Australia has been so successful in attracting overseas films and international streaming series that the country has deprived it of available sound stages.
Russell Crowe who recently made the case for the establishment of new film studios at Coffs Harbour on the New South Wales coast, is not the only one planning to add new capacity.
Developers at Ballina, further up the coast, make a similar case and are advancing with plans to develop the Byron Studios where part of recent Netflix series “God’s Favorite Idiot” was filmed.
Ballina, which is closer to Queensland, Brisbane and the Village Roadshow Studios at Gold Coast than it is to New South Wales state capital Sydney, was originally developed by Will Gammon’s Cumulus VFX company and has two small stages.
The new project is headed by former Network Ten and CBS executive, Paul Anderson who is in advanced discussions with the town council to take over a disused quarry site and build two larger stages.
“Productions are clamoring for space in Australia, now that the Fox Studios in Sydney have effectively become the Marvel Studios for the next five years,” Anderson told Variety. Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox has cemented the Sydney site as home of a slate of productions that included the recent “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” while the Village Roadshow complex is closely associated with Warner Bros. titles including “Aquaman” and the Baz Luhrmann-directed Elvis project.
Anderson explains that Byron Studios and the Tuckombil Quarry extension are intended to facilitate smaller international shoots and local productions in a fashion similar to the boutique studios in Adelaide and Perth.
There are lots of commercials and TV series that shoot in the Northern Rivers district due to its natural beauty, but Anderson says that fulfilling the infrastructure gap has the potential to transform the area into a significant hub, with economic and employment multiplier effects that cities crave.
“We have an MOU with the council and there are plans to have the zoning changed within the next 12 months. While that is happening, we will be finalizing the business plans, raising some money from local and state governments, and getting ready to take it out to private sector backers.
“We are talking about two stages at first, not big boxes, and to anchor these with workshops. We have cliffs, a backlot and 60 acres of lakes,” said Anderson. “We envisage a museum, theaters and a creative precinct.”
Plans seen by Variety call for a 700 square metre stage and a 1,500 square metre stage to come on stream by June 2022. If these are successful, two more 1,500 square metre and one 2,500 square metre stages would be added.
Australia has long been an attractive destination for international film and TV productions, thanks to the country’s vast and diverse landscape, an impressive talent pool in front of and behind the camera, and its English-language skills. High costs have been ameliorated by generous incentives (often known as offsets or production rebates) at federal and state level, and by a currency that was weak against the U.S. dollar for much of the past decade.
The COVID-19 pandemic gave the Australian facilities sector a further boost from mid-2020 to mid-2021 as the country initially coped well with the disease, and as the government moved quickly to help restart the screen production industry. Those advantages have been dulled in the past three months as the delta variant has exposed the country’s slow vaccine rollout and lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne, the screen production industry’s main hubs, have become prolonged.
“The single biggest risk when building a new studio is lack of demand,” Anderson said, who does not see that drying up soon, despite the high-profile recent exit of a couple of series. “I’m still talking regularly to the U.S. studios.”
Australia remains well-positioned, Anderson believes. “Streaming has changed the world in the past 12 months,” he says. Netflix has contracted to produce many hours of drama each year in the country. And, with or without local content regulations expected to be introduced by 2022, the launches of HBO Max, Disney Plus and Paramount Plus may all translate as more production in Australia and more demand for facilities.