Production thriving as currency falls
SYDNEY — The Australian production sector is suddenly very optimistic about the future.With Baz Luhrmann finishing “Australia” in Sydney and new federal coin agency Screen Australia about to welcome its long-awaited inaugural CEO Ruth Harley, the biz feels the tumult of the last few years is about to pay off. This week, an unexpected bonus was delivered in the shape of the plummeting Aussie dollar, now worth 60¢ from a peak in mid July almost equal to the U.S. dollar. Importers are understandably dazed and confused, but Australia’s offshore sector, which grew up on “The Matrix” series, “Moulin Rouge!” and “Star Wars Episodes II and III” during the first half of this decade when the Aussie dollar was worth 52¢-62¢, is quietly overjoyed. Enquiries from filmmakers abroad are rising, and the Canadians are said to be worried about losing biz to Oz. Long-term forecasts of the dollar stabilizing at 70¢ are reassuring. HBO’s Pacific War skein “The Pacific” and director Alex Proyas’ “The Knowing” have been shooting in Victoria this year, but incoming offshore biz has otherwise has been flat. Queensland was hectic last year with offshore productions including “Nim’s Island” and “Fool’s Gold,” but it’s been eerily quiet since. Sydney FX house Animal Logic is working on Zac Snyder’s “The Guardians of Ga’Hoole” for WB, with the only other game in town Luhrmann’s “Australia.” But what a game that’s been. Informed observers say the budget of “Australia” grew to A$180 million ($117 million) and the shoot at locations around the country chewed through more rolls of film than any other movie made on Australian soil. 20th Century Fox Australia has bullishly dubbed the pic “the most anticipated film of all time” and promised it will roll out on more than 537 screens, the company’s widest-ever Oz release. Some pundits are genuinely hopeful “Australia” could become the nation’s “Lord of the Rings,” channeling more production and maybe even an Oscar or two to Oz. Deluxe’s new StageOne Sound facility was built to accommodate “Australia,” and FX houses similarly have invested in equipment to realize Luhrmann’s ambitions for the film. Tony Clark from FX house Rising Sun Pictures says, ” ‘Australia’ has been a great thing; it’s created an environment where the whole visual effects industry has been able to play together.” But having geared up, those facilities are now hunting for the next gigs. Clark says his company has scaled back its workforce as it awaits projects delayed by SAG negotiations. Domestic box office so far this year is at a dismal 0.9 % of the total (the lowest in the 30 years since records began), but receipts from “Australia” during the last five weeks of the calendar year should boost it to high single digits. And last week, in another sign the future is looking bright, the biz welcomed new federal investment draft guidelines.