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Why Tentpoles From ‘Planet of the Apes’ to ‘Anyone But You’ Are Flocking to Australia

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Lifetime Los Angeles resident and stalwart industry supporter Ron Howard landed a world away from Hollywood for the creation of his last two live-action features. The 75-year-old filmmaker shot his 2022 Thai cave rescue drama Thirteen Lives in Queensland, Australia and returned just months later to produce his upcoming survival thriller Eden, starring Ana de Armas, Vanessa Kirby, Sydney Sweeney, and Jude Law. 

“We’ve had two great experiences in a row now — and I hope we get to do it again,” Howard says of his time working Down Under. The director adds that both projects were an easy fit for Queensland, thanks to the area’s stunning natural landscapes, which doubled for contemporary rural Thailand in ThirteenLives and the Galapagos Islands of the 1930s for Eden

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“We were shooting almost all exterior scenes, and the choices were strong across the board,” he explains. “Australia has always had a strong talent base both in front of and behind the camera. If they continue to nurture and build on that with the great support that the agencies are giving, there’s a lot of blue skies ahead.”

Adds Bill Connor, Howard’s producing partner and longtime first assistant director: “Australia seems to be hitting on all cylinders right now. It’s right up there with the U.S., U.K., Canada and other top production zones. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the industry there.”

Howard and Connor are far from alone in decamping to Australia to take advantage of the local industry’s solidifying strengths as a production hotspot. The volume of recent and upcoming tentpoles shooting Down Under constitutes an undeniable boom, according to local industry leaders. 

“Collectively, films shot in Australia have already grossed close to a billion dollars this year at the global box office, and we’re far from done yet,” said a recent statement from Ausfilm, the country’s leading production support agency. 

Recent Australia-shot hits include Sony Pictures’ Glen Powell and Sweeney rom-com Anyone But You, Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment’s Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, Universal Pictures’ Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt action comedy The Fall Guy and Disney’s Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Two of the buzziest genre titles premiering at the Cannes Film festival this year also shot in Oz. Nicolas Cage’s beachside revenge thriller The Surfer, which was produced entirely on location in Western Australia, will premiere in the festival’s Midnight Screenings section, while Aussie icon George Miller’s Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga — which was filmed both at Disney Studios Australia in Sydney and some of the remote Australian locations where earlier installments of the franchise were set during the 1980s — is set for an out-of-competition unveiling. 

Underscoring the momentum driving the Australian production wave, the list of forthcoming projects also runs long. Liam Neeson’s action thriller The Ice Road 2: Roadto the Sky is currently shooting in Walhalla in Victoria, Australia, while Shane Black’s big-budget crime film Play Dirty for Amazon MGM Studios, co-starring Mark Wahlberg and LaKeith Stanfield, is in the process of setting up in the country, as is AGBO Studios and Amazon MGM Studios’ The Bluff, with Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Bob Marley: OneLove director Frank E. Flowers attached. 

As is common in the international film and television sector, a key driver of Australia’s ongoing production upswing came from an enhancement to its incentive schemes. In July, the country’s national government increased the location offset program in its annual budget from 16.5 percent to 30 percent. Thanks to those changes, films spending at least A$20 million dollars (about $13 million U.S. dollars) in the country can claim back 30 percent of all expenditures on goods and services upon completion of the project. Previously, it often was possible for especially savvy producers to add to the guaranteed 16.5 percent offset and bring total support to 30 percent by cobbling together prior grant schemes — but the increases introduced last year provided global producers with a much-needed sense of ease and surety. 

Anticipating the uptick in business that would likely follow from the changes, a group of industry veterans recently came together to co-launch Servo, a turnkey services firm designed to facilitate and accelerate all aspects of large-budget, inbound production targeting Australia. The company has hit the ground running, providing production services to Imagine Entertainment and AGC Studios’ Eden, CODE Entertainment’s The Ice Road 2: Road to the Sky, and Amazon MGM Studios’ Play Dirty, among other projects in the works. 

“We have had in the past concerns about incentive consistency, but the new location offset appears to have addressed that issue, and we are excited to explore that as we move forward on our next productions,” says Andrew Golov, executive vp production at Miramax. “Personal connections in our business are also key, and my relationship with the folks at Servo provides comfort that their production experience combined with local knowledge will deliver a successful production maximizing spend with production value.”

Jon Kuyper, co-founder of Servo and a former senior vp production at Warner Bros. in Sydney, notes that “Australia has been a major studio favorite for years, but it has suffered a little from currency fluctuations and the discretionary grants schemes, which resulted in a feast-or-famine kind of situation with very busy periods and other much quieter stretches.” 

Kuyper believes this past fluctuation in business flow held Australia back to some degree because it made it harder for businesses and individuals to justify investing more aggressively in building out production facilities or fully committing their careers to the film trade. 

“As the location offset gets increased in government, it’s going to attract a steadier flow of films, giving certainty for growth in crew training and building infrastructure — which obviously is part and parcel with Australia taking a bigger piece of the global market,” Kuyper says. 

New production facilities in Australia already are coming online. In April, Screen Queensland Studios opened its doors in Cairns, adding 11,517 square feet of soundstage space to the country’s facilities offering, along with production offices, editing suites, sound studios, construction space and other support infrastructure. Work is underway on an even larger facility in Western Australia called Home Fire, which the local government is bankrolling with a A$233.5 million investment. Boasting four large state-of-the-art stages, the project is expected to open its doors to film shoots by 2026. 

“With the location offset getting put into place and a steady pipeline of international projects coming in, I would expect that we’ll see even more interest in infrastructure developments going forward,” says Kate Marks, CEO of Ausfilm

Marks notes that a given territory’s incentive offering is always “a critical piece of the puzzle when film producers are assessing different locations” — but the final decision on where to work “often comes down to the full package.”

“Having the incentive is vital,” Marks adds, “but what people always say when they come back here, first and foremost, is that they just love working in Australia — it’s the Australian lifestyle and the Australian people.” 

Adds producer Bart Rosenblatt, who recently wrapped Neeson’s The Ice Road 2 in the southern part of the country: “At present, Australia is a very attractive place to shoot. We find when searching for locations that have a great tax credit, they often don’t have the infrastructure, crew depth, local actors or facilities needed to support a big production. Australia has all four of these. The crew we worked with in Melbourne was extremely experienced and had a great attitude — which only makes us want to come back.” 

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