Queensland’s film industry booms as A-listers seek a safe haven from the COVID-19 pandemic



Queensland is in the midst of its biggest screen boom in history as the promise of a coronavirus refuge lures A-list stars and big-budget productions.

Since the beginning of last year, Queensland has secured 39 international and domestic productions, which are worth an estimated $437 million to the local economy.

“That’s really unheard-of to have that many projects on the go at once,” Screen Queensland chief executive Kylie Munnich said.

“The great thing is, they’re spread around the state — it’s not only south-east Queensland.”

The Gold Coast has been transformed into downtown Memphis for Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic, while the Whitsundays will stand in for Bali in romantic comedy Ticket to Paradise starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney.

Meanwhile, outback Queensland will host contestants of popular reality TV show Australian Survivor as they compete for cash in Cloncurry.

Screen Queensland CEO Kylie Munnich.
Screen Queensland CEO Kylie Munnich says the number of film productions being shot across Queensland is “unheard-of”.(ABC News: Lily Nothling)

Production will also begin this month on the Gold Coast for Thirteen Lives, a film adaptation of the 2018 Thai cave rescue, directed by Ron Howard.

The screen boom is expected to create about 5,500 jobs — the majority of them local.

Ms Munnich said while Queensland had already built a global industry reputation, the pandemic had put it at the top of the film destination list.

There is financial motivation, too.

The Queensland government has been tipped to spend $35 million on production attraction incentives this financial year, while the Commonwealth committed an additional $400 million to entice international productions to Australian shores.

Evan Clarry, director and writer of The Bureau of Magical Things.
Film director Evan Clarry says millions of dollars in production costs were on the line at the height of the pandemic.(ABC News: Lily Nothling)

Pandemic puts millions in production costs on the line

Filming for the hit kids’ TV series The Bureau of Magical Things was shut down last year on the Gold Coast during the height of the coronavirus health crisis.

“Everyone was very nervous and there was a palpable sense that we might not be coming back to finish the show,” the show’s director, Evan Clarry, said.

“Having spent so much money at the point of the production — millions of dollars — it was a very precarious place to be in.”

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Filming ‘The Bureau of Magical Things’ on the Gold Coast

But three months later, the cast and crew were back on set, with the production team now preparing to release the second season.

“Once COVID settles down and more and more places open up for shooting, then it’ll become a more competitive market in terms of drawing the offshore productions.”

‘Queensland has its own stories to tell’

The influx of top-tier productions has created new opportunities for local creatives.

Emerging First Nations filmmaker Rhianna Malezer worked behind the scenes on Thor: Ragnarok, Dora and the Lost City of Gold and the upcoming Elvis film.

Rhianna smiles.
Emerging filmmaker Rhianna Malezer says Queensland needs to strike a balance between international blockbusters and local productions.(ABC News: Lily Nothling)

“The attachment on Thor, working in the art department, really kicked off my entire art department career,” Ms Malezer said.

“Just being introduced to a production of that scale was a huge learning curve — I developed so many skills that I’ve transferred to every job that I’ve done.”

Ms Malezer said Queensland needed to find a balance between big international blockbusters and developing local productions.

“Now, as I develop myself as a writer-director, I know that there’s this incredible pool of talent here in Queensland that I can call upon for my own projects.”


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