The Australian regions stepping up - and cashing in - when Hollywood comes calling
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The Australian regions stepping up – and cashing in – when Hollywood comes calling

Since Hollywood ‘discovered’ Australia during COVID, the local film industry has gone from strength to strength, reaping rewards across regional economies

By Mercedes Maguire
Mon, Jul 31, 2023 9:13amGrey Clock 5 min

When the Sydney Harbour Bridge was shut down in early 2023 so Ryan Gosling could film a stunt on it for his latest movie, The Fall Guy, all eyes were on the handsome leading man – and why not? But did you stop to think of the Aussie company that provided his lunch that day, the makeup artist who got him looking just right, the supplier who provided portable loos for the day’s filming, or even the helicopter crew tasked with helping shoot the adventure scene?

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Australia has long been a popular choice for Hollywood to film their blockbusters – The Great Gatsby at Manly, The Pirates of the Caribbean on The Whitsundays and Gold Coast, The Matrix in Sydney and Wolverine in Parramatta, to name a few.  Behind the press conferences that congratulate the government for bringing such productions down under and the media snippets that catch glimpses of the leading man or lady caught walking our streets, it’s small businesses that benefit.

Since 2018, 39 international movie productions have been filmed in Australia – predominantly the east coast states of NSW, Victoria and Queensland – which has generated more than $3.3 billion in private investment and provided more than 24,100 jobs for local cast and crew, according to data from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts.

A report titled Creative Industries Ripple Effect by UK-based consultancy Olsberg SPI found that 63 percent of the expenditure derived from making a movie or film went to businesses outside of the film industry – to the construction, catering, hair and makeup, real estate, tourism, hospitality and countless other businesses that benefit when an international film production company rolls into town.

The town of Hay in south western NSW was struggling last year after months of COVID state border lockdowns decimated their Sydney to Adelaide drive-through tourism. When a big budget Hollywood action film (that cannot be named) chose the Riverina town to film, it was a lifeline.

“The impact was immediate and tangible,” says the economic development officer for Hay Shire Council, Alison McLean. 

“There was $7 million in economic activity just from the cast and crew being in town. It was also incredible from a confidence-boosting point of view for our businesses; all of a sudden there were 400 extra people spending money in the region and the businesses really stepped up and took a lot of pride in providing excellent service.”

The regional town of Hay has seen a $7 million boost from being used as a film location.

She said the most obvious impact was on the accommodation sector which had suffered a 60 percent downturn in revenue and as a result of the filming in town, there was a 72 percent increase.

For The Whitsundays in Queensland, it is hoped the long term benefits of movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and, more recently, Ticket to Paradise starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney will translate to tourism dollars.

Julia Roberts and George Clooney starred in Ticket to Paradise, shot in The Whitsundays.

“After the movies are released, we reap the tourism rewards as our stunning region is up in lights,” says Tourism Whitsundays CEO Rick Hamilton. “If you Google Ticket to Paradise, you’ll find it was filmed at Palm Bay Resort and Hamilton Island, both island resorts that are bookable by visitors.

“The beauty of The Whitsundays is that it’s hard to disguise. Hollywood can change the location, but it still looks like The Whitsundays.”

Locations manager Jeremy Peek — who has worked on Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Alien: Covenant (2017), Peter Rabbit 1 and 2 (2018 and 2021) and Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022) — says international film production is a growing sector. He says COVID shone a spotlight on Australia as an ideal filming location and the effects of that have continued beyond the opening of borders.

Jeremy Peek on location in Broken Hill

“Early on when COVID hit it was felt that we were just about the only country in the world who could keep going and the world looked to us as a safe haven to film in,” Peek says. “(Netflix series) Pieces of Her, for example, was due to start shooting in Vancouver when COVID hit, they’d built sets and everything, but they moved the shoot here. And Three Thousand Years of Longing, which was originally meant to be shot in Sydney, London and Turkey, was re-scouted to Sydney because there was confidence in Australia being a safe place to work.”

Peek says the government incentives and rebates are important now that the COVID scare has passed because they show Australia can compete on a world stage. 

It’s for this reason Ausfilm CEO, Kate Marks, believes the incentives the State and Federal Government offer to attract the likes of Disney, Universal, Marvel and Netflix to our shores need to be increased.

There is the Location Incentive grant, which is a merit-based offer that entitles an international production company to a grant worth 13.5 percent of their production expenditure. A secondary offer, the Location Offset Rebate, provides a 16.5 percent tax break. When used together, they result in a 30 percent carrot dangling in front of production companies. But only the Location Offset is permanently legislated.

“On its own the 16.5 percent Location Offset is not going to stay competitive for Australia on a world stage for too long,” she says. “Ideally, we would love to see a 30 percent Location Offset incentive as it’s the best option to provide ongoing certainty for companies. 

“There are studios who are coming back again and again; NBC/Universal have done 13 film and television projects here, and studios like Disney and Warner Bros also keep coming back.

“We need to see that continue.”

And it appears the Federal Government has listened, announcing an increase to the Location Offset from 16.5 per cent to 30 percent for eligible productions in the recent budget. 

It’s a move Peter Davey, co-CEO of law firm EMT, who specialise in entertainment, media, sport and technology advice, has welcomed.

“With the offset established, Australia will remain a highly attractive location for international productions and the investment in talent and jobs here will continue to grow,” Davey says.  “In the details of the Government’s announcement, there are also requirements for international companies to, for example, commit to training and to work with Australian digital, visual effects and post production companies.”

Film and television producer James Hoppe adds Australia needs to expand its studio space, evolve the foundation of film technology and increase the local labour force in order for international film production in Australia to grow.

“The labour force can only handle so much and when an international production comes in, they suck up all the labour pretty quickly,” the owner of Maker Films says. 

“There needs to be an implementation by local council so they can handle the influx of an international production. When Marvel took over Fox Studios and Elvis was being filmed on the Gold Coast and Robbie William’s Better Man was being filmed in Melbourne, it sucked up a lot of the labour force and production facilities and it was difficult for other international or local producers to access required resources.”


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Wild cities and concrete corridors: How AI is reimagining the landscape

A new AI-driven account by leading landscape architect Jon Hazelwood pushes the boundaries on the role of ‘complex nature’ in the future of our cities

By Robyn Willis
Wed, Dec 6, 2023 2 min

Drifts of ground cover plants and wildflowers along the steps of the Sydney Opera House, traffic obscured by meadow-like planting and kangaroos pausing on city streets.

This is the way our cities could be, as imagined by landscape architect Jon Hazelwood, principal at multi-disciplinary architectural firm Hassell. He has been exploring the possibilities of rewilding urban spaces using AI for his Instagram account, Naturopolis_ai with visually arresting outcomes.

“It took me a few weeks to get interesting results,” he said. “I really like the ephemeral nature of the images — you will never see it again and none of those plants are real. 

“The AI engine makes an approximation of a grevillea.”

Hazelwood chose some of the most iconic locations in Australia, including the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, as well as international cities such as Paris and London, to demonstrate the impact of untamed green spaces on streetscapes, plazas and public space.

He said he hopes to provoke a conversation about the artificial separation between our cities and the broader environment, exploring ways to break down the barriers and promote biodiversity.

“A lot of the planning (for public spaces) is very limited,” Hazelwood said. “There are 110,000 species of plants in Australia and we probably use about 12 in our (public) planting schemes. 

“Often it’s for practical reasons because they’re tough and drought tolerant — but it’s not the whole story.”

Hazelwood pointed to the work of UK landscape architect Prof Nigel Dunnett, who has championed wild garden design in urban spaces. He has drawn interest in recent years for his work transforming the brutalist apartment block at the Barbican in London into a meadow-like environment with diverse plantings of grasses and perennials.

Hazelwood said it is this kind of ‘complex nature’ that is required for cities to thrive into the future, but it can be hard to convince planners and developers of the benefits.

“We have been doing a lot of work on how we get complex nature because complexity of species drives biodiversity,” he said. 

“But when we try to propose the space the questions are: how are we going to maintain it? Where is the lawn?

“A lot of our work is demonstrating you can get those things and still provide a complex environment.” 

At the moment, Hassell together with the University of Melbourne is trialling options at the Hills Showground Metro Station in Sydney, where the remaining ground level planting has been replaced with more than 100 different species of plants and flowers to encourage diversity without the need for regular maintenance. But more needs to be done, Hazelwood said.

“It needs bottom-up change,” he said. ““There is work being done at government level around nature positive cities, but equally there needs to be changes in the range of plants that nurseries grow, and in the way our city landscapes are maintained and managed.”

And there’s no AI option for that. 


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