The site of Lakeside Studios.

Following the production of Antaine Furlong’s Ascendant at Fox Studios Australia towards the end of 2019, producer James M. Vernon wanted to return to the Sydney facility to film his next project.

However, he found space was hard to come by.

“We couldn’t get in because Marvel and other projects were there for the foreseeable future,” he told IF.

“It got us thinking that we’ve got nowhere to go and there are a whole lot of other people that have got nowhere to go as well.”

The predicament would plant the seed for Lakeside Studio, a $150 million film production precinct to be built at Penrith Lakes.

A commercial arrangement has been agreed upon with Penrith Lakes Development Corporation to deliver the facility, which will be spread over 39 hectares in the tourism and tech precinct immediately west of the city’s CBD.

The three-stage development will feature 10 sound stages of various sizes aimed at attracting large-scale international productions, as well as catering for the domestic market.

There will also be a media park that will house a film academy for up to 200 students and a hotel.

Vernon is spearheading the project as managing director, with his daughter and fellow producer Kristy Vernon (Sweet River) taking the role of director of studio operations.

Former Warner Bros. International president Wayne Duband will serve as the international studio consultant. 

Construction is due to commence on Lakeside Studio in the next 12 months, with the project expected to be ready within the next couple of years.

Vernon, whose previous credits include Hacksaw Ridge and The King’s Daughter, told IF the idea was borne out of demand for studio sound stage space that went beyond the production boom experienced during 2020.

“We expect that by the time we open the doors, COVID will be resolved, so we are not relying on the rush we have had in the last year,” he said.

“But we do expect that a number of very large productions will be coming.

“[From the] discussions we have had with studios and streamers internationally, we’re quite certain that very big productions are on their way to Australia, particularly Sydney if there is a facility for it.”

Lakeside Studio will include 2,600 car parking spaces, studio reception, audience holding area, exterior infinity water tank, interior water tank, backlot shooting options, and lakes for on-site water shooting locations.

There is also plans for more than 9,000 square metres of workshop space, as well as office space for production and ancillary businesses.

Within Lakeside Media Park, the Lakeside Academy will have dedicated studio space, lecture rooms, workshops, screening room, officers, cafeteria and campus grounds, production office space, and a hotel to accommodate cast, crew and international students.

Kristy Vernon told IF the academy would generate more opportunities for the next generation of artists, producers and engineers in Western Sydney.

“There’s an untapped workforce out in the western suburbs, and if you’re a kid out there that wants to be a vfx artist, you probably have to move to the eastern suburbs to get that job, or otherwise you are travelling too far,” she said.

“It’s going to give Western Sydney an opportunity to be part of the film industry.”

NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes said the proposal to transform part of Penrith Lakes was on track, with changes to planning rules set to pave the way for the precinct. 

“Who needs Hollywood Hills when we’ve got Penrith Lakes? NSW is home to some of the best film production crews in the world, so it’s fitting they have a place to call home in Greater Sydney,” he said.

The announcement of Lakeside Studios comes two months after Russell Crowe, Peter Montgomery and Keith Rodger unveiled plans for the Pacific Bay Resort Studios and Village in Coffs Harbour.

There is a push to increase infrastructure across both NSW and Australia, with studios plans underway in Byron Bay, as well as a small studio planned for Cairns and a $100 million studio planned for Perth.

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