Queensland: the sun is still shining

Genevieve Tait found that with the growth of other state film industries, changing financial dynamics and a disgruntled screen actors guild in the USA, Queensland’s film industry has to evolve in order to survive.

Queensland is still a hub for Australian production. However, with the changing face of industry and finance, its international production has slowed. Despite these obstacles, the state continues to build its filmmaking infrastructure and talents in an attempt to protect itself from the global crises, with plans to emerge from the turmoil stronger and more inviting than ever.

Over the 2007-2008 financial year 26 Australian projects were produced in Queensland, with a total state production expenditure of $54m. Of this total, Queensland production companies were responsible for $26m.
This figure exceeds the growth goals set by the local film government body, the Pacific Film and Television Commission (PFTC). The current investment strategy of the PFTC aims to attract $30m of Australian film production expenditure with $10m of that production  expenditure being generated by local production companies. The upcoming production slate of Australian film and television suggests that Australian production will continue to shoot above and beyond the current PFTC targets. Shooting was recently concluded on Louise Alston and Stephen Vagg’s comedy Jucy, the vampire comedy Luv Sux is currently underway and A Heartbeat Away and Last Man are in preproduction. The television series Sea Patrol and H2O Just Add Water are both currently shooting their third series.
The slate of international productions is slimmer due to  international struggles with finance and unions. “There are fewer major international productions, mainly because the hedge funds that used to co-finance most of these projects have withdrawn their funding, so
there are fewer films to go after currently. There’s also the threat of a possible SAG strike in Hollywood, which has been hanging over everyone’s heads for quite some time now” said PFTC CEO Robin James.
Despite the current doom and gloom permeating international production, Queensland continues to seek and draw international projects. “The PFTC is extremely proactive in trying to lure projects down here.”
The amount of work they’re putting in to try to secure the U$140 million Walden Media/Twentieth Century Fox The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader just proves that point. “They’ve been after that film for two years or more.” said John Cox of John  Cox’s Creature Workshop. The PFTC has reported that since The Voyage of the Dawn Treader fell over in Mexico, there have been positive discussions between Walden Media and Queensland filmmaking representatives. Jus last year, the state successfully secured the production of Daybreakers, a film combining Aussie talent (Isabel Lucas and Claudia Karvan) with well-known American actors (Ethan Hawke and Willem Defoe), suggesting the SAG strike is daunting but not disabling.

The Warner Roadshow Studios, PFTC and the Gold Coast City Council have worked together to build a filmmaking infrastructure that capitalises on the many landscapes of the state and makes filmmaking as easy as possible. The studio’s eight sound stages total an  overall floor area of 10 844 m2, making it one of the largest lots in the Southern Hemisphere. The 2007 production of Fool’s Gold required the studio to add a third water tank that has a surface area of 1200 m2 and holds 6 million litres of water, making it the largest tank in Australia.
With the Gold Coast’s 57km of beaches, five major river systems, wetlands, rainforest and subtropical climate with 287 days of sunshine annually, 75% of the state’s filmmaking takes place there. In 2008 the studio and Gold Coast City Council responded to demand for
Gold Coast production by establishing Film Gold Coast, a body designed to be a one-stop-shop for producers. “It answers all the questions that people might ask when they’re coming to film in the country, like destination, the weather, immigration, the crew base,
locations, etc., so they clearly understand what they have to deal with when they get here” said studio president and Film Gold Coast chair, Lynne Benzie.
Queensland also offers competitive belowthe- line costs; the result of the weak Australian dollar combined with crew rates and equipment hire costs. “The production economies geared to lower costs of living offer a compelling attraction,” said Dale Duguid, creative director of Photon VFX, a visual effects company that has done work on Australia and Superman Returns.
The overarching view of filmmaking in Queensland is that it is simply easier.
“The studio is located alongside the freeway and within a 20 minute-drive you’ve got rainforest, a beach or suburbia,” said Cox.
The filmmaking logistics in QLD are further simplified by a “film friendly” Gold Coast City Council. “The Council works with the PFTC and Film Gold Coast very closely. If we have a specific location that needs to close the street down, change the traffic in a different  direction, they do it. Licensing approvals are a lot quicker and rates are cheaper. They just have that vision to work together with us,” explained Benzie.
It’s easier to shoot up here – I continually get told that,” added John Lee, director of Cutting Edge, a Queensland-born, now Australia wide, post-production company.
Filmmaking development schemes come largely from two bodies: the PFTC and QPIX. In addition, there are a number of educational institutions with a focus on filmmaking, including Bond University and Griffith University, who both offer undergraduate degrees
dedicated to film and television production.
The PFTC has a variety of funding schemes designed to nurture the development of film and television creatives; however, the level of production expenditure and potential market return are also significant considerations.
“Almost all of the PFTC development programs are directed towards helping development invest in projects which are likely to be attractive to audiences and potentially successful at the box office,” said Robin James. The PFTC Production Fund supports projects
with significant market potential; the level of investment is dependent upon the amount of expenditure in the state and the number of local creative personnel used. The PFTC also offers the Creative Fellowship Scheme, which is designed to give writers, directors and producers the opportunity to develop their work through a grant and self-sought mentorship. The PFTC has also liberalised the financing process through the development of the Revolving Film Finance Fund, which provides loans to assist QLD film productions and
infrastructure projects.
Another arm of filmmaking development is QPIX. A part of Screen Development Australia (SDA), QPIX is involved in independent production to train and develop budding film and television makers. Whilst QPIX is not exclusive, it tends to admit tertiary graduates, acting as a bridge between tertiary training and industry employment. “Last year 80 per cent of our students in our formal training courses were tertiary graduates” said executive director Kerry O’Rourke.
QPIX is a Registered Training Organisation able to issue accreditation from Certificate 2 up to the Advanced Diploma. The training undergone by students hoping to acquire accreditation from QPIX is practical as opposed to theoretical and is gleaned from working on  legitimate productions QPIX is involved with.
“Everything we do we try to integrate – we always try to focus primarily on product production, then embed training in it” said O’Rourke. Through this training scheme QPIX has developed productions and co-productions with German television, the Nine and TEN networks, and the pay TV channels Discovery and History, and has several new production-training schemes beginning this year.
QPIX recently gained the exclusive Australian license to  operate a Discovery Campus in Brisbane. The Discovery Campus is a documentary training initiative in association with the Discovery Channel. The Australian Discovery Campus will be run by established  documentary maker Ruth Berry (Dinosaurs on Ice), who returns to Australia having already worked in the Munich Discovery Campus. QPIX has adapted the original European Discovery Campus template to meet the needs of Australian documentary makers and the  Australian industry. “I ran our template over their template and developed a hybrid. The focus is not on training for training’s sake – it’s on the product. It’s very intense and the development will be done under the eyes of commissioning editors from around the world,” said O’Rourke.
This year will also be the first year of QPIX’s new Black Pearls program, a development scheme aimed at the practical development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander filmmakers. This indigenous screen training scheme is funded by the Department of Education, Training and the Arts. The participants will be making short dramas, documentaries and music video clips, resulting in a Certificate 4 qualification in screen and media. In April, QPIX will also start production on its new Scrub Turkey initiative; a magazine format  television show shot live in the Brisbane Seven Network studios. The show will later air on Seven, with extensive web accompaniment. “Seven are marvellous partners; they understand its value because all the broadcasters are in desperate need of trained staff,”
said O’Rourke. The production will bring in students with a level of production experience or education and give them hands on experience in television and web production.
QPIX is casting its development net wide, partnering with Japan and possibly Korea in development schemes for independent filmmakers. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was recently forged with Japan, allowing government assisted filmmaking cooperation
between independent low budget filmmakers in QLD and  Sapporo. The first Japanese filmmaker has already come to Australia and completed production on a film that had both Japanese and Australian creative input and crews. QPIX hopes to soon form a similar agreement with the Gyeonggi province in Korea.
“The MOU] was based on the understanding that independent filmmakers all over the world all share one thing in common: they are terribly imaginative and tend to work with very small budgets, but a lot of passion. I’m creating a network in Asia of ultra low-budget filmmakers which will then connect with the Screen Development Australia network of independent low-budget filmmakers,” said O’Rourke of his aim and vision.
The agreements may result in an exchange of technique and culture, adding new elements to the stories and styles of both Australian and Japanese films. “They’re keen to learn our methods and our disciplines.”
will defund QPIX, Kerry O’Rourke is confident that an agreement preserving QPIX’s function and ability will soon be reached; Robin James declined to comment.
Many Queensland filmmaking companies appreciate the quality of facilities, development schemes and relative simplicity of filmmaking in the state, but there is also a lack of faith in the PFTC’s protection of local interests.

“Our government was strongly supporting our US work, but when the dollar went up and the Americans went away, we needed to start thinking about supporting our local industry and the PFTC didn’t know how to do that,” said John Lee of Cutting Edge.

Dale Duguid of Photon VFX feels that the local industry has diluted.
“Queensland interests have been diminished as a result of the public and private sectors’ pursuit of a broader, unified national front. Queensland fared far better as a production destination before QLD interests were homogenised into the national pot”.
Kerry O’Rourke feels the lack of television development has undermined the level and continuity of screen work.
“Almost all [QLD television] was brought back to Sydney in the early 80s. Now when you lose your television production base, you lose continuity of work for craft, technical and admin people in any part of the industry, and so they too have to leave, which of course has been the case. There’s been a constant brain drain from QLD into NSW and Victoria for decades.”
In response to this criticism, the PFTC’s Robin James said that attracting production is “hugely competitive these days”.

“Queensland has certainly had the march on other states in the sense that it had an excellent incentive program and excellent studio facilities, but now a number of Australian states have that as well.
“Across the ditch we’ve got New Zealand, which is highly competitive and receives significant support from government. And on top of that, you’ve got the American states… they previously didn’t provide incentives, and now the majority do.”
Whilst there is currently an element of disappointment regarding the PFTC’s handling of local filmmaking interests, there are signs that the PFTC is adapting to the increasingly competitive environment.
“The Queensland film industry needs to pull together at this time and be creative. Collaborative initiatives such as Film Gold Coast are providing the right environment for this level of collaboration to exist,” said Photon VFX operations manager Marcus Wells.
“I think the positive with our government is that we are now seeing change,” added John Lee.
If change does come, a market-focused attitude, innovatively trained filmmakers, excellent facilities and cooperative government bodies will allow the state to face any international uncertainties, present and future.


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