Becoming Goldywood – Does the Gold Coast make the most of film production opportunities?
By Sam Worboys
Headlines were buzzing last year when it was announced that Angelina Jolie would be directing her next film ‘Unbroken’ on the Gold Coast. Unbroken will join titles such as The Railway Man (2013), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010), Terra Nova (2011) and the somewhat infamous television show The GC (2012) as productions that the Gold Coast has been host to over the past few years.
While not a complete list of films, the website IMDb (Internet Movie Database) lists the Gold Coast as being the location of 281 titles, with five currently in the works for release this year, including Resident Evil 6 and The Hunters Club. This is all on top of regular local television production for the region such as Big Brother and other daily / weekly programmes.
The list of films is not negligible, but with the worldwide multi-billion dollar film industry growing each year, it is important for any region to ensure that they are getting their share of the local and international attention for the best economic benefit.
In a media release published by the Queensland Government when Ms Jolie first announced her film plans, Arts Minister Ian Walker said “Unbroken is projected to contribute millions to the Queensland economy. It will increase the skills and experience of local crews and talent and boost employment as well as economic benefits for wider businesses and the flow on effect for tourism”.
So, what are some of the impacts that determine the Gold Coast’s appeal to film production, and what is being done to stand out to producers? Is there even any economic benefit to welcome the film industry?
According to data presented by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Screen Australia, there were a total of 45,846 individuals working in the audiovisual sector across Australia at the time of the 2011 Australian Census. While a number of markets such as video hire and distribution dropped over a five year period, the number of people in production and post-production fields increased by 20% during the same period. Between June 2011 and June 2012 these production companies generated $2.523 billion in income.
In terms of film and video production alone over the past five years, Queensland ranked third in Australia with an increase of 6% in the number of individuals employed in the industry. Despite this increase, only 12% of production and post-production staff reside in the state, behind Sydney (54%) and Victoria (25%)
As the well-known saying goes “location, location, location”. For the very same reason that the Gold Coast appeals to tourists, one of the area’s major selling points is the number of locations available to film crews. “The Gold Coast has the perfect balance of location and home grown expertise to make any production a stunning success” stated Gold Coast City Mayor Tom Tate “Within minutes you can get from tropical rainforest, to the beach and sands that look like they’re from an arid desert”.
Locations are also boosted by the presence of the sizable Village Roadshow Studios located next to, although completely separate, from a key tourist destination, Warner Bros. Movie World. Initial construction began on the complex in 1986 and since then has expanded to feature eight sound stages, three water tanks and a number of other facilities to expand what can be produced on location.
Mayor Tate has personally expressed an interest himself in turning the city into an international film hub and has further stated that “We have location, expertise, facilities and international-quality film schools right here on our doorstep. All the ingredients are there – we just need to bake the cake”.
Locations and good intentions aside, even if the location is perfect it all comes down to the aspect of money. Local, state and federal levels of Government each offer their own different sources of funding. In some cases this funding is specifically targeted at local productions and alternatively is sometimes exclusive to international productions.
A few recent examples of funding provided by federal organisation Screen Australia include $650,000 in ‘development funding’ between 18 Australian studios and $5.4 million in production funding between six major films productions.
In general, Screen Australia will only offer funding up to 65% of the project budget capped at $2.5 million; this is in addition to a number of tax offsets. Screen Queensland also offers investment up to $650,000 as either a grant or equity depending on the project.
While not able to offer such lucrative funding, the Gold Coast City Council also runs an investment attraction program for films that spend at least $3 million on the Gold Coast alone. Ranging from the base funding of $15,000 and increases up to $130,000 for projects over $100 million, with the expectation that the film will provide economic benefits to the local community.
This is different from many other major cities in Australia which primarily offers just state and federal funding, but is it enough?
“The whole industry has been affected due to the high Australian dollar and lack of incentives which has resulted in little or no international production and downturn in domestic production due to finance not being available” says Lynne Benzie, President of Village Roadshow Studios. She warned that if the dollar does not change and incentives do not increase, then international producers will be more tempted to look elsewhere. Her warning was repeated about local studios, that due to difficulty putting together ample funding, there was the risk of a downturn of production and skilled crew members potentially moving elsewhere.
With Angelina Jolie and Universal Pictures have been shooting ‘Unbroken’ on the Gold Coast, what might just seem like another film in the cinema during 2014/2015 could mean economic benefits for many industries in the area.
Ms Benzie confirmed that filming on the Gold Coast creates sustainability for crew and extra funds drawn in for local businesses, trade and tourism destinations. Some of the funds her studio has raised have been spent on improving the number of services they offer, including two additional stages and their large water tank, the largest one currently available for use in Australia.
“A large international production can potentially spend over $70M on the ground on the Gold Coast. People do not understand the flow on effect from these big productions which the whole community can benefit from. It can take 5-10 mid-size Australian productions to generate what one big international production can spend so we need both for the community” continues Ms Benzie “Since the Studios commenced we have attracted over $2.5 billion dollar worth of production of which $1.3 billion has physically been spent in the state.”
The claim regarding Australian and international productions can be supported by recent statistics provided by Screen Australia. Between 2000 and 2010 there were a total of 297 locally produced feature films made across Australia. Of these, 230 received some form of theatrical release in Australia, however only 60 saw a similar release in the UK and 62 in the US (77% in comparison to 20% / 21%).
One could translate the larger, worldwide audience of international film production as representing higher budgets, in addition to more money spent in terms of filming internationally. It has been reported that many of the titles that do not obtain a cinematic release are low-budget features with the immediate goal to go straight to publishing.
Filming of ‘Unbroken’ has begun, and the studio has recruited Australian crew members for a number of positions, potentially for any qualified Gold Coaster to apply for. This is in addition to a call out for locals to appear as extras in the movie, for those who want the experience of being in the film industry.
Not everything has been positive however, with the Gold Coast City Council coming under fire last with many media outlets picking up the news that they had denied Top Gear, the popular BBC car show with a global fanbase of approximately 350 million people in over 170 countries, access to film in the region. This was reportedly due to the production team only providing 24-hours’ notice for a temporary relaxation of the noise restrictions for the Norwell Performance Driving Center, brokered a few years ago due to disputes between the Driving Centre and nearby residents.
However, a BBC spokesperson claims that the story was misreported in the Australian media and that Top Gear were never going to be filming there for the TV show, nor were any of the three presenters going to be in the area. It was BBC Worldwide, the BBC’s commercial arm that were looking at shooting a viral video for the upcoming Top Gear downloadable content for Xbox One exclusive launch title Forza Motorsport 5. The relationship between developer Turn 10 Studios and the Top Gear production team has been present for a while, with Forza Motorsport 4 featuring narration from host Jeremy Clarkson, the Top Gear test track and Dunsfold Aerodrome and additional content that ties in with the television series.
While it has not been made clear how this content would be used, usually videos relating to the video game series would be posted up on the Xbox Youtube Channel which currently has over 469,000 subscribers, in addition to being re-shared over many other Youtube channels at the very least. It may not be the 350 million viewers that a televised broadcast could have brought in, but is by no means negligible and might still have drawn some attention to the Gold Coast. This also highlights that there is an interest in film and screen production on the Gold Coast, both by the businesses that could stand to benefit and the general public.
The popularity of local and international films is made evident at the annual Gold Coast Film Festival, which takes place at the Birch Carroll & Coyle Cinemas, Pacific Fair Shopping Centre during a two-week period in April. Festival Director Kylie Pascoe has shared that the goal of these events has been to position the Gold Coast as a culturally diverse city that embraces its filmmaking heritage through film screenings of local and international productions, as well as other events such as presentations and hands-on events. Some shared highlights of the 2013 event including the world premiere of animated film The Garden of Words which drew a packed theatre and a double-length signing session with director Makoto Shinkai and the remake of 1981 American horror film Evil Dead which also saw its two screenings sold out.
“One of the areas of development for GCFF2014 is to increase our educational activities and promote both filmmaking and filmmakers on the Gold Coast” says Ms Pascoe.
“Our free workshops and seminars will be extended throughout the year and delivered to a broader audience at various locations. Our QLD Showcase program will also continue to feature the works of QLD film practitioners, highlighting the depth and breadth of talent that lies hidden in our city”. Given their plans to extend the workshops and seminars throughout the year, this indicates that there has been interest from the public to warrant continual events. This hands-on experience could bring out the best and brightest of the next generation of Australian film producers, and further improve the Gold Coast’s standing as a film hub.
Having Angelina Jolie shoot her multi-million dollar film ‘Unbroken’ on the Gold Coast is bringing benefits ranging from international attention, employment and funds into the local economy. But while stats indicate that the local employment in production is on the rise, it is the international studios that can truly bring in the big dollars… and you have to wonder how Mayor Tom Tate and others will successfully be able to sell the Gold Coast given the resources available to them. But provided they do it right, the region could stand to benefit economically.