Why Australia's Film, TV Business Has Hollywood Buzzing Again

"Happy Feet Two"
"Happy Feet Two"
 Warner Bros. Entertainment

The boom has sparked a boost in the quality and diversity of production and an increasing number of international projects and co-productions.

Indeed, of the big-budget, studio-backed productions to call Australia home during the past two years, it is believed that only Fox's new sci-fi TV series Terra Nova could not take advantage of the offsets because it's under the creative control of U.S. producers. 

According to DreamWorks Television co-head Justin Falvey, the decision to shoot the series here was based on the producers' preference for the look of the Australian rainforest, the locations incentive and available nearby studio space.

It also has the imprimatur of series director Jon Cassar, who tells The Hollywood Reporter: "I've filmed all over the world, and I'm enjoying shooting in Australia. The look of the place is very different, and that's what we were striving for, particularly moving away from Hawaii. And the crews are really solid; for me, that's a big sigh of relief."

But while facilities like Fox Studios Australia, Village Roadshow Studios on Queensland's Gold Coast, Melbourne's Docklands Studios and the new Adelaide Studios are beginning to host more big-budget fare, a raft of midrange projects -- including many of the 24 Australian films set for release during the next 12 months -- have kept the local sector busy in 2011.

Most notable on that crowded calendar are Simon Wincer's The Cup; Stephan Elliott's A Few Best Men; P.J. Hogan's Mental; the surfing movie Drift, starring Sam Worthington; Kieran Darcy-Smith's debut feature Wish You Were Here, starring Edgerton and Teresa Palmer; the musicals Goddess, starring Irish pop singer-turned-X Factor Australia judge Ronan Keating, and The Sapphires, with a mostly indigenous cast; and Jonathan Teplitzky's The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth. And down in Victoria, Stuart Beattie will film I, Frankenstein, starring Aaron Eckhart, in 2012.

Meanwhile, the visual effects sector has ramped up significantly with the doubling of the PDV incentive. Proyas' Paradise Lost has a massive 78 weeks of effects work scheduled in Australia under the aegis of L.A.-based wizards Digital Domain, which has used the incentives as an opportunity to open its first offshore arm here.

That means the 500 or so effects specialists working on Happy Feet Two can move to Paradise Lost, stopping the brain drain that often occurs when big projects finish.

But if features are the sexy end of the business, television is the workhorse here.  Among a growing slate of small-screen projects with international flavor is Jane Campion's return to TV with Top of the Lake, an atmospheric mystery series to be shot in New Zealand and produced by Sherman and Iain Canning, with money from BBC, Australian Broadcasting Corp., TV3 and Screen Australia.

And U.S. producers are joining their U.K. counterparts like FremantleMedia, Shine and BBC Worldwide in investing in Australia, eyeing the TV offset for its commercial benefits and local partners for their creative output.

NBCUniversal International is the first U.S. major to gain a foothold here, buying a majority stake in high-end TV drama and film producer Matchbox Pictures this year. It was the company's first investment in a production entity outside the U.K.

Announcing the deal, NBCU president of international TV production Michael Edelstein said Matchbox "shares our vision to produce amazing television in Australia and around the world. Matchbox's team have great taste, with an inventive ability to tell compelling stories."

But Rosen warns against complacency. The next step, he says, is to make more films in the $30 million to $50 million range. "We have to move from the cottage industry of doing one film every so often to moving into the space being vacated by the studios," he says.

Pictured below: "Drift"

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