Queensland film office officials were deflated last year when they lost Aussie director Simon Wincer’s Disney adventure, “Dumbo Drop,” to Thailand. Robin James, chief exec of Pacific Film & Television Commission, says he was especially miffed because “we’d found the 12 elephants they needed.”
There was another jumbo-sized blow to Queensland and the Warner Roadshow Movie Studios when the Robert Evans/Village Roadshow Pictures long-bruited production of “The Phantom” was postponed last October, leaving the lot with a five-month gap to fill.
Nonetheless, Queensland played host to a record $A143 million ($107 million) worth of film and TV production in the 12 months through June 30 of last year. Of that, James calculates $40 million was spent in the state.
But traffic wasn’t all headed to Queensland, as the other eastern states also had a buoyant year. Some $112 million was spent on film and TV ventures in New South Wales, according to estimates from the NSW Film and TV Office.
That figure is sure to balloon if 20th Century Fox gets the go-ahead to build a $20 million studio complex in Sydney. Announcing the project last October, Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch said the preferred site was the Sydney Showground, which is being vacated by its major tenant, the Royal Agricultural Society.
Along with 16 other hopefuls, Fox lodged an “expression of interest” earlier this month. A State government committee is evaluating the submissions, and Arts Minister Peter Collins says he’ll update the interested parties on progress this week. Sources say two or three serious rivals to Fox have emerged, although the U.S. major’s clout, together with the prospect of about $100 million worth of production being pumped through the facility annually for Fox, stablemate Star TV and indie producers, would seem to give Murdoch an edge.
The NSW government is anxious to get a studio built to redress Sydney’s lack of a major facility, and may see some political mileage in advancing the project before it faces a closely fought election on March 25.
In Victoria, last year’s production slate totaled $90 million, up 65% on the 1992-93 tally, according to Film Victoria.
An Australian Film Commission survey tracked six foreign-financed projects (two features, one series and three telepics) with total budgets of $78 million that lensed Down Under in 1993-94. That reps a sizable chunk of the entire production pie in Australia, alongside a total of 59 locally funded film and TV drama projects costing $169 million in that period.
Eyeing the spoils of winning productions from the U.S., Asia and elsewhere, a big contingent of Aussies will be at the Locations ’95 Expo in Burbank, Calif., March 4-6.
“We face increasing competition from Canada, various American states, Europe, Asia and New Zealand,” says James. The Locations event “gives us the opportunity to promote our distinctiveness. Ultimately we believe that what we offer is comparable with or superior to what’s on offer anywhere else.”
All five states belonging to the Export Film Services Australia trade group – NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania – will be at Locations ’95.
Since last year’s Expo, FTO director Greg Smith says there has been a big increase in the number of serious inquiries from U.S. producers interested in lensing Down Under. At any given time his office is bidding for U.S. productions worth more than $200 million.
The FTO landed a major coup when Fox decided to make “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” in Sydney. That pic rolled Oct. 31, coincidentally using the Sydney Showground pavilions, and in January moved to the Warner Roadshow studios.
“Rangers” originally was skedded to film in Vancouver. That didn’t work out and Oz was recommended by Fox senior production VP Fred Baron, who toured Down Under in 1993 to find locations and services.
Baron is one of a dozen or so L.A. producers and production execs who have visited Australia, sponsored by EFSA. The most recent delegation was made up of post-production execs from ABC, NBC and Twentieth Television.
Murray Forrest, managing director of film lab Atlab, applauds such initiatives for giving Hollywood types a first-hand look at the country’s facilities and locations.
Forrest expects a slight increase in Australian-based film and TV activity this year, noting, “The outlook is reasonably buoyant.”
Warner Roadshow is due to open the doors on its newly completed sixth sound stage in April. The NBC miniseries “Gai-Jin” will be the first tenant, occupying that stage and three others.
Also booked into the Gold Coast studios are Twentieth TV’s pilot “Space” (from the creators of “The X-Files”), and “Sahara,” Village Roadshow Pictures’ remake of the 1943 Humphrey Bogart epic.
The PFTC’s James doubts that the planned Sydney studio will adversely impact Warner Roadshow’s far larger and well-established facility.
“Another major studio (for Sydney) is a terrific development. If it focuses attention on Australia as a location and place to produce, it’s a good thing,” he says.
James is confident the 1994-95 fiscal year will see an increase in dollar volume and number of projects lensing in Queensland despite the recent strengthening of the Aussie dollar against the greenback to as high as 77¢ U.S.
“We had (U.S.) productions shooting here when the (local) dollar was worth more than 80¢,” he recalls.
Currently shooting in Queensland is “The Last Bullet,” a Japanese/Australian co-prod starring actor/singer Jason Donovan. Set in Borneo in 1945, it’s the saga of two soldiers, one Aussie, one Japanese, who develop a bizarre relationship when they are trapped in bunkers facing each other.