Screen industry’s light in Docklands

Screen industry’s light in Docklands

By Meg Hill

In October last year, the Victorian Government announced a $46 million investment into an expansion of Docklands Studios. This year, the film and television production industry all but shut down.

Lockdowns have closed the shutters on production while the industry confronts the long-term question of how to safely run production in an era of social distancing.

But Docklands Studios CEO Rod Allan said the expansion project was on track and had become a source of hope for the industry.

“As it turns out it’s been very good timing because of two things. One is the federal government announcement in July that $400 million will go into the location incentive fund, which is used to attract international productions to Australia,” Mr Allan said.

“The other thing that’s happened is that international companies, studios, and producers recognise that Australia is by comparison a safe place to be working at the moment, so there’s a lot of interest coming here.”

“From that perspective I think that there will be a lot of big production coming to Melbourne in the years to come.”

The expansion of the studios includes a new soundstage a quarter of the size of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Mr Allan said construction of the stage was currently out to a group of builders for tender, work would start in October and was expected to be completed at the end of 2021.

He was confident that Docklands would be a focus of the federal government’s location incentive due to the standing of the studios in the Australian industry and the effect the expansion will have to boost it.

“It’s there to attract international production to the country. Really in Australia there are three main big studio complexes – the Gold Coast, Sydney and Melbourne in Docklands,” he said.

“What we’re doing here is increasing Docklands’ capacity so we will be on a more equal footing with the other two. So, I don’t think there’s any doubt at all that Docklands will be getting its share of that.”

It was a welcome announcement for the studios and the industry in general, which the pandemic has thrown into a position of doubt and instability.

“Here at the studios some productions were suspended with the first lockdown. Dancing with the Stars finished just before that lockdown and we have another production that is in pre-production getting ready to shoot again,” Mr Allan said.

“So, there is pre-production activity happening here but it’s fair to say we’re not operating at full capacity at all.”

The industry, like most, is now faced with an enormous task of reorganisation. Mr Allan said there was a lot of thought going into how to keep the industry moving in a safe manner.

“It’s difficult, a lot of production has shut down and those productions that have resumed film production are quite involved for the producers,” he said.

“They have to develop strategies for managing the production, respecting social distancing and hygiene and cleanliness, which makes film production much more difficult.”

“Making films and shows is very labour-intensive work, people work in close proximity to each other. Every aspect of the work, down to how you handle props, needs to be reconsidered.”

The industry had developed overarching principles – the Australian Screen Production Industry COVID-Safe Guidelines – but Mr Allan said most individual productions would have to develop their own protocols on top of the guidelines.

“But the nature of the industry is that its resourceful and the people in it are resourceful,” he said.

“Filmmakers are always needed solve problems in their work, so if any industry is capable of evolving the way they work in this new environment I suppose it’s the film industry.” •

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