Some of Hollywood’s biggest stars and big-budget productions have sought refuge in the COVID-free safe haven of Queensland to shoot blockbuster movies and keep the film industry alive amid the pandemic.
But now that Hollywood is back up and running thanks to fewer restrictions, will the Australian blockbuster boom continue?
Both the Australian and Queensland governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars luring international film productions to Australian shores, with the Commonwealth alone spending $400 million.
Since the beginning of 2020, Queensland has secured 39 international and domestic productions, which are worth an estimated $437 million to the local economy.
Some of the most recent blockbusters filmed in Australia include Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic, Escape from Spiderhead starring Chris Hemsworth and Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives, all shot on the Gold Coast.
The film Ticket To Paradise, starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney, is due to start filming in Queensland, including on location in the Whitsundays, in November.
Lockdowns and tight border restrictions have been blamed for cancellations, postponements and even some major projects, such as Chris Hemsworth’s Extraction 2 that was supposed to be shot in New South Wales, heading back overseas.
‘Things are starting to die out’
With no easing of Australia’s international border restrictions in sight film producer Georgina Marquis argued it was getting harder to lure big name cast and crew away from the United States where they can work now anyway.
The executive producer of True Spirit, a screen adaptation of Australian sailor Jessica Watson’s record-breaking solo circumnavigation around the world, returned to Australia when COVID-19 hit last year.
Marquis’s CV has spanned more than 20 years, with production credits on films such as Southpaw, Foxcatcher and Up In The Air.
She relished the opportunity to work at home but warned border restrictions were making it harder to sustain the boom.
“I feel like it’s already starting to peter out a little bit,” she said.
“I’ve been back for 14 months now and I’ve been fortunate enough to work solidly but it feels like things are starting to die out.
“I think that’s mostly because of the restrictions that we have with borders and getting people into the country.
“It just makes it really difficult. We’re really isolated here.”
With no easing of Australia’s international border restrictions in sight, Marquis said it was getting harder to lure big name cast and crew away from the United States, where they have now been able to work mostly free of COVID-19 restrictions.
“They’re dealing with it. It’s expensive protecting the crew [in the United States], with testing and PPE,” she said.
“But they need to make movies and TV, so they’ll push through and keep going.
“I think if they can be doing it there and getting similar government incentives in the United States or Canada or Europe which is closer, they’ll keep doing that.”
Border travel restrictions a barrier for blockbusters
She said the federal and state government funding on offer in Australia will keep the cameras rolling but the hefty turnover of titles could slow down.
“I think there will still be a steady stream. It may not be as busy as the past 12 to 18 months,” Ms Marquis said.
“The incentives are worth waiting for, but you need to be able to do your job and move around.
“If people are coming from the US, they need to be able to bring their families or go home simply and get back in.”
She said job offers were now coming in for major projects in the US but she would prefer to stay here.
“It’s the perfect place to be, we just have to be accessible for everybody,” she said.
Writer and director Sarah Spillane has been in Australia for six months to shoot True Spirit but has plans to return to the US as soon as filming wraps up.
The award-winning Australian said she would love to stay but there was more work in America.
“There’s a lot more opportunities in the US for me than there are here but I would love to continue to work here,” Spillane said.
She was confident that as long as government funding kept flowing, the international film industry would keep coming to Australia.
“The incentives are a huge part of the decision-making process,” she said.
“If they continue then yes, there will continue to be quality international productions being made out of Australia.”
Industry bosses confident Australia’s name will stay up in lights
Screen Australia boss Graeme Mason has conceded border restrictions are making filmmaking more difficult in Australia but the prospects are still strong including next year’s big budget Mad Max Furiosa film to be shot in New South Wales.
“We’ve got great incentives and it’s up to us to remain as attractive as we can, but I do think there’s a bigger slice of global business coming,” he said.
He argued once big names have worked here, they often return.
“[Hollywood actress] Melissa Macarthy came here to do the Nicole Kidman show [the television miniseries Nine Perfect Strangers] and then did a block of her next show here because she enjoyed it so much,” he said.
“People like her and crew and directors, I honestly believe, hand on heart, they’ll come back,” he said.
Kate Marks, the CEO of AusFilm, a government-industry body that promotes Australia as film and television production destination, noted some projects will stay overseas now Hollywood has reopened.
But she pointed out most big film and television projects are delivered over years and there a many more prospects in the pipeline.
“We always knew at some point the world would open up and we’d be back to that pre-COVID very competitive environment,” she said.
“But Australia really does have an incredibly attractive offer for these international film-makers from locations to crew facilities, we’ve got a strong track record over many many years.”
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