Can we bag Brad?
Waving hello to Australia? ... Brad Pitt Photo: Getty Images
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie could be one step closer to coming to Australia if the federal and NSW governments can reach a deal to bring the remake of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo here.
Pitt, one half with Jolie of the highest-earning celebrity movie couple in the world, is the king pin whose presence may yet woo federal cabinet to extend a tax rebate location offset deal for the David Fincher movie to be shot in NSW and possibly Queensland.
The Pitt film – by no means assured – is the only movie of its size considering Australia in 2013.
Federal Arts Minister Simon Crean said an offer had been made but it was ''contingent on similar commitments that NSW made to Wolverine, and likewise in Queensland".
''If it comes off this will be a bigger production than Wolverine. In fact, it will be the biggest production ever filmed in Australia," he said.
''Wolverine employed 2000 people and the director, James Mangold, said it was the best crew he's ever worked with. He got himself in trouble in Hollywood for saying that."
Mr Crean would not reveal the amount of federal government support the Hollywood production would be likely to receive, claiming it was "commercial in confidence", but he confirmed it would be the equivalent of a 30 per cent location offset, for which the local industry has been lobbying for some time. The offset is generally set at 16.5 per cent, but when the government committed additional support to Hugh Jackman's The Wolverine production last year, lifting the total tax payer contribution to that movie to more than $25 million, Mr Crean vowed to consider any future increases on "a case by case basis".
"We are still looking at the question long-term of what we do with the production offset as part of the cultural policy. We'll look at all the proposals as they come," he said.
However, he added, the deal for the Fincher film was not finalised. "Here's a proposal that was put, I've looked at it and responded and we're hoping to close it. We’ve made our offer but it’s not yet done," he said. "It’s contingent on similar commitments that NSW made to Wolverine, and likewise in Queensland."
Mr Crean is understood to support increasing the production offset - in large part to compensate for the strong dollar, which makes Australia much less viable for Hollywood productions - and is of the view that there is little risk of such a move opening the floodgates. "The capacity for us is such that you can only do one a year, really."
Sources told Fairfax Media last year that 20,000 Leagues may yet be made in another, more competitive, country if a deal could not be struck.
Pitt confirmed to MTV late last year that he was on board given director David Fincher was driving the project, based on Jules Verne's story: "I'd love to. I mean, he's my man. He's got a great take on it."
But if Pitt and Disney fail to make their case, industry insiders warn Australia faces a brain drain of thousands of skilled film crew members, whose employment has been battered over the past three years by an uncompetitive strong Australian dollar.
Without the film, many camera operators, sound, lighting and special effects whizzes will likely leave Australia in search of work on the next big summer blockbusters.
Los Angeles-based Australian movie veteran Grant Hill, who produced the Matrix movies made in Sydney for the Wachowski siblings, confirmed to Fairfax Media in December that Australia had been seriously considered for its latest $200 million epic, Jupiter Ascending.
After hearing The Wolverine was given a one-off investment equivalent to an increase in the location offset rebate from 16.5 to 30 per cent he had asked for the same level of rebate for Jupiter Ascending.
He contacted Ausfilm, the body charged by government with marketing Australia's screen production incentives, and said that even though the Wachowskis originally aimed to film the sci-fi movie in Britain, "If you can give us the deal that Wolverine has then we'll turn around tomorrow and move over to Australia."
Ausfilm "pushed it pretty hard" with Mr Crean, but Hill said he was told four weeks later it was not possible to extend the deal.
Mr Crean told Fairfax he knew nothing about the Jupiter Ascending proposal. ''I don't know about that. It certainly doesn't ring a bell with me.''
Debra Richards, the CEO of Ausfilm, has also said the 20,000 Leagues negotiations were commercial-in-confidence. "All I can say is Disney, along with other studios on the back of Wolverine, started inquiries because the government was talking about the one-off project being equivalent to 30 per cent. I can't say anything about Disney."
But it didn't stop the Arts Minister from gushing that Disney could look at Australia as a potential filming location in the future.
''We've got the talent, the capacity, they love the locations. They say there's co-operation... in terms of the communities – some places in regional Australia, it's the most excitement they've ever had," he said.
"But more importantly, with Disney – this is the first one they've done with us – if they get the same view as [Wolverine director] James [Mangold], then they'll want to be looking here in the future."