Oz confronts steep production downturn

Expenditure figures worst since 1995

SYDNEY — Runaway production used to be an American problem. But although some U.S. productions did decamp Down Under, last year’s offshore production figures proved to be the worst since 1995.

The Australian Film Commission reported that for the year ending June 2006, expenditure by foreign productions fell to A$49 million ($38 million), down from $191 million in 2005 and well below Oz’s $156 million five-year average.

The figures are the result of a general decline in the production of footloose TV skeins and few big-budget features lensing in Oz last year. Mark Woods, topper of international lobby agency Ausfilm, admitted to deep concern among his member organizations, but pointed to a rebound in 2007.

“We came off a robust year (in 2005) with ‘Superman Returns,’ ‘Stealth’ and ‘Ghost Rider,’ and in the next year, there’s a sizable upturn with Spike Jonze’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ and ‘Fool’s Gold,’ ” Woods says.

An outdated incentive scheme and the strength of the Aussie dollar against the greenback are factors in the dip in productions, but the government has promised an expedient outcome of its just-completed review of tax incentives for the film industry.

Oz production figures would have been higher if they included the growing post-production sector, which is providing digital effects for pics that don’t shoot Down Under.

Oz companies Rising Sun Pictures and Animal Logic, for example, worked on the last Oliver Stone and “Harry Potter” films shot Stateside and in Blighty.

The most recent numbers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show total income earned by post-production and film laboratory services grew from $76 million in financial year 1994 to $270 million in 2003. That figure now is likely much higher.

AFC acting topper Chris Fitchett says the effects industry, which is campaigning for recognition of its growing importance so that it can be eligible for tax breaks akin to those available to the physical production sector, will be included in statistics next year.

“These figures show something should be done sooner rather than later. We’ve got to ensure sustainability of the local industry,” Fitchett says.

A strong offshore sector is a key to that. “The two industries complement one another,” Fitchett says. “The offshore sector creates employment and infrastructure used by the Australian productions.”

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