British firm Extraordinary Group and Australian production company Impian Films have team with the goal of building a film studio in Perth, which would become Western Australia’s first studio facility.
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The joint venture partners say they hope to get final approvals and open the Perth Film Studio in spring 2016.
Extraordinary, led by CEO Chris Samwells, says it eyes the Perth facility and a studio in Spain as the first two of an envisioned six micro studios around the world. The hope is to build them as environmentally friendly film and media hubs with a small footprint for a total budget of only about $300 million across all six. The facilities are designed to take advantage of production tax credits in their respective locations.
By offering studio space along with hotels and film services to ensure other revenue streams, the partners hope to make the venues to pay off financially even when no films are in production. And the studio planners hope to make the facilities part of the broader local community – in the case of Perth by building next to Murdoch University and its film school.
The Perth facility design plans include three studios (one that is 50×50 meters big and 22 meters high, and two measuring 25x25x18 meters), office space, warehouses and room for set construction.
“We want to have a small imprint, about 30,000 square meters,” Samwells said. “That will ensure a small physical impact. And we will recycle water and become part of community unlike other studios.” A planned 260-room hotel on the Perth site is also planned and eyed as an ongoing revenue stream.
Stephen Van Mil, founder of and producer at independent production firm Impian in Perth, said he was “really looking forward to this studio becoming a reality.”
He cited the 1973 book Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, by Reyner Banham, as an old inspiration for a Perth studio facility. It explores the elements that allowed L.A. to become the film capital of the world. “Los Angeles’ notable rival, in fact, is Rio de Janeiro (though the open ocean-beaches of Los Angeles are preferable in many ways) and its only rival in potential is, probably, Perth, Western Australia,” he wrote.
Van Mil is developing drama The Drowner – about an English engineer and his wife who arrive in Australia to work in the gold industry – with Happy Feet and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World co-writer John Collee attached as the writer.
The Perth site eyed for the studio is only about 15-20 minutes from the sea and the city’s airport, as well as various nature locations, the planners said.
Western Australia has recently developed a reputation for its locations and unique landscapes, with a record number of features having shot there this year, according to industry watchers. They include Ewan McGregor drama Son of A Gun, omnibus feature The Turning with Cate Blanchett and thriller Kill Me Three Times with Simon Pegg, director Kriv Stenders’ follow-up to his 2011 hit Red Dog.
The partners want to attract international productions and also support the local industry.
“There are a big number of Hollywood shoots in Australia,” said Van Mil, citing The Great Gatsby and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as examples. “Up until a few years ago, there were no features in Western Australia though. But in the last few years, films have come due to the government incentives,” a 40 percent cash rebate.
“We have gotten some films with no infrastructure,” Van Mil added. “With studio facilities, we will be able to attract more even films.”
While Perth itself is isolated from the rest of Australia, the partners are touting the closeness to China, Singapore and Indonesia and the fact that there are no competing studios in Western Australia.
“You have guaranteed climate,” said Prof. Richard Higgott, vice chancellor of Murdoch University. “Singapore and Jakarta are quicker to reach from Perth than Sydney. And you have got beaches, greenery, deep foliage and flat open spaces.”
Samwells said two investor groups have offered to fully fund the Perth complex, with a final financing decision yet to be made. He and Higgott said the project’s planning details must also still be formally approved by the senate of Murdoch University.
“”I must provide for the long-term financial sustainability for university projects,” Higgott said. “We expect a formal proposal from Chris to be filed and discussed soon, but it looks like one of the most interesting and innovative propositions for a university.”
Samwells’ attempt to launch a studio operation in Spain a few years ago ended up failing amid the financial and economic crisis in the country.
He still hopes to get the Perth studio off the ground and also open a similar micro studio with local partners in Girona, Spain in the coming years, followed by more sites in Goa, India, Tobago, Winnipeg, Canada and Las Cruces, New Mexico. In all locations, there are tax incentives to tap into.
Australian film industry groups say they will closely follow the progress of the proposed studio facility in Perth.
“ScreenWest is undergoing its own review of infrastructure in consultation with industry, which is ongoing,” said Ian Booth, CEO of ScreenWest, Western Australia’s screen funding and development agency. “ScreenWest is aware of this private project and has no direct involvement at this stage, but we are pleased that other people are working on proposals.”
Said Debra Richards, CEO at locations agency Ausfilm: “The development of a studio (concept) for Perth will enhance Australia’s attractiveness as a destination for international film and television production and provide increased opportunities for our talented production industry.”
Pip Bulbeck in Sydney contributed to this report.