04/04/2012 - 10:42

WA the star as film production takes off

04/04/2012 - 10:42

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BIG CANVAS: Stephen Van Mil has hired director Fred Schepisi to direct Impian Film’s epic tale about building the Perth to Kalgoorlie pipeline, based on Robert Drewe’s novel The Drowner. Photo: Grant Currall

Western Australia is growing its reputation as a hot spot for film production, boasting good stories, vast landscapes that make for ideal settings and an increasing number of home-grown feature film production companies.

In the past five years, the number of production companies in WA has jumped, something ScreenWest chief executive Ian Booth puts down to the industry building a name for itself.

“Because of the runs on the board we have had recently, there is strong interest from national networks and other partners who are looking to see what else can come out of Western Australia in documentary films, feature films and adult drama,” Mr Booth said.

“They are all really hard markets to crack but we are seeing more interest.”

He estimates that there are at least five production companies in WA that have released a feature film in recent years, or are about to release a feature film. The state also has 30 production houses across feature, documentary and television.

“It is not just a correlation between getting more money and being able to do more, production companies have been utilising their experience to finance more and do more with the money they have,” he said.

Impian Films is in pre-production phase for a number of projects and is looking to start filming its $50 million epic about the building of the Perth to Kalgoorlie pipeline, based on Robert Drewe’s novel The Drowner.

Famed director Fred Schepisi is on board with the project and Impian Films chief executive Stephen Van Mil is keen to attract big-name actors like Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush to the project.

Mr Van Mil said he had watched the industry grow exponentially.

“Five or six years ago, there wasn’t a single feature film made in WA,” he said.

“Now you look at Red Dog, a shining example, Mad Bastards, Bran Nu Dae. Drift was shot recently and will come out this year. There are projects we obviously have in the pipeline and other projects kicking around.

“It has been an absolute explosion really compared to ground zero only a handful of years ago.

“It is exciting times. We are blessed with great product here – the Wintons, the (Robert) Drewes, Craig Silveys … there are big WA stories, wonderful landscapes here, wonderful climate, a lot of passion and frontier attitude.”

In another coup for WA stories, Mr Winton’s short-story series, The Turning, is set to be recreated as a feature film with funding from Screen Australia.

The film is one of four that will receive funding under one of the federal government body’s programs, through which feature films are granted up to $2.5 million towards productions.

Mr Van Mil said that while there were many positives in WA that were bolstering the industry, the state lacked basic infrastructure.

Screen West is putting a medium-term strategic plan together that aims to attract funding for better infrastructure.

“Post-production is difficult and it is difficult across the whole of Australia at the moment,” Mr Booth said.

“A lack of the right level of infrastructure could become an impediment to growth in the future. 

“We have sought, through the (WA government’s) planning process, some support from the government to undertake a comprehensive planning process in the next financial year.”

Production companies in WA are not just focused on the WA market. Estelle Buzzard recently established Buzz Productions as a division of her business, Buzz Corporate Communications, and is focused on producing two US-based films. 

The production company was established on the back of aiding writer/director Kenton Bartlett produce his film, Missing Pieces.

Ms Buzzard said the model she was working with was a micro-budget structure that focused on spending funds ‘on-screen’ to produce a quality film. 

“Whereas most indie productions might use that money to pay their crew or cater nice meals, this production used every penny towards the final result,” she said.

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