The Ausfilm team on flying the flag in LA and attracting global projects to Oz
Michael Fassbender and Carmen Ejogo in 'Alien: Covenant', shot in Sydney.
In the 2015-16 year, foreign location spending in Australia was recorded at $273 million. Foreign Post, Digital and Visual effects (PDV) spend in Australia reached a record-high of $105 million.
Australian director James Wan (Saw, Furious 7) has returned home to direct Aquaman. Rob Cowan, producer of San Andreas, which shot in Queensland in 2015, will return to the Gold Coast to produce.
In the last 12 months Australia has hosted Thor: Ragnarok, Alien: Covenant and Pacific Rim: Maelstrom, while Aussie vendors have completed post work on the likes of xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, Dr Strange, Game of Thrones and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.
Ausfilm, Australia’s marketing and representative body abroad for the Australian production industry, continues to advocate for a permanent increase to the Location Offset. They’re not alone – Animal Logic CEO Zareh Nalbandian, who wants to see it double to around 30 percent, described the current Offset to IF as “broken”.
A partnership between private industry and government, Ausfilm receives financial assistance from the Department of Communications and the Arts. It’s also supported by membership of Australia’s state screen agencies and private sector businesses: the major studio complexes, production service providers and post, sound and visual effects companies.
Ausfilm began in 1994 when Austrade, the promotional arm of the Australian Trade Commission, identified opportunities for the film and television industry in the US market and created EFSA, the Export Film Services Association. In 1998, EFSA became the incorporated association Ausfilm International Inc.
These days, CEO Debra Richards runs a team of four out of the Sydney office while Kate Marks is EVP of international production in LA, where the org maintains a team of three.
Marks, who is also president of Australians in Film, moved over to LA in October 2014 after managing the incentives program and production attraction team at Film Victoria.
“So I’d already built many relationships with studio and production executives here in LA,” says Marks. “The work we do is very much built on the relationships we all have both here in the US and back home in Australia.”
“We represent the businesses that have the expertise and creativity to help get a major project off the ground and are looking to make their film in Australia.”
“Our role is predominately inward investment to secure international productions, creating jobs for our membership base and driving economic and industry growth.”
Fundamental to the gig is “hunting down leads,” says Marks.
“The core part of our business is sourcing and pitching on international productions looking for incentives or locations. We feed these project leads onto the state agencies and our members to pitch.”
That role has evolved since the introduction of the Producer Offset in 2007.
“Ausfilm has the responsibility to promote the Producer Offset and the co-production program in tandem with Screen Australia, so we promote our creative talent to achieve this – our producers, writers and directors,” says Marks.
“The US in particular is very interested in working with Australians and accessing the Producer Offset. However to do this they must be collaborating from early development with Australian creatives, so we are connecting the two.”
The Ausfilm team regularly meets with Australian writers, director and producers visiting LA (or those already based there).
“Where appropriate we assist in connecting these filmmakers to clients that we believe are a good match and could help move their projects forward.”
“We also work a lot with independent production companies in LA who are working with, or looking for, an Australian screenwriter. If they already have one, we will help by connecting them to an Australian producer. If they don’t, we provide information [about] who is out there.”
“Our aim is always ultimately to get production back to Australia and [get] work for Ausfilm members.”
While Ausfilm is adamant it flies the flag for the entire industry, it is only paying members who can attend the org’s exclusive events globally or be listed in its directory. Dues are spent on the promotion of members via rollouts such as Ausfilm’s recent ‘60 Seconds With’ campaign.
Every year for the last eight years Ausfilm has hosted a business to business event entitled ‘Partner with Australia’ in Los Angeles, in which Aussie producers can network with US executives over the course of four days.
Marks also hosts Ausfilm Week Los Angeles each October, which sees corporate members and screen agency representatives travel to LA for around 12 events over nine days. Last year nearly 40 members from Australian screen businesses attended.
More recently, the organisation has put the growing Chinese film industry in its sights.
The Australia-China Film Industry Exchange, previously the Australia-China Film Industry Forum, was initiated by the Australian Embassy in Beijing.
“They hosted a networking event in Beijing to introduce the Australian screen agencies and member companies travelling to China,” says Marks. “We have been in this market partnering with Screen Australia and the Embassy for over six years now.”
The two-day event involves showcases what Australia has to offer to Chinese filmmakers, particularly what we have to offer in the post, digital, and visual effects space.
Ausfilm also runs the Australian Familiarisation Program in partnership with the state screen agencies. The program brings international filmmakers – from China, the US and elsewhere – to Australia for location scouts and meetings with Ausfilm member companies, line producers and HODs. Under the scheme, a delegation of Chinese filmmakers visited various Australian states in 2015.
Marks points to Bleeding Steel, the recent Jackie Chan film filmed in Sydney, as an example of a film that came out of relationships nurtured under these initiatives.
With Alien: Covenant (shot in Sydney), Pacific Rim: Maelstrom (Sydney and Queensland), HBO’s The Leftovers (Melbourne), Kong: Skull Island, Thor: Ragnarok and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (all three shot on the Gold Coast) set for release this year, the skill of our technicians will be on frequent display. That expertise is much sought after in China.
“They’re not quite ready, which is why we’re getting a bit of work at the moment,” says Ausfilm CEO Debra Richards.
“They want to get all our expertise and skills. They will recreate it, we understand that. But there’s an opportunity now because of the relationship that we’ve built up.”