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Screen NSW

Programming Profile

Australia’s own Hollywood


New South Wales is relishing its growing reputation as ‘Hollywood down under’ while helping local producers to get their stories on screen.


With half of Hollywood seemingly choosing to hunker down during the pandemic in Byron Bay, the popular coastal town in New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s oldest state is seeing unprecedent demand for shooting space as the country’s production boom continues.


Numerous major US productions relocated their shoots after seeing the potential upside to filming down under and many picked parts of NSW as locations, including the forthcoming Hulu original Nine Perfect Strangers, starring Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCartney.


Upcoming Netflix thriller series Pieces of Her, meanwhile, swapped Vancouver for NSW and is one of numerous productions currently filming in the state, drawn not only by its relative freedom from Covid-19 but also its climate, talent and generous screen incentives.


These can be combined with the national location incentives on offer, which were given a A$400m (US$309m) boost by the Aussie government in response to Covid-19.


Grainne Brunsdon, Head Screen NSW

In addition, in November last year the NSW government added A$175m to the existing state government’s Made in NSW fund for screen production, representing an extra A$35m per year over the next five years, on top of the A$40m that makes up the existing Made in NSW fund.


This is being administered by Screen NSW, part of the state government’s Sydney-based arts, screen and culture agency, Create NSW, to attract high-end international film and TV production and support major new Australian film and TV drama.


This covers feature films, both dramas and documentaries, as well as TV dramas, comedies and documentaries, spanning telemovies, miniseries and series.


There is also the NSW Post, Digital and Visual Effects (PDV) rebate, which offers eligible productions 10% back on qualifying expenditure related to PDV work carried out in NSW on or later than October 1, 2019.


Screen NSW is headed by Grainne Brunsdon, who is pleased to see a sector buoyed by surging Hollywood activity. Marvel recently wrapped production on movie Thor: Love & Thunder in Sydney, where it previously shot feature Shang Chi & the Legend of the Ten Rings – the first Disney production to resume following the interruption caused by the early days of Covid-19 lockdown.


But Brunsdon is equally happy about the number of local productions being filmed in NSW, pointing to the dozen or so Australian drama series that have been produced over the past year in the state, where around 60% of the Oz industry is based.


More studio space is on the cards as the NSW production boom shows no sign of ending any time soon, with talks ongoing with various consortia interested in building new sound stages in Sydney but also in different parts of the state. This includes the recently announced Pacific Bay Resort Studios & Village on New South Wales’ Mid Coast. It will be the first fully integrated film production and post-production complex in Australia, merging advanced virtual studios and sound stages with accommodation and lifestyle facilities – all located on 100 spectacular Coffs Harbour coastal resort acres.


The project has the support of Hollywood actor Russell Crowe, with the precinct being designed to host jobs in high-tech cinematics and a film school, according to Brunsdon.


In the meantime, transitional spaces are being put to good use, as in the case of Australian director George Miller’s upcoming epic fantasy movie Three Thousand Years of Longing, which has been filmed in a disused Australia Post building that will soon be rebuilt to contain thousands of apartments.


Outdoors, Brunsdon talks up the variety of landscapes and environments on offer in NSW, including the classic ‘red dirt’ look of the Australian outback, stunning beaches, rolling green hills, snowy mountains and multicultural Sydney, which has doubled as numerous different US cities in the past. Then there are the crews, who are typically Australian in their attitudes in the heat of production, says Brunsdon.


“We hear from international productions that they’re really grateful for the crew, who love doing what they do and nothing is a problem. The classic response is, “No worries,” and that makes things very easy, especially when US productions are very unionised and everything is quite regulated. It’s quite a refreshing attitude from crews here,” says Brunsdon.


The exec admits that all this activity has caused something of a “bottleneck” to emerge in the NSW production sector, with these crews often hard to come by. But, she adds, measures are being put in place to alleviate this.


“We’re all looking at how we can support more people getting into the industry and training them up quickly so that it doesn’t turn into a major problem and we can capitalise on this opportunity,” says Brunsdon, who took up the role in 2019. Initiatives include trainees and attachments on major productions, with Marvel starting its own ‘academy’ to train people in every department, and commitments from other productions to similar schemes, according to Brunsdon.


“Those big studios and production companies are interested in leaving a legacy here so it’s not just a transactional relationship. They enjoy working here and they want to come back, but they also recognise that there is a tension between local and international production. They don’t want to be seen as coming in and cannibalising crew that local productions might otherwise use. So we want benefits to flow from international through to the local production,” says Brunsdon.


One of the ways this could happen organically is through more local commissions from the US-based streamers, with the Australian government’s media reform green paper proposing a quota that would see streaming services invest a percentage of their gross Aussie revenues in local content in the form of commissions, coproductions and acquisitions.


“The production sector is very much in favour of having minimum levels of contribution from the streamers, and that’s certainly something we would support as well,” says Brunsdon, who welcomes the local commissions the likes of Netflix have already made in the independent production sector.


“We talk to them about local stories that we want to see. We’re happy for service work to come in but we don’t want that to be the only relationship, and nor do Australian audiences.”


Local filmmakers and official treaty coproductions can apply to Screen NSW for production finance support, while regional filming fund grants support productions that film on location in regional NSW for a minimum of five shooting days.


Brunsdon also says Screen NSW is committed to supporting underrepresented groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; people who are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; those who are living with a disability; are female or trans/gender diverse; identify as LGBTQIA+; and people in regional and remote areas.


“We prioritise people from those backgrounds in everything we do. We want to make sure there are opportunities for people from outside of the mainstream to change the make-up of the industry,” says Brunsdon.


Initiatives include an incubator for emerging writers, launched earlier this year in partnership with broadcaster SBS and Screen Australia, as well as the state and territory agencies Screen Queensland, Film Victoria, Screen Canberra, Screenwest and the South Australian Film Corporation, with the assistance of the Australian Writers’ Guild.


The incubator is designed to provide significant work experience in drama production over three years for three emerging writers from NSW with backgrounds and lived experiences currently underrepresented in the sector.


Collaborations such as these highlight how, despite the heated competition between the various state agencies in Australia to attract lucrative productions, there is a united front when it comes to growing the industry as a whole as the country plots its Covid-19 recovery plan.


“We’re all Australia, so we all want to see more work coming to Australia. We all want to see the industry thrive. And all boats rise when production is increased in any state. But there is a healthy level of rivalry to land productions from one state to another. Given the number of jobs they bring in, and the economic expenditure, especially for those large-scale projects, everybody wants to land them.


“In the time of Covid-19, governments are focused on getting people back working and growing the economy. Once something is greenlit it employs people immediately and we get can get thousands of people working within a matter of weeks. The screen industry uses such a variety of services, from drivers to security to production to catering to hospitality. So there’s a lot of support for the screen sector from the people who hold the purse strings.”