SYDNEY — The Aussie screen biz is hotly debating “Happy Feet” producer George Miller’s campaign to get his $200 million superhero blockbuster “Justice League Mortal” classified as an Australian film and therefore eligible for the new 40% film producer offset.
Those in Miller’s corner include the companies and contractors due to work on the on-again, off-again Warner Bros. film and subsequent projects that would flow from an expansive implementation of the offset.
Those opposed include filmmakers eager to ensure the rebate is used to nurture more modestly budgeted Aussie films, which, they say, would minimize the taxpayer burden. This group does not want to see a repeat of what it feels are the misuses that led to the winding back of the 10BA tax scheme in the 1980s.
Miller, an Oz native, is threatening to shoot “Justice League” and a slate of other projects in New Zealand or Canada.
“I’m dancing as fast as I can with the studio to have them hang on here,” he says. “We’re going to appeal.”
Sen. George Brandis, who was federal art minister when the rebate was conceived, backs Miller’s bid for the offset, which would see Australian taxpayers pay A$60 million ($55 million) to the Kennedy Miller Mitchell production company upon completion of the film.
But Film Finance Corp. chief executive Brian Rosen says the 40% offset is designed to assist Aussie filmmakers, while all foreign films shot Down Under are eligible for a 15% offset identical to what’s offered by New Zealand and competitive with Canada.
Miller believes the rebate is being interpreted subjectively and “that thinking dooms us to making small films that not even Australians want to see.”
Miller says he has been told “Justice League” as it is currently configured is not eligible for a provisional certificate, which means no 40% rebate. The FFC does not comment on specific projects.
All producers must apply for provisional certificates before they begin shooting. Once a project is completed, if the filmmakers have done what they said they would, the FFC signs off, making the project eligible for the offset.
To qualify for the provisional certificate, a project must be largely Australian. The FFC devised a Significant Australian Content test to ascertain “Australianness.”
The test covers a film’s subject matter, where it was made, the nationalities and places of residence of the producer, director, and other key creative personnel, details of production expenditure and any other matters the film authority considers relevant.
Warners developed the comicbook adaptation originally titled “Justice League of America.” The film features DC Comics characters headquartered in a cave outside Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, including the Flash, Superman and Wonder Woman (to be portrayed by Aussie model Megan Gale).
Late last year, the film was re-titled “Justice League Mortal” and was due to go into production this month at Miller’s new joint venture with Omnilab in Sydney, but it was suspended mid-January because the studio was unhappy with the script and frustrated by uncertainty about its eligibility for the offset.
“When you have a project not set in Australia, you have an issue,” Rosen says. “A film not created in Australia may qualify, but you’ve got to look at everything else to come to a final conclusion.”
Former arts minister Brandis says the FFC, under the guidance of arts minister Peter Garrett, is choosing to interpret the guidelines too narrowly.
“It was designed to encourage large-scale productions and incentivize overseas production houses to make large-scale productions in Australia,” Brandis maintains.
Miller also is threatening to shoot his planned sequels to “Happy Feet” and “Mad Max” elsewhere, even though both projects should easily pass the FFC’s Australian test because they were created in Oz.