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Oz shills for more shoots

Local prod'n slows after 'Superman,' 'Nightmare'

SYDNEY — With horror skein “Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King” preeming on TNT this week (July 12), and “Superman Returns” soaring in cinemas worldwide, the Aussie production sector is eager to tell the world it produced both shows. Don’t think it doesn’t need to.

Coote/Hayes Prods. lensed “Nightmares,” an A$35 million ($26 million) eight-part series, in Melbourne from October through March, and “Superman” took over Fox Studios Sydney for much of 2004 and 2005. Both effects-heavy productions employed legions of Aussie cast and crew. Companies Rising Sun Pictures, Illoura and Animal Logic were engaged for a significant amount of the visual effects. The Melbourne Film Office estimates “Nightmares” spent $20 million in Oz. “Superman” spent an undisclosed proportion of its $140 million budget there.

But now the cupboard is bare, and the biz is really hurting.

According to Australian Film Commission records, for the past financial year (July ’05-June ’06), “Nightmares” was the only foreign series to lense in Oz, and there was just one substantial foreign movie, WWE’s “The Condemned.”

A handful of smaller Indian features filmed Down Under, but when the AFC releases its annual production report in the coming months, it will show last year as probably the worst since the advent of offshore production.

Mark Woods, CEO of lobby org Ausfilm, says the AFC figures fail to account for the reality shows that lens in Oz and post-production on pics that don’t undertake any physical production there. Nevertheless, he agrees it has not been a good year for Oz production, and most of his stakeholders, companies that service the offshore sector, are hurting.

“The incentives must be overhauled to take into account the industry has changed massively since 2001 when they were introduced,” Woods says. The government is currently reviewing the 12.5% offset available to large-scale film and TV productions. The production sector is lobbying for smaller films to be eligible for the offset, and the post production sector wants incentives to apply to post for productions who don’t shoot in the country.

For example, Warners was able to claim the 12.5% offset on all of “Superman’s” physical and post-production in Oz. Much of the post-production for Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” was done at Animal Logic in Sydney, but producers are ineligible for the offset because the pic didn’t physically shoot there.

According to Ausfilm, it is precisely this type of post work that is needed to keep biz ticking. “As it stands, there’s not enough cost differential between Australia and Canada to cross the Pacific on a smaller movie,” Woods says.

Producers can save $200,000-$400,000 by coming to Oz, but Ausfilm reckons they need to save $1 million to make the trip worthwhile.

Fox Studios has been largely empty since “Superman” last year, and is vacant until Baz Luhrmann locks down a start date for his untitled Outback epic with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman (now mooted to be 2007). Queensland’s Roadshow Studios are also vacant. Central City Studios in Melbourne is gearing up for Spike Jonze’s $80 million “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Elsewhere, the industry is quietly confident of a positive outcome from the government’s review — after all, there’s a federal election due next year, and the government knows filmmakers can be very vocal when they’re unhappy.

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