The Thor factor: Local film, TV industry hits massive high

Marvel Studios' THOR: RAGNAROK..L to R: Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)..Ph: Jasin Boland..????Marvel Studios 2017 Chris Hemsworth,?? Tessa Thompson and Mark Ruffalo in Thor: Ragnarok
Marvel Studios' THOR: RAGNAROK..L to R: Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)..Ph: Jasin Boland..????Marvel Studios 2017 Chris Hemsworth,?? Tessa Thompson and Mark Ruffalo in Thor: Ragnarok
Thor: Ragnarok..L to R: On set with Director Taika Waititi and Chris Hemsworth (Thor)..Ph: Jasin Boland..????Marvel Studios 2017 Thor: Ragnarok..L to R: On set with Director Taika Waititi and Chris Hemsworth (Thor)..Ph: Jasin Boland..????Marvel Studios 2017

Thor: Ragnarok..L to R: On set with Director Taika Waititi and Chris Hemsworth (Thor)..Ph: Jasin Boland..????Marvel Studios 2017 Thor: Ragnarok..L to R: On set with Director Taika Waititi and Chris Hemsworth (Thor)..Ph: Jasin Boland..????Marvel Studios 2017

Thanks largely to big-budget Hollywood features Thor: Ragnarok, Aquaman and Pacific Rim: Uprising, last year was the biggest ever for the Australian film and television industry.

Total expenditure on film, television and online drama production in 2016-17 came in at $1.277 billion - an increase of just over 50 per cent on the previous year's $850 million and just under 50 per cent on the previous record of $872 million in 2014-15.

By far the biggest contributor to that result was the $610 million spent by foreign producers on 29 projects across film and television, and including post-production services on the likes of Game of Thrones.

Just six foreign feature films contributed $521 million in local expenditure, almost triple the previous year ($195 million).

The big three - all shot in Queensland - were rounded out by Bleeding Steel (China), Parindey (India) and Bad Genius (Thailand).

The remainder of the contribution from foreign productions was in television ($43 million) and the post and digital visual effects sector ($53 million).

The effects and post-production side of the business as a whole also enjoyed a record year, with 34 titles - including Spider-Man: Homecoming, Logan, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and the Stan series Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams - contributing $123 million of expenditure from foreign and local work.

The Screen Australia drama report also found that local film production (41 titles and $284 million) was above the five-year average (helped by the US-financed but locally made Peter Rabbit) and TV drama (46 titles, $321 million) also at record levels.

Only the children's drama sector (13 titles, $48 million) was down, though that owed at least a little to the fact that this was the third year in the three-year cycle within which the free-to-air networks must fulfil their quota for the format.

Screen Australia chief Graeme Mason hailed the figures as "a spectacular result, great for the sector as a whole". However, with three content inquiries currently underway in Canberra, he said there was no room for complacency on the viability of the industry.

"This sector is a big economic powerhouse but we need to keep a watch on it because it's a fragile ecosystem - we need to work out how to maintain this level of work and opportunity," Mr Mason said.

"If you don't maintain the ideal levels of support it could all disappear."

Mr Mason identified a number of factors contributing to the upsurge. One was the relatively weak Australian dollar, which had traded below US80 cents for most of the year.

Another is the fact that Hollywood studios have become increasingly familiar with the reality of making film and television projects in Australia.

"Some of it is repeat business," he said.

"Disney/Marvel have got continuity, they understand what it is to work here now."

And then there's the fact that some of the biggest names on these projects are Australian - the likes of Chris Hemsworth and Cate Blanchett (stars of Thor: Ragnarok), James Wan (director of Aquaman), and Nicole Kidman (one of the leads of TV series Top of the Lake: China Girl).

"Our talent in front of and behind the camera is so well known that people want to work with them, and they're going to take a chance on doing it here," he said.

One of the greatest signs of vitality was the fact almost half of the funding for Australian features came from foreign sources, and 20 per cent of funding for television and online drama.

"We're seeing real money coming into projects, in investments and acquisitions. The US deal for [forthcoming TV series] Picnic at Hanging Rock was huge, the biggest ever for a TV acquisition."

The challenge now, he added, was to ensure that this result is not a flash in the pan - and that it does not create the impression that the industry no longer needs support.

"We have to be careful that people don't just look at a headline and say 'what problem'? We have to look at what's allowed that result to be created, and work out how do we continue to do that in a very rapidly changing world."

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This story The Thor factor: Local film, TV industry hits massive high first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.