Making Australian stories for the screen on the Gold Coast

We’ve all heard how the Gold Coast is shaping its local film industry as a destination for Hollywood blockbusters, attracting productions from across the world. You’d have to be living under a rock to have missed Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson in town early this year, charming local Gold Coasters with their accessible smiles, until they were brought down temporarily by a bout of COVID-19 and filming of the Baz Luhrmann-directed Elvis biopic paused. Luhrmann’s $100+ million production isn’t the first big deal to be made here on the Gold Coast either, with a legacy of bigger budget productions choosing the Gold Coast spanning over more than two decades, from Scooby Doo through to Thor Ragnarok.

But the presence of these big budget productions, sporadically attracted via government incentives, begs a pertinent question as the industry and the city addresses economic stimulus post-COVID… what do local production teams do in between? And how do we leverage those opportunities to grow our own Australian film production industry, utilising skills and experience collected to deliver market leading storytelling? Industry leaders are wrestling with this right now, as the federal government seeks feedback for an Options Paper on the issue.

Deanne Weir heads up Hoodlum, an Emmy and BAFTA-award winning production company responsible for well-loved Australia content such as Tidelands and Harrow. Episodes of Harrow were filmed throughout Queensland, including right here on the Gold Coast. In April, Weir published an article addressing recently relaxed TV network quotas for Australian content (in light of COVID-19), meaning networks can source overseas content in greater volume without the necessity of funding or procuring locally. This adds greater pressure to Australian film industry recovery, Weir says, but not only for economic reasons.

“Telling our own stories, supporting the development of our own voices and talent is critical to us as society,” she said.

“Our stories help us understand who we are, who we’ve been, who we might be… [but we need to] implement an industry assistance package that helps the sector build back up out of the crisis, but within the context of the new regulatory regime. We can build back better. We just all need to make clear how much we value our own stories.” 

Gold Coast executive producer at Glass Media, Christopher Boyd, agrees, at least to some extent. Boyd has been working tirelessly over two decades for TV, film and corporate advertising clients and laments opportunities for the local industry being lost, failing to leverage the big budget productions for a sustainable local economic impact. Boyd has devised the “Gold Coast Production Media Network” as a conceptual solution and hopes a post-COVID stimulus package might indeed help the city “build back better”.

“The [local GC] screen industry has very few established businesses employing full time staff despite the vast amount of taxpayer money which has been invested in the sector over the years,” said Christopher.

“An industry advisory group like the GCPMN will provide an environment for industry practitioners to collaborate to organically grow the production base and the industry’s local content while shaping governments focus on local industry outcomes.”

With the Gold Coast the only local government in Australia to provide a film attraction program that includes financial incentives (beyond state and federal grant programs) and also the first city in Australia to invest in a fibre optic network arguably 60 times faster than the average Australian internet service, there’s no doubt the city will continue to punch above its weight when it comes to big budget productions. What remains is listening carefully to practitioners like Weir and Boyd, who invest in their own production teams right here on the Gold Coast and are committed to seeing a sustainable industry over the long-term, and not just focussing on producing stories for international audiences, but remembering Australian stories for Australian audiences, and growing our local industry organically while doing it.

You can make a submission for the federal government’s options paper here.

You can read Deanne Weir’s article here.

You can find out more about the City of Gold Coast film industry incentives here.

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