.

He sees the main role for EFSA as making the international industry aware of what is offered Down Under, and then leaving the state film offices to win the location business.

“We have lifted the profile of the Australian industry in people’s minds as a place to do business. The industry has been on a bit of a roll and successes like ‘Muriel’s Wedding’ and ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ certainly have not hurt. They have made people more willing to listen, and heightened interest in Australia, along with the Olympics,” Robertson said.

In addition to the state film bodies and the Australian Film Commission (AFC), corporate production members include Atlab, Warner Roadshow Movie World Studios, Videolab, Kodak and Global Television.

EFSA is organizing all state film commissions to have their own stands in an “Australia Street” at Burbank’s Location Expo in March. Most location marketing offices have common aims of luring overseas productions to their shores and exporting local productions.

Founding EFSA member the New South Wales Film and Television Office (FTO) reports a huge level of interest, so much so that it has been bidding for U.S. production worth more than $200 million. With EFSA’s help it won Fox’s “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” movie, which has been shooting in Sydney since October and now spends about 80% of its marketing funds on EFSA activities.

FTO director Greg Smith said there is “a new interest and preparedness in the U.S. in producing offshore. Australia offers good value for money and everyone involved becomes a de facto ambassador.”

“I think the profile of the industry and its output has been raised by recent successes. English-speaking ‘foreign’ products, such as Australia’s ‘Priscilla’ and ‘Strictly Ballroom,’ New Zealand’s ‘The Piano’ and the UK’s ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ are getting a bigger slice of the U.S. box office and the cost analysis shows they should be involved – these people are not dumb by any means.”

The FTO offers few financial sweeteners offered by other states to lure production shoots their way. This has posed no problem for overseas producers, whom Smith believes are not swayed by financial offers if a location is inconvenient, but it has cost Sydney many domestic productions, he admits.

The Victorian industry is also enjoying a boom in production; this year’s production slate has increased 68%, to $90 million.

The Victorian State Government recently allocated $1.9 million to Film Victoria for a Committed Funding Facility to assist local producers and attract interstate and overseas producers.

Film Victoria’s specialist division, the Melbourne Film Office (MFO), provides marketing and location advice. Recently it also successfully marketed the services of musicians from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, with Fred Schepisi’s “IQ” (from UIP) and Japanese production “Napoleon” utilizing those talents.

The body is also a member of EFSA; one project to come out of its membership following an EFSA-organized visit by MGM executives is the five-week shoot of MGM’s “The Silverstrand,” which according to MFO manager Mariel Beros, came to Victoria owing to the increased difficulty American filmmakers have in gaining access to naval bases for filming.

“Melbourne presents a unique urban environment in which to work and the films originating from here have a distinctive contemporary look and feel,” Film Victoria exec director Jenifer Hooks says.

Queensland meanwhile, had a big year, rising to become the nation’s second production center behind NSW. According to state arts minister Dean Wells, the value of film production there in 1994 was $107.2 million, up from $7.5 million five years ago.

Apart from the thriller “Blackwater Trail,” a co-production with UK-based Portman being shot in Queensland, the state also is the location for 20th Century Fox’s “Tears of the Sun,” Twentieth Television’s “Space,” NBC’s “Gai-Jin” miniseries and “Violent Earth,” a co-production between Australian Crawford Productions and French broadcaster Gaumont. Arguably, the highlight of last year was the filming of the almost $37 million Jean-Claude Van Damme pic “Street Fighter.”

South Australian Film Corp. (SAFC) marketing manager Julia de Roeper told Variety the body has just approved a new marketing strategy that includes the compilation of guides detailing the hottest sellers overseas as a guide for local producers wanting to sell big overseas; promoting the state as a location through the EFSA program; and creating a marketing package, including an interactive CD-ROM to be launched later this year, for studio execs and use at trade fairs.

“We are very aware of the fact we are not the Gold Coast with big studios, but we can offer cheap transport and accommodation,” de Roeper said, noting a range of locations, such as beach, hills, desert and forests, are within 40 minutes of the city center.

The SAFC also has a range of funding initiatives available to overseas producers for script development, market development and production for projects that are being more than 50% shot and post-produced in the state.

The SAFC’s sound studio is well-regarded and recently hosted the sound mixing for the Japanese version of “Napoleon.”

One of the newer bodies is Screen West, which was established just over a year ago to replace the Film Council in Western Australia, where the state’s isolation seems to make for innovative resourcing arrangements.

The centerpiece of its program to stimulate production is a rebate program offering local or overseas productions up to a 20% rebate on production costs for employing Western Australians on location.

Western Australia activity this year included the shooting of a 26-part, $4.5 million children’s drama series called “Ship to Shore,” a Paul Barron production for rival Australian networks Nine and the ABC, plus the UK’s BBC. Nine is to have first airing, with repeats on the ABC, chief executive Debra Allanson said.

Screen West is not a member of EFSA, preferring instead to use its status as a distant city on the West Coast as an asset in touting its relative proximity to South East Asia and Europe.

Tasmania is the only state without a government film body but last year a private initiative was established to fill this role. Called Locations Tasmania, it offers a location coordination service organizing accommodation, travel and location services for incoming productions, which the service claims will reduce by 30% to 40% the cost of filming in other Australian locations.

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