When Thor: Love and Thunder was announced as shooting in Australia, few industry experts were surprised. The land down under has become a hub for major American productions, with major blockbusters of all stripes flocking to the country (and to New Zealand) rather than Hollywood, New York, or even Atlanta.
While major productions taking place across AUNZ is nothing new – think back to The Lord of the Rings or the Star Wars prequels and Matrix trilogy from the early 2000s – the volume of major productions has definitely increased of late. The consequences for local production have been varied – especially when it comes to commercial creativity.
At this year’s Advertising Week APAC, a panel led by LBB’s Toby Hemming called on Damien Whitney, executive producer at Clockwork Films, and Stephane Renard, executive producer at Media Monks, to parse the good and the bad of this development.
First, the bad. The influence of major productions, Damien explained, has led to a real skill shortage for commercial productions. The allure of major film work (as well as the specialist skills often required) has, on more than one occasion, caused commercial producers real headaches thanks to a lack of availability. Stephane echoed this view, explaining that the chance to show Star Wars as a CV credit could be “irresistible” to special effects talent, regardless of the opportunities offered in the commercial sphere.
There has also been little creative bleed into domestic production in either film or commercial realms. The influx of money has neither allowed more Australian films to be made, nor made a material difference to the creative side of commercial creativity. But this, the panel expressed, was not really an attributable ‘harm’. Damien explained that Australian films have simply always struggled to compete with the scale of American pictures, while creativity itself couldn’t be quantified as something which was measurably “improved” by American money. But what has improved is the industry’s technical skill.
Stephane agreed. He cited multiple instances of directors, VFX artists, or cinematographers who had transferred skills to and fro between commercial and artistic production realms: From major productions, they take the access to new technology (such as LED screen backdrops), while, from commercial productions , they take the freedom to experiment – using both to develop their skills and potential.
Ultimately, both executive producers concluded that this technical upskilling was a major benefit, and remarked with a hint of pride that Australia was “punching above our weight” when it came to global production capacity. The skill shortage was very real, but Damien emphasized that “this is an industry of people”, and drove home that if enough was done to promote homegrown talent, this demand could be met. Stephane agreed, and pointed out that, with the new major production opportunities in Australia, there was more reason than ever to stay – thus countering the “brain drain” production has faced in years past.
The reason, Damien concluded, that this uptick in production had happened was largely a result of tax incentives and good Covid management. “The industry is very good at self managing”, I have explained. In that light, regardless of the challenges that Hollywood poses for Australian production – both artistic and commercial – there is little doubt that the industry is still healthy, and there are reasons to be optimistic about its future.