International film producers have long known about Australia’s rich and varied locations. Ausfilm’s writer, Pip Bulbeck looks at how TV series are using our cities, deserts, coasts and countryside to produce their own distinctive looks or double for other locations around the world.

Australia has become a favourable destination for big-budget filmmakers over the decades. From the Wachowski siblings and Ridley Scott creating exciting new sci-fi worlds for the Matrix trilogy and Alien: Covenant, to the rugged east coast fishing town in Aquaman through to the wild Amazon jungle in Dora and the Lost City of Gold. The country’s stunning locations have served as incredible backdrops to so many big U.S. screen blockbusters.

Now, the diversity and adaptability of those locations, from tropical, coastal, jungle, mountains, arid and alpine sites, to metro and urban ones, is providing rich pickings for TV producers.

Added incentives

With demand for original TV dramas booming worldwide, producers are looking for fresh looks which can also double for foreign locations. Along the way, they are also discovering that Australia readily provides globally competitive incentive programs, highly skilled crews experienced at long, complex shoots, the convenience of big cities and an enviable lifestyle.

As Reef Break Producer Guy Louthan says, there are “reasons on reasons to come and shoot in Australia”.

The evolution and spectacular growth of subscription-based video on demand (SVOD) platforms and the resulting volume of scripted content being produced globally to meet audience demand and expectations, is providing ample opportunities. And the Australian industry is stepping up to meet them.

Recent research put the volume of original scripted shows being made for U.S. services at 487 in 2018, with the bulk of those also receiving global distribution through various platform partners. This figure is expected to double by 2025. Then there is the Chinese market which is rapidly developing for online and broadcast TV as well as film, with partnerships between Chinese and Australian producers continuing to build.

Australia, including its various state government screen agencies, has highly competitive incentive programs that are becoming well known and well utilised for episodic productions.

Within the past 12 months, the Australian Government has supported international productions commissioned by Netflix, Amazon, ABC International Studios, Sony Television and Paramount Pictures.

The productions have been eligible for either Australia’s Location or PDV Offsets (Post, Digital and Visual Effects), which, with the AU$140 million Location Incentive, has seen a significant uplift in activity.

International pull

Sony Pictures Television, through its local Australian based subsidiary, Playmaker Media, has made both season 4 of Preacher and new series Reckoning here; ABC International Studios based its U.S. summer series Reef Break in Queensland; and Paramount Television and Anonymous Content’s 10-part TV adaptation of Gregory David Roberts’ bestselling novel Shantaram commenced shooting in Melbourne in late 2019.

Australian productions including Mr Inbetween, made in NSW for FX, and Harrow made in Queensland by Brisbane-based Hoodlum for ABC International Studios, which scored a third season renewal just recently, have found international audiences. And there are more universal stories for global audiences with NBC Universal’s Matchbox Pictures and Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton’s Dirty Films making refugee drama Stateless in South Australia which was recently acquired by Netflix. Road trip drama Upright, starring Tim Minchin, is set for global distribution and will air simultaneously in the U.K. and Australia in late 2019, along with Netflix and Matchbox Pictures’ upcoming thriller Clickbait filming in Melbourne.

The Australian Government’s AU$140 million Location Incentive complements the Location Offset and effectively provides a 30 per cent rebate for eligible large budget international productions – be they film or TV and regardless of platform – with state-based government incentives able to top up the federal offsets. This makes Australia a highly competitive shooting location.

Kristin Burr, U.S. Producer on Paramount Pictures’ Dora and the Lost City of Gold, which filmed in Queensland last year, said creatively Australia was the first choice. “Then the premier of Queensland got involved to give an additional [state] tax incentive and so, all in, the tax incentive basically made it a no-brainer.”

Incentives aside, Australia’s locations, studios and crews have gained a well-won international reputation and Australia’s screen industry is wasting no time in capitalising on the much-needed increases of both state and federal incentives.

Curious to read more from Ausfilm’s annual publication? Click here to access the Locations Issue #7.