Ausfilm trying to lure shoots to Australia

'Terra Nova,' 'Happy Feet 2,' 'Mad Max' currently shooting

It's testing times for Ausfilm. As the locations marketing agency readies for its largest ever trade mission to the U.S. -- dubbed Ausfilm Week from Oct. 25-29 -- the value of the Australian dollar against its U.S. counterpart has soared to a 26-month high, hitting 96 cents in the last few days of September.

Los Angeles-based Ausfilm commissioner Tracey Viera says the increasing value of the currency is a "nightmare," but the agency has a number of alternative strategies its put forward in the past two years, as the competitive advantages afforded by a cheap currency and good incentives have been eroded.

Now, marketing the 40% producer's tax credit for qualifying Australian films, a lowering of the incentives thresholds for post, digital and visual effects work and continuing to sell its varied locations, infrastructure and talent is the focus.

At the same time the agency, whose membership comprises all the stage film agencies and 30 production-related businesses, is lobbying the government to introduce a sliding scale for the 15% federal location rebate available to foreign productions. It wants it increased to as much as 30%, depending on the exchange rate, but with a government inquiry under way, no decision will be made until December.

Three big-budget productions are now shooting here: Steven Spielberg's new TV series, "Terra Nova," "Happy Feet 2" and "Mad Max: Fury Road," the latter two of which are locally developed, as well as several smaller co-productions.

According to Jim Sharp, executive vp production at 20th Century Fox Television, "Queensland had the right look, climate and terrain, a vibrant production community and attractive economic incentives [for 'Terra Nova']."

At the same time recent policy changes mean the qualifying threshold for post, digital and visual effects dropped from AUS$5 million ($4.75 million) to AUS$500,000 ($480,000). The 70% rule for local expenditure to secure the locations rebate has been removed as well.

That's brought at least three U.S. features with PDV budgets less than $4.75 million into the country in the past few months, projects that wouldn't have come here otherwise, according to sources.

"If we can make production happen, whether its an Australian film with the incentives, PDV work or a U.S. TV series, we're doing everything we possibly can to get people down to Australia," Viera says.
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