World Report: Australia

Gov coin continues to be the wizardy behind the Oz film industry

The recent $21 million payment to keep “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” afloat Down Under is clear evidence of a country employing creative means to keeps its appeal alive to big overseas productions.

Oz’s economy may be great and powerful, but that has long been the (flying) monkey on the back of a local

film industry having a tough time attracting runaways. To make sure the rest of the world doesn’t forget that this far-flung isle has a wealth of local talent and abundance of diverse locations, the industry has managed to get at least one blockbuster a year to make the trip, thanks to generous one-off government subsidies that are similar to those offered in New Zealand to The Hobbit.

The latest recipient of the Oz government’s largesse is the Disney tentpole “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” toplining Brad Pitt, that got a one-off payment of $A21.6 million ($20.7 million) in April instead of just the Location Offset, which is set at 16.5% of a foreign film’s qualifying spend.

While the value of giving government coin to Hollywood has been debated Down Under, Ausfilm topper Debra Richards harbors no doubt that it’s an important incentive for the industry.

“Encouraging international offshore production keeps Australia and the local industry competitive,” says Richards. “A major production such as ‘20,000 Leagues’ means jobs, continuity of work, skills and training, and innovation and investment back into the local industry.”

The one-off payment is similar to the $13.5 million given last year to “The Wolverine” to have it film in and around Sydney, and forms part of the Creative Australia policy to boost local arts and international pics.

“It is possible,” says Richards says of seeing the return of the one-off system. “The federal government announced an additional ($20.7 million) location incentive in the recent national cultural policy, Creative Australia, to keep Australia competitive for international production — on top of ‘The Wolverine’ and ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ payments — so there is an opportunity to access the additional incentive on top of the current Location Offset.”

These incentives make Oz appealing again in a tough market, but a permanent hike in the Location Offset would signal more security and has been alluded to in Creative Australia should the dollar remain high.

Not that all is lost, since a few local co-prods have also attracted some big name talent in the past year.

Michael and Peter Spierig (“Daybreakers”) are in pre-production in Victoria on Predestination, a sci-fi based on a short story by Robert A. Heinlein (“Starship Troopers”) and starring Ethan Hawke. Ewan McGregor is filming crime-thriller “Son of a Gun” in Western Australia. And the long-awaited, Mel Gibson-free fourth installment in George Miller’s Mad Max series is in post-production.

One-off government payments are making sure that at least some big U.S. productions head to Oz, but some more policy wizardry may be needed should the high dollar continue.

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