Scout & About: Melbourne

On paper, the retro thriller “Killer Elite,” which is set in Europe and the Middle East almost 40 years ago, would have given studio execs budgetary goose bumps. But they likely breathed a sigh of relief when Aussie location manager Russell Boyd told them the southern city of Melbourne could double for all their locations — and with a minimum of f/x trickery.

“There is a great European influence that Melbourne has had for three generations,” says Boyd. “We used Melbourne as Scotland, London, Paris and Oman. And we didn’t use computers to make Melbourne look like Oman, we hired a hotel on Royal Parade which had a wonderful period pool area.”

Boyd thinks Melbourne’s flexibility is the key to its success as a film location whether it be doubling for various cities, or various times. Many other Australian cities have been keen on the new, and while Sydney might be a great spot for a futuristic “Matrix”-style pic, it has not given its older buildings the same love as its southern counterpart.

In the past decade Melbourne has played host to major U.S.-set movies such as “Knowing,” period minis like “The Pacific” and the creepy Maine of Stephen King’s imagination for “Nightmares and Dreamscapes.” Boyd argues that the state of Victoria is also one of the most aggressive of all Aussie locations when it comes to proving its film-friendly chops.

“I regularly sit with a working group and that group is all about a proactive way of moving forward with filming in the city, how to address any concerns and to free it up for film productions to come here,” Boyd says. State film org “Film Victoria sits in the meeting, their licensing department, their marketing people … (transport org) VicRoads sits in on the meeting, (as well as) the Victoria Police and middle management and events people from the city of Melbourne.”

The group meets once a fortnight when things are busy, all with the aim of making any international productions run more smoothly.

Film Victoria handles the state coin which, in tandem with the federal government’s Location Offset of 16.5% and the more attractive Producer Offset of 40%, can make Down Under a viable location despite a local currency that is flexing its international muscle.

Victoria also offers the regional Production Investment Attraction Fund, coin to tempt shoots to the state; all it needs to be is a “footloose” project with qualified interstate or overseas coin. It also offers the Regional Location Assistance Fund that can help offset costs for productions wanting to make use of regional shoots. Plus a Head of Department Incentive that is capped at $A50,000 ($53,830) for productions that use local department heads.

But Film Victoria’s acting topper Jenni Tosi is keen to echo Boyd that Victoria, and Melbourne in particular, is more that just a cheap location: “We would say we excel at the package,” she says.

“We’ve got graffitied laneways, we’ve got Victorian buildings, there are gothic-style buildings, there are so many different aspects of architecture and there is a beautiful openness to the city of Melbourne in terms of what kind of camera angles you can achieve, which makes it visually very dynamic,” Tosi says.

She adds that it’s a city that loves film.

“We would say we’re the heart of culture within Australia and cinema is an enormous part of that,” she says. “The Melbourne Intl. Film Festival was formed just four years after the Cannes Film Festival and is celebrating its 60th birthday this year, so that culture is really rich and there is a great love for cinema here.”

Fest artistic director Michelle Carey agrees but insists the 60-year milestone is as much about looking forward as back.

“In the accelerator program (for shorts helmers who want to make features) we have had people like David Michod (‘Animal Kingdom’) and Justin Kurzel (‘Snowtown’) come up through that, and they are the next generation of filmmakers in Australia,” Carey says.

The Docklands Film Studio in Melbourne is a key part of the city’s film infrastructure, and recently got additional funding from the city to renovate its warehouse space and make some external tweaks that topper Rod Allan says “will make the place more functional.”

Allan says the city is more than just a collection of great facilities. Melbourne is “a very film friendly city with a lot of different looks, we see the main thing about the studio is that it complements everything else about the city,” he says.

Mark Johnson, producer of the Miramax frightener “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” which shot in the city last year, filmed about 75% of the pic on the Docklands stages, as well as location shooting and post work done locally (see box), and says if the money adds up he would do it again. Johnson, who is adapting novel “Breath” by Aussie author Tim Winton, says it was “a real joy” to work in Victoria.

“There’s something about the Australian way of working that I really respect, it’s no nonsense and everybody does what he or she says they are going to do; and if they can’t do it they say so. There’s not a, what I would call, good old American bullshit,” he says, laughing.

SCOUT & ABOUT: MELBOURNE
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