Big stars, bigger bucks: Inside our blockbuster boom
At the height of the pandemic last year the Australian entertainment industry found itself desperately fighting for life.
Film and television production across the country came to a grinding halt as COVID restrictions took hold and thousands of jobs on both sides of the camera looked like they would be wiped out in the blink of an eye.
It was as dire a situation as the industry had ever found itself in and some insiders thought it may never recover.
Fast forward a few long months and Australia's enviable handling of the virus together with a massive injection of funds from the federal government to encourage international production has seen the country emerge as the hottest prospect for filmmakers around the world.
Business is booming, new jobs are opening up every day and our shores have been swamped with some of the biggest names in Tinseltown.
Hollywood has relocated Down Under.
This is good news for those stars who get to keep working their magic in front of the camera, but it's even better news for the thousands of Aussies who rely on the industry being up and running to pay their mortgages, put food on the table and send their kids to school.
The screen sector is big business in Australia. Contributing more than $5 billion a year to the economy and employing around 31,000 people, any kind of collapse would have been devastating.
A number of big budget projects that are taking advantage of the government's location incentive scheme - which was given a massive $400 million top up in July last year to create a pipeline of work stretching to 2027 - are already filming or getting ready to start soon.
Together with existing subsidies - and not including attractive state-based incentives - the scheme allows producers to claim up to 30% of their spend in Australia.
These big productions, including Thor: Love and Thunder, Ron Howard's Thirteen Lives and Blacklight, starring Liam Neeson and Guy Pearce, will bring in about $700m and create almost 10,000 jobs.
Thor alone, which is being filmed in Sydney, will employ 2500 locals.
Two films being shot in Victoria by Dick Cook Studios - Ranger's Apprentice and The Alchemyst - will receive $19.5m in incentives and in turn generate 4500 jobs and a return on investment of around $140m.
The perfect storm of funding and our COVID-19 position that is attracting unprecedented attention is strengthened up by Australia being home to some of the world's best behind-the-scenes talent.
Production companies who would once bring a large contingent of their own crew if they were filming in Australia are now choosing to use local talent as it is seen as equal or superior to those around the world.
"At the moment it's almost impossible to film in large parts of America or the UK or Europe so it's a moment for us," said Graeme Mason, CEO of Screen Australia.
"We have a country with an enormous amount of talent and it isn't just the movie stars. We've got writers, we've got directors of photography, editors and really great people who build sets and special effects."
Ausfilm, who market Australia as a world-class destination for international filmmakers, has fielded inquiries from production companies totalling around $2.8 billion of potential business, a big jump on previous years.
CEO Kate Marks said when a big production comes to film in Australia, the economic reach is far greater than the project itself.
"Whether it's buying up so much material at the local hardware store or catering out of the local caterers and getting food supplies," she said.
"And then hotel nights and retail and hospitality - there is a huge flow on effect which is why we do what we do and why government supports it."
Chris Spry, who runs Fin Design and Effects, a visual effects company that has worked on movies such as Thor: Ragnarok and Logan, said when COVID took hold he feared his business might not make it through.
"A lot of our shows were shooting when the pandemic hit and sort of just paused so there was definitely a few scary moments there, where it's like "I don't know if we'll actually get through this'," he said.
"I've always thought the industry would come back up, it's just whether we would stay intact as a business and kind of ride through it."
With the help of JobKeeper and some post production work Fin Design and Effects were able to keep a core staff of about 35 through the tough months but are now back up to employing more than 70 people as the work continues to come in.
"Through the last half of the year as they found ways to get back into production, shows spun up again and everything has kind of come back online," he said.
WHAT'S A MOVIE WORTH?
Escape From Spiderhead (USA)
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett
Production Co: Netflix
Shoot State: QLD
Shoot Date: Nov 2020
Investment: $21.58m split between this production and TV series 'Pieces of Her' (Location Incentive)
Dir: Mark Williams
Starring: Liam Neeson, Guy Pearce
Prod Co: Lightstream
Shoot State: VIC, ACT
Shoot Date: Nov 2020 (VIC), Jan 2021 (ACT)
Investment: $5.8m (Location Incentive)
Jobs: 500 jobs (VIC), 60 Jobs (ACT).
THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (USA)
Dir: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Chris Pratt, Matt Damon
Prod Co: Marvel
Shoot State: NSW
Shoot Date: Jan 2021
Investment: $24.1m (location Incentive)
THIRTEEN LIVES (USA)
Dir: Ron Howard
Prod Co: Imagine Entertainment
Shoot State: QLD
Shoot Date: March 2021
Investment: $13m (Location Incentive Program)
YOUNG ROCK, JOE EXOTIC AND IRREVERENT
Prod Co: Universal
Starring: Dwayne Johnson (Young Rock), Nicholas Cage (Joe Exotic)
Shoot State: QLD
Shoot Date 2020 - 2022
Investment $19.5m (Location Incentive)
Jobs: 1000 Jobs
THE RANGER'S APPRENTICE (USA) AND THE ALCHEMYST (USA)
Prod Co: Dick Cook Studios
Shoot State: VIC
Shoot Date: 2021 TBC
Originally published as Big stars, bigger bucks: Inside our blockbuster boom