More movies: Wolverine and Disney pave way
Special deal ... The Wolverine star Hugh Jackman with Prime Minister Julia Gillard on the movie set at Fox Studios last year. Photo: Tamara Voninski
The Federal Government is tipped to broaden incentives for big international movies to be made in Australia when it launches its National Cultural Policy in Canberra next month, clearing the way for more films such as The Wolverine to be made here.
The Arts Minister, Simon Crean, would be ‘‘addressing some concerns around the location offset’’ incentive when he launches the policy at the National Press Club on March 13.
Asked if this meant a broadening of offering the equivalent of a 30 per cent location offset granted to Hugh Jackman’s The Wolverine and likely to be given to the Disney film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo, the minister’s spokesman said: ‘‘Potentially, yes.’’
Want to return to Australia to make films ... directors Lana Wachowski, right, and brother Andy arrive for the premiere of Cloud Atlas in London last month. Photo: Toby Melville
The government recognised the importance of the industry to jobs, and that big directors want to make films in Australia. ‘‘We can’t get them there unless we do these one-off payments, and obviously that has to be addressed.’’
The spokesman said that despite reports the 20,000 Leagues project was on ‘‘shaky ground’’, Disney was ‘‘very committed to the project in Australia and are working hard with Simon’’. Location filming would be primarily in Queensland, some in NSW and a small amount in Victoria.
Last year the Federal Government granted Hugh Jackman’s The Wolverine the equivalent of a 30 per cent location offset, for which the local industry has been lobbying for some time.
Aussie mates, but will he come here? ... Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in The Curious case of Benjamin Button from 2008.
The offset is generally set at 16.5 per cent, but when the government committed additional support to The Wolverine, 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’’.
But Australia’s eroded film industry is at the crossroads and in danger of losing its world standing unless it widely introduces bigger location incentives, the Australian-born producer of the Matrix movie trilogy has warned.
Grant Hill, the longtime producer for the Wachowski siblings, said the Federal Government had created a climate of ‘‘unknowingness’’ for international film makers who were considering Australia.
‘‘It’s like everything else,’’ he warned. ‘‘It’s fine to have [a film industry] but if you don’t maintain it, you don’t feed it, it tends not to grow.
‘‘There’s more than 30 years gone into a viable production capacity and through no fault of its own its become uncompetitive in many ways.’’
Mr Hill and the Wachowskis will spend the next 18 months making the $200 million sci-fi epic Jupiter Ascending in London after Australia late last year lost its chance to host the production, taking with it 2000 film industry jobs, when the government declined to grant the film makers an extra incentive.
The Wachowskis had already made the Matrix trilogy here and, although that series is finished, remain seriously interested in making other movies in Australia.
Australia previously had a film industry that was as competitive as those in Germany, the UK and Canada, but a strong Australian dollar had ratcheted up production costs here, Mr Hill said.
Australian film talent was now being lost to the UK, the US and Asia. ‘‘Over the last five years, that competitive edge has been eroded,’’ he said.
Mr Hill said the incentive should be struck at a 30 per cent equivalent for all films made in Australia using an Australian crew, whether a film’s budget is $20 million or $200 million.
Now, the Federal Government is considering a second 30 per cent equivalent location offset for Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo here, even though The Hollywood Reporter has reported Brad Pitt is now unlikely to take the lead role.
‘‘When I saw the headline that 20,000 Leagues was going to get the money, the first reaction was ‘that’s good’, but the second was why others - us - were told ‘no’ pretty quickly.’’
Mr Crean told Fairfax earlier this month he knew nothing about the Jupiter Ascending proposal. ‘‘I don’t know about that. It certainly doesn’t ring a bell with me.’’
Mr Hill said: ‘‘I’m surprised by that. I’m not suggesting what he says isn’t true, but the frustration with Jupiter Ascending is we did come to it fairly late in the piece, around the time The Wolverine became the subject of ex gratia payments.
‘‘We were aware of it and at that stage not fully committed to London, but when we heard of The Wolverine we thought we should investigate it. So we approached people [Ausfilm] who we were told would approach the government, and the answer came back that the timing wasn’t right.’’
Mr Hill said 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 the UK, “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 the Arts Minister, Simon Crean, but Hill said he was told four weeks later it was not possible to extend the deal in the short time frame – thus Australia lost 2000 jobs.
The CEO of the Ausfilm board, Debra Richards, has told Fairfax that Andy and Lana (formerly Laurence) Wachowski never made a formal proposal to the Federal Government.
"But on the back of the one-off for The Wolverine, they indicated to us [Ausfilm] they were interested in making the film in Australia if the 30 per cent location offset eventuated. Film producers want to come and work with our crews," she said.