28/09/2021 - 10:00

Calls for film studio to shoot for local focus

28/09/2021 - 10:00

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Julia Redwood says the local film sector should proceed with caution over a proposal to build a movie hub in Fremantle.

An artist’s impression of the film studio.

Julia Redwood says the local film sector should proceed with caution over a proposal to build a movie hub in Fremantle.

Ms Redwood produces popular television shows Outback Truckers and Outback Opal Hunters as managing director of Prospero Productions.

She said while the film hub proposal was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the city and would be fantastic for crew members and actors, there was a risk the local industry could miss out unless some safeguards were included.

“For Western Australian industry I’d say, ‘buyer beware’, unless the government makes sure it invests in industry at the same time as the studio,” Ms Redwood told Business News.

“We are always going to be here, we are the WA industry, Hollywood will come and go.”

Ms Redwood said the proposed film studio in Fremantle would not directly benefit her company, which produced factual content, but the move would help to grow the industry.

“I think it’s wonderful for the screen industry in general in WA,” Ms Redwood said, adding that now was the time to ensure the government got it right.

“I think if you study the other states and you look at what not to do, hopefully you will then work out what to do,” she said.

“It’s going to be critical that the WA industry is part of this conversation because it can ensure this is not the white elephant some people fear it could be.”

Proposals to build a film studio in WA have been bouncing around for years.

In August 2020, however, progress looked more promising after the government called for submissions from the private sector to build a film studio in Perth.

In February this year, Premier Mark McGowan announced the government would commit $105 million to build a film studio and screen production facility, with property developer Adrian Fini-led Home Fire Creative Industries the preferred proponent for the project.

Seven months on, and the negotiation process between Home Fire Creative Industries is continuing, with no further information about the plans having been shared.

A spokesperson for the Department of Finance, which runs the market-led proposals process, told Business News the matter was “live” and further announcements would be made once it had finished negotiations.

The spokesperson would not say when discussions would conclude but said industry would be consulted as part of stage three of the process.

A business case for the project was undertaken as part of stage two but was commercial in confidence, they said.

In the recent state budget, the government confirmed it had set aside $105 million for the establishment of a film studio and $20 million for a Screen Production Attraction Fund.

The latter is intended to incentivise film and television producers to bring their projects to the state from 2021-22 to 2024-25.

Chamber of Arts and Culture WA executive director Shelagh Magadza said industry was broadly supportive of the film hub, but there were some concerns about the location and capability of the facility.

“A lot of detail is still unknown, but the main critique seems to be the location [and] possible noise and access issues,” Ms Magadza told Business News.

“Also, the fact that it’s tied to a commercial development and the implications of that are unclear while the terms of the agreement are being negotiated between the developers and the government.”

Ms Magadza was also waiting to see how the facility would be run.

“I’m now more interested in the governance of the facility, how it will be managed and whether we have the smarts to leverage this into real investment in WA and growth of our overall production capacity,” she said.

“This includes growth of all the associated little businesses that will need to grow up around the studio, and skills in things like technical supplies, set build, costuming and special effects, sound and music, etcetera.

“If that doesn’t work, it may have limited outcomes.”

Ms Magadza said another concern was whether the attraction fund would be large enough to entice Hollywood productions to WA, given competition among states.

Screen NSW made $55 million available from 2019 to 2023, through its Made in NSW – International Footloose Production fund, and its NSW Post Digital and Visual Effects rebate also provides 10 per cent rebate on work undertaken in the state.

Victoria offers a Victorian Screen Incentive grant, which offers a 10 per cent rebate of money spent in the state.

In July 2020, the federal government announced a $400 million fund to attract film and television productions to Australia until 2027.

Perth-based director Simon McQuoid said a solid incentive was crucial in attracting large films to the city.

Mr McQuoid, who recently directed the international film Mortal Kombat, said the questions people asked when searching for a location to shoot a movie were whether there was a soundproof stage where scenes could be filmed and what incentive they would receive.

“At the moment, people come to WA because of the locations, which are great, but if we are missing out on a fairly large piece of the pie because we don’t have a sound stage, once we have a stage, we get that category of film,” Mr McQuoid told Business News.

“The more incentive there can be, the more attractive the sound stage becomes.

“The rebate is the thing people get very excited about and brings them here, that becomes the bait.”

While basing himself in Perth for the past 10 years, Mr McQuoid has never worked in his home city.

Instead, he has travelled to locations around the world to shoot his work. The film studio could provide an opportunity to work closer to home, he said.

“Obviously I’d love to shoot here,” Mr McQuoid said.

“I’d love to get up in the morning {at home] and drive to set, I’ve never done that in my whole life.

“But if there is a sound stage here, then it becomes a very viable option and I’m sure I will shoot something, I’m sure that will happen.”

Cody Greenwood, a young WA-based filmmaker who runs a production company Rush Films and recently released international music documentary Under the Volcano, said she was hoping the studio would help talent stay in WA.

“If we can build a studio here, it’s going to ensure we can retain our local talent and grow our industry,” Ms Greenwood told Business News.

“I think in terms of industry growth, how can we be at that scale of what is being produced in Sydney or nationally if we have never had the opportunity to use a studio or build those connections with the kind of filmmakers that would be attracted to WA?” she said.

A recent Chamber of Arts and Culture WA report, Arts and Culture Economic Recovery Plan, found the screen sector had identified the lack of production studios and post-production facilities as key hindrances to growth.

Ms Greenwood said Australian studios were fully booked due to the country’s relative control of the COVID-19 situation, and the state government needed to move quickly to ensure WA got in on the act.

“We are currently experiencing unprecedented demand for content, and we have finally got this opportunity to put WA on the map,” she said.

“What I worry about is that the global market is changing so rapidly around us that we have to seize the opportunity for a studio, or we are going to be completely left behind.”

Local support

Prospero Production’s Ms Redwood said while incentives may attract international films, measures needed to be put in place to ensure it was accessible for local companies.

Ms Redwood suggested implementing preferential treatment and lower rates for WA companies, so they didn’t get squeezed out by high prices.

“That’s what’s happened in Queensland, it’s what happens at Fox; it’s too expensive for the local producer so they don’t use it,” she said.

“You’ve got the public purse paying for this, so you can have special rates for Western Australians.”

Ms Redwood also proposed the use of talent quotas requiring companies use WA workers, and a levy on international films.

“If we have one per cent of budget on every incoming film, they won’t miss it, it goes straight to Screenwest production investment and the money goes around in the wonderful washing machine of the economy,” Ms Redwood said.

“The state government is not having to put more money in; it’s those inbound features that are helping support our local production.

“I would be spruiking that studio to everyone around the world if I knew that their budget comes back to Screenwest.”

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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