Filming on HBO’s 'The Leftovers' in stage 4 at Docklands Studios Melbourne, courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
IF speaks to Docklands Studios CEO Rod Allan about strengthening connections in LA, working with HBO on Season 3 of 'The Leftovers' and gearing up for 'Winchester'.
How did you go in LA for Ausfilm week?
A lot of these productions have long lead times, so it’s very unusual to go over there and meet someone who has a production ready. That doesn’t happen. What happens is the producers usually explore a number of options for Australia. It’s much more a relationship-building exercise. When we went to Ausfilm week last October, The Leftovers was not on the horizon. It wasn’t until March this year that they came out and subsequently we made the booking, and they’ve shot and wrapped since then.
How did you nab them?
The primary reason was that the third season of The Leftovers was set in Australia. So the story goes to Australia, and that meant that they had to shoot here and they chose Melbourne for reasons of location, [and] support by the state government. Also we had the facilities that suited them. The other critical factor was [that] one of the producers, Jean Kelly, had been here and worked in Melbourne before on The Pacific, and Melbourne was his first choice based on his experience on The Pacific.
How was it working with HBO?
It was very smooth, and the reason for that is because international productions need to have good experienced Australians on the show. If you choose experienced producers and experienced people in the art department to support the production, that means invariably that your production will run well. It was a very smooth production from our perspective dealing with the client.
What other productions have you had in this year?
The Leftovers was a big production so it took up most of the studio. We had this big music quiz for Channel Seven. We also do Channel Nine’s production of The Footy Show and Millionaire Hot Seat. Production schedules are uneven. There’s a gap between the end of The Leftovers and two feature films which are gearing up. Winchester starts pre-production in January. Last year we had two Australian miniseries: we had Jack Irish and Tomorrow When the War Began here at the same time.
Are you happy with the state and federal incentives?
We along with the other members of Ausfilm would like to see the federal government increase the offset from what is now 16 and a half percent to 30 percent. What is interesting is that Australia was one of the very first countries to introduce an incentive of this nature, 15 or so years ago. Other countries adopted similar policy and then increased the incentive on offer. What that means is that we’re no longer competitive. As soon as we are competitive financially then a whole lot of other things take care of themselves, because we have very good crews, we have crews that are used to working on international productions, and most of the international productions that come here are U.S. or U.S.-based. We speak English.
Do you lobby Mitch Fifield?
Not directly. We will do that through Ausfilm.
How did you lure the Spierig Bros’ next film, Winchester, to Docklands?
Melbourne fits the bill. There are specific locations that are needed to make that film work. Obviously they will be building sets but they can’t do it all on soundstages. They’ve got to be able to make the locations work, so that was a critical factor. And Film Victoria was very supportive in that process. We’re really close to the city. We’re as close to the city as any studio complex in the world that I know of. You can actually walk to the CBD from here. We’re right beside a network of freeways, so that if you’ve got to go onto location you can be out of the city and onto the freeway system – it’s just there. And we’re very close to all the support businesses: the post-production houses and the equipment rental houses are just in South Melbourne and Port Melbourne.
Is your biggest competitor Sydney?
Sydney and Queensland. They’re bigger facilities. We’re hoping the government will see its way clear to giving us some money to build another soundstage. That’s been on our agenda for some time. With our current capacity we can’t compete for productions like Thor, for instance. The reason we’re here is to provide support to the domestic industry, and be something which facilitates the growth and expansion of the industry here in Melbourne. To do that we want to get as much international production as we can, and at the same time always keep space available for domestic production.
How healthy is your occupancy now, relative to the past?
I suppose the trend is that we’re getting more regular domestic production. If you go back to the beginning, they were focused much more on attracting international [productions]. What that meant was that there were quite obvious gaps between bigger productions. Over the past eight years or so, we’ve been trying to focus more and more on filling those intervening periods on domestic productions. We’ve had films like The Dressmaker shot here. Even though most of it was shot on location they had some significant interiors here. We had [The Legend of] Ben Hall shoot here. Gradually what is happening is that the local producers are seeing the studio as being something which is not only here for international production but also domestic. And that was a perception that took a while to turn around.