Studios: a space for creation

Paris End StudiosChange is afoot in studio-land. Not only are new studio complexes popping up around the country, but clients are now expecting more services than ever from a space and its curators. Laine Lister writes.

Until now, many producers have been content to hire a sound stage fitted with the bare necessities to shoot a project. They’d rig up lighting, hire crews and ship in equipment, before getting started on a project.

Some clients still seek dry hire of a facility, of course, but in today’s increasingly competitive environment, many are demanding a range of services from studio owners to secure their business. Think comprehensive back-of house facilities, office space with connectivity, catering, security and even specific levels of energy efficiency – not to mention a competitive cost of hire.

There are the other considerations too – a studio’s proximity to transport, a diverse range of locations in driving distance from the set, and a nearby urban centre able to mimic, in looks, any number of international cities.

And while the Australian studios may not compare in size with the Hollywood behemoths, they’re winning business away from the glamour studios and making a

name for themselves on a world stage.

The domestic television studios too are strong in their offering to platform and non-platform clients, while independently-owned facilities are capturing a good slice of the production pie.

But determining which studio facility best serves your needs can be challenging in an evolving market. In the following pages, Encore will break down by sector and service our pick of the country’s facilities.


With its tank infrastructure and sunny Gold Coast climate, Warner Roadshow Studios is one of the most enviable film operations in the country.

This month, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader will wrap production as James Cameron/Andrew Wight’s Sanctum moves in to make use of the country’s largest purpose-built water tank.

“The international productions sustain industry, they are the ones that are able to outlay capital to grow things like the tanks or the stages,” says Warner Roadshow Studios’ Lynne Benzie, vice president of studio operations.

The tanks were installed in 2006 to accommodate Warner Bros’ production Fool’s Gold starring Kate Hudson and Mathew McConaughey. Since then, the tanks have been a draw card for such projects as 2008’s Nim’s Island starring Jodie Foster and the Australia/UK co-production, Triangle, with Melissa George.

Continuing into the first quarter of 2010, the Nine Network’s fourth season of Sea Patrol and Jonathan M. Shiff’s second series of children’s program, The Elephant Princess, will make use of Warner’s tanks.

“[The domestic productions] don’t have the financial capabilities to be able to outlay $2 million or $10 million for infrastructure [builds] but they ultimately benefit from it when it has been left behind,” Benzie says.

As well as the three tanks, the facilities comprise eight sound stages, 10 production offices, editing suites, wardrobe, makeup, construction, paint and carpentry shops, all of which can be hired for the right price.

“We’re available for anybody that wants to approach us to use the facility. We’ve done commercials, product launches, DVDs and film clips,” she explains, adding that

the old adage of the studios being cost inhibitive to some, is just that an old one.

“Over the past five or six years we’ve been able to structure rates to [meet most] requirements.

“I’ve taken into account that [commercial clients] are restricted for budget, and if I have the facilities available, absolutely, I’m always happy to help them,” she insists.

All the sound stages are equipped with industry standard facilities including air conditioning, extraction fans, steel grids and catwalks, and vary in size with an overall floor area of more than 10,000 m2 – making it one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

The studios are located 40 minutes drive south of Brisbane International Airport, 20 minutes from the beaches and less than an hour’s drive from cane fields, rainforests and jungles. And Queensland’s city centres have doubled for the world’s urban landscapes from Kansas to the Asia Pacific.

“Some structures can be difficult to do, but usually with the help of Film Gold Coast, which is run by the local council, and the PFTC, we extensively scout areas to see if anything’s possible,” she says.

The three organisations work tirelessly to attract projects to the state – it took almost two years to convince the makers of Narnia to bring production of the third instalment to Queensland.

“The effort we put in to secure the project was enormous,” Benzie says.

She and Jess Conoplia of the PFTC travelled to Baja California, Mexico to meet with the Narnia team in an effort to convince them of the studios’ appeal.

“Obviously they’d scouted and Baja was perfect for them at the time, but to be able to turn it around and bring it back [to Queensland] is testament to the fact that we all work so closely as a team,” she says.

Between projects, the studio’s downtime is used to maintain and market the facilities, and any available space can be rented for commercial activities.

“Even though we’ve been busy, we never stop marketing the facilities. We’re constantly looking at ways – working with the locations, internationals and domestic

divisions of the PFTC – of how we can attract other productions to Queensland.

“Obviously the [strength of the] Australian dollar is not helping industry as a whole,” she says.

Nancy Romano, chief executive officer of Fox Studios knows better than anyone the impact exchange rate fluctuations can have on business.

The relocation of Green Lantern from Australia (Fox Studios) back to the US was extremely disappointing not only for the NSW Film Industry, but for the Australian industry as a whole, she says.

“The reasons for pulling production from NSW predominately lie with our increasing exchange rate. This is itself raising serious concerns for our industry moving forward. Australia is no longer a competitor for runaway production with our locations rebate sitting at 15 percent.

“We need to introduce an incentive that allows us to be more competitive when our dollar is so strong, to continue to attract these large scale productions,” Romano says.

Despite the blow of losing Green Lantern, Fox Studios has secured a number of important domestic film projects including Tomorrow When the War Began, which is currently in production, and television series including the recently wrapped Australian Idol and The Apprentice programs. And while Romano would not confirm that Fox will host the rumoured George Lucas Star Wars series, she said Fox would “love the opportunity” to host the project.

As for downtime, Romano says the three sound stages at Fox are filled to capacity year round.

“There is no downtime at Fox. When Fox is not hosting an international production, this is the time that we lend ourselves to supporting the Australian industry. Fox supports a number of local productions, TVCs and charities by allowing the use of our stages, offices and workshops,” Romano explains.

Its Sydney site is host to more than 60 businesses affiliated with the film and television industry, including animation/VFX house Animal Logic. It is also close to the music and audio production company Trackdown and the award-winning composer Guy Gross (Guy Gross Music), located at the adjacent Entertainment Quarter.

“No other studio in the world has the ambience of a creative campus complemented by a film school and dance school nearby,” she adds.

The converted showground site – and former home of the Sydney Easter Show – is a combination of new and old buildings. Fox has invested in a number of infrastructure upgrades over the years, including demolishing and rebuilding three workshops and refurbishing a number of commercial buildings.

Another dry hire site, and one of the big three studio facilities in the country, is the Melbourne Central City Studios (MCCS) in Docklands, which was recently home to Katie Holmes’ latest film, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

“The big thing we have going for the studios it its proximity to the city of Melbourne; it is close enough that crew could walk to their hotels if they wanted to and both international and domestic [productions] find that very attractive,” says chief executive Rod Allan.

The site, which comprises five studios, is currently the subject of a government-led feasibility study to assess the future direction of the complex.

The two-phase study has involved substantial industry engagement and consultation and will determine options including a possible expansion of the site.

“The government study has completed the first phase and has just entered the second phase where it will evaluate a number of options in more detail,” he says.

While Allan was unable to comment on the MCCS’s future projects due to a string of confidentiality clauses, he did confirm that the exchange rate has impacted his ability to attract international projects.

“There’s no question that the strength of the Australian dollar, or the weakness of the US dollar has had an impact on our business.

“It means we have to be as aggressive as we can in marketing the studio internationally, but we also have to look at the total business and we want to encourage as much domestic production into the studio as possible,” he says.

The big three may have to ramp up their individual marketing and promotions soon, given that the domestic market is set to have a fourth major studio complex established in South Australia. Details of the Adelaide-based facility are thin, and the South Australian Film Commission was not immediately available to answer calls. But Encore understands that the facility will be a multi-million dollar production hub designed to cater to smaller productions typically produced out of the state.


Like the film studio business, the television studio industry will be beefed up next year with the addition of new media hub on the fringe of Sydney’s CBD.

The new complex, at the Australian Technology Park, will house Global Television and some of Seven Media Group’s operations, including studios and its Pacific Magazines business.

Both Global TV and Seven will begin trading from the premises in January 2010, each boasting two purpose-built studios, and a shared 11 storey office complex with

two levels of parking.

Global will relocate from its North Ryde complex, and Seven will move all operations from Epping to the Eveleigh site. Its other studio facilities will be unaffected by the move.

“We’ve tried to design something that meets contemporary production needs and are purpose-built for TV,” says Tim McDonald, general manager of program operations at Seven.

For local production to be competitive, producers need access to transport hubs, accommodation and are reliant on low fixed costs, and the new site meets all of these needs.

“The site is a 4 green star base building and so the daily energy costs for producers will be lower,” he adds.

The site is a user-pays complex, says executive manager of operations at Global TV, Kel Robards. This way, services such as air-conditioning and lighting are metered and can be switched on or off to save client money.

“But where a television client differs from a film client is really about back-of-house; the number of dressing rooms, support areas, make-up, hair and wardrobe, proximity to studio floor and sets,” says Robards.

The complex also provides extremely flat floors to accommodate cameras on pedestals, which are often used for TV projects, he says.

“They also look for good sound isolation, live connectivity, unlike a film that would want to connect via satellite, or microwave or DDN fibre connectivity to the outside world,” he says.

Then there are other considerations, such as POPE (Place of Public Entertainment) licences, to allow live studio audiences, all of which are requirements that the Eveleigh site meets.

“The studio of old was four square walls and lights. You obviously have to offer a lot more than that now,” says Adam Scott, director of broadcast operations at the Foxtel Television Centre in Sydney.

“We really try to be as flexible as possible in what we’re offering,” he says.

The North Ryde-based facility is available for hire by both platform and non-platform clients, and is frequently hired by commercial enterprises, such as Bunnings, for instance.

“The Bunnings thing is big – Foxtel has a business sales department that actually sells our Main Event Channel for big corporate events such as Annual General Meetings and product launches,” says Scott.


And if it’s a mid-range project you’re wanting to shoot, a host of well-equipped studio facilities exist around the country.

In Sydney, Innovations Park Studios – home to the TV Shopping Network (TVSN) – rents its facilities at competitive rates.

The Frenchs Forest-based complex, headed by general manager Nick Pigot and broadcast technology manager Tim Stackpool, is a creative-friendly environment catering to commercial and broadcast clients alike.

“We built this place for the Shopping Channel and we had excess capacity so we set up IP Studios and made it available for other people who want to use it,” says Stackpool.

Pigot adds: “There aren’t a lot of facilities in Sydney that have this availability, we have three robotic cameras in here [one of the three studios] that can be crewed, we’ve got a full control room, full lighting grid, and audio and it’s often used by advertising companies”.

The facility runs on server technology, has uplink capabilities, and can transmit 260MB of data per second.

“We’ve been in the facility coming up to three years and we’re looking at updating the technologies. One of the things the owners are very conscious of is the fact that technology changes rapidly and we’re keen to keep on top of it,” says Pigot.

“Going to high definition is probably the biggest challenge we’ll face there,” Stackpool adds.

And if it’s ultra modern facilities that you’re wanting, Melbourne’s Paris End facilities (pictured) are beautifully fitted.

“We have invested heavily to ensure the studio is first rate, both in terms of practical fit out and the overall environment. It’s the sort of place ad companies can bring their clients and not feel embarrassed by the ‘backstage’ vibe,” says Bruce Kane, who along with Paul Clarke owns the Paris End facilities.

The studio was officially opened last month and will be used to produce Kane and Clarke’s own product – including a series of music specials for SBS – and the pair will offer the facility as a commercial hire primarily for television production, TVCs, music videos, stills photography and film.

“We have to my knowledge, the largest hard infinity cyc in the country, with ‘curtain off’ option if cyclorama is not required,” Kane says. It’s housed in a brand new building with modern back-of-house facilities, access to full lighting and equipment if required, a three phase power and multi patch board, full concert playback system and ample onsite parking.

As for the name, it started as a joke and kind of stuck, says Kane. “There is little to suggest Paris in our location, although as fate would have it our first job is filming two

very high profile Parisian bands Moriarty and Cocoon. We hope they appreciate irony as it is unlikely to remind them of home.

The decision to build the studio grew out of need to house productions on our their books.

“Having almost been caught short on a couple of occasions we decided to take matters into our own hands,” he says.

It was a big decision but they made it knowing that there were other companies in the same situation.

Melbourne has a number of options for small scale production and likewise for very large projects,” he says.

Now, the market is covered.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.