25/02/2021 - 14:00

Scene not yet set on film studio pledge

25/02/2021 - 14:00

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It’s not clear how much value taxpayers might get from Labor’s $100 million film studio election promise, but the film industry says it will give the state an edge.

Scene not yet set on film studio pledge
An artist's impression of Home Fire Creative Industries' proposed film studio.

It is not clear how much value for money taxpayers might get from WA Labor’s $100 million film studio election promise, but the film industry says it will give the state a competitive edge.

Premier Mark McGowan announced a commitment to fund the building of a film studio at Victoria Quay in Fremantle and a $20 million fund to attract screen investment over the weekend.

He announced a consortium, Home Fire Creative Industries, which includes Adrian Fini and Ben Lisle’s property group Hesperia, was the preferred proponent for the project, after the government called for private submissions to develop a film studio in August 2020.

Mr McGowan said Home Fire Creative Industries had progressed to stage three of the market-led proposals process run by the Department of Finance.

A spokesperson for WA Labor said commercial details would be negotiated and finalised in the last stage of the Problem & Opportunity process.

“Through that independent process, managed by the Department [of] Finance, a number of proposals were assessed, and the Home Fire Studios Pty Ltd (Hesperia) proposal was invited to progress to the next stage of the process, which includes due diligence and negotiations between the parties,” the spokesperson told Business News.

“The commercial negotiations will be focused on ensuring taxpayers get value for money and that this facility delivers new projects and new jobs.”

The Department of Finance would not reveal how many applications were submitted through the market-led proposals process.

“The Department of Finance does not comment on live processes,” a spokesperson told Business News

“The state recognises the confidential nature of submissions and endeavours to treat them accordingly, subject to the disclosure requirements contemplated by the MLP Policy [market-led proposal], the terms and conditions and government’s public disclosure and accountability obligations.

“This proposal is within a live process and the next update on this proposal will be released on the MLP webpage at the conclusion of Stage 3.”

The Victoria Quay Waterfront Steering Committee report released last year endorsed a possible film studio in the area but said the concept “requires a detailed investigation to ascertain its potential”.

Donor questions

Opposition leader Zak Kirkup raised questions over Hesperia’s connection to WA Labor in a press conference over the weekend, fuelling further debate as to whether property developers should be allowed to donate to political parties.  

Hesperia donated at least $16,721 to WA Labor in 2019/20.

“There absolutely is an issue with the Labor Party and how it deals with special interests who oddly enough, also donate to them,” Mr Kirkup told reporters.

“The reality is, the Labor Party has form when it comes to making sure that they look after those donors in a particular way.

“We have seen it with WA Inc, we have seen it now with one of the most secretive and unaccountable governments in the history of Western Australia and that’s a top-down issue that we need to address.”

However, Home Fire spokesperson Howard Cearns dismissed these concerns.  

“We are an independent outfit,” Mr Cearns told Business News.

“I started championing this cause a couple of years ago with members of the film industry and then, when we got to a point when we needed to talk about specific sites and construction, I asked Adrian Fini, who has been my business partner for over 20 years, would he help me.

“I comprehend the perception, but I don’t understand the connection.”

Mr Fini and Mr Cearns have worked together previously, collaborating on establishing Fremantle-based brewery Little Creatures in 2001.

Industry demand

According to Home Fire, there was an estimated $1 billion of film production underway or imminent in Australia, none of which was earmarked for Western Australian because of the lack of studios and associated infrastructure.

Last year, a Chamber of Arts and Culture WA report, 'Arts and Culture Economic Recovery Plan', said the screen sector had identified the lack of production studios and post-production facilities as key hindrances to growth.

The report said there was the potential to attract an estimated $140 million per annum in Commonwealth film, television and streaming services production location incentives.

In August 2020, screen industry representatives, including writer and actor Ben Elton and Professional Film Crew Association of WA vice-president John Fairhead, and the City of Fremantle were campaigning for the state government to turn a warehouse in O’Connor into a temporary film production hub to take advantage of the fact Western Australia was relatively safe from COVID-19.

Screenwest chair John Driscoll said the industry body had long been advocating for additional government support for production and attraction and for the development of a studio in WA and welcomed the commitment.

“This truly is a game changer and gives WA a competitive edge nationally and internationally to attract incoming productions, while ensuring our local homegrown stories don’t leave the state,” Mr Driscoll said.

Chamber of Arts and Culture WA executive director Shelagh Magadza said building a film studio had been on the cards for a long time and the chamber had been advocating for it for years. 

“We have been really supportive of it because film and gaming and digital product is the next big thing in the creative industries and we have been undercooked on this for a long time and we have lost opportunities to other states; projects that I can name that went to South Australia or Victoria because we didn’t have the facilities here," Ms Magadza told Business News

She said if Labor forms government and the studio comes to fruition, the roll out of the $20 million attraction fund would be key to compete with other states to attract investment. 

Home Fire’s Mr Cearns said he had been working on the idea of a film studio with the industry for several years.

“Myself and a couple of film producers were working on this from a couple of years ago, pre-COVID, when the demand for content in the screen industry and the need for sound stages or industry infrastructure was on the climb and space was difficult to get in other parts of the country and elsewhere in the world,” Mr Cearns said.

“This has been a conversation, for many years before me, around the need for this.”

Mr Cearns was part of the Victoria Quay Waterfront Steering Committee.

The Home Fire consortium includes film executive and former Screenwest chief executive Ian Booth and WA film producer Jamie Hilton.

Home Fire has also recruited a core executive team and established a screen-advisory group that includes industry professionals.

It said it hoped the experience of the group meant it could deliver and operate a film studio, attract productions from Australia and overseas and develop a creative industries ecosystem.

The studio development will be delivered by Home Fire with the management and operational support of Hesperia.

Fremantle Chamber of Commerce chief executive Danicia Quinlan said she believed the project was a good fit for Victoria Quay.

“I think if we don’t capitalise on these opportunities now then we will miss the boat,” Ms Quinlan told Business News.

“That applies to film as much as it does the super yacht marine industry and others.

“We are really well-positioned to take advantage of this now and it’s reassuring to see the state government commit to that if they are to win the election.” 

Ms Quinlan was also part of Victoria Quay Waterfront Steering Committee.

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