Frosty times for filmmakers in Canberra with few films, jobs and reasons for talent to stay

Talib Haider



Canberrans are starting to make their mark in the world of films with personal efforts from filmmakers in the national capital and support from ScreenACT.

A locally-produced film, Me and my mates vs the Zombies, is about to be released with cinema screenings planned this month.
“It is an Australian Zombie comedy film starring local comedians Jim Jefferies, Alex Williamson and Greg Fleet, and filmed entirely in Canberra,” film director Declan Shrubb said.

Canberra-based film Blue World Order, which has an international cast including Billy Zane of Titanic fame, Jack Thompson and Stephen Hunter of The Hobbit, is currently in post-production.

While Joe Cinque’s Consolation, directed by Sotiris Dounoukos and based on the death of an ANU student, just wrapped filming last month.

ScreenACT director Monica Penders said more projects were in the pipeline for Canberra.

“Code 2 [TV series] is coming back which is fantastic later this year,” she said.

“Also Secret City, which is based on The Marmalade Files [a book], starts to shoot very soon and will be completely shot in the ACT.”

Apart from these projects, filming days in Canberra remain vacant and filmmakers feel that primary issues need to be addressed to help the industry evolve.

Most of the latest projects are low-budget, with little private funding from large production houses.

“It is a very, very expensive industry and we do rely heavily on government for support, and we do get support from the ACT Government in relation to investment into films, and they obviously sponsor ScreenACT, which is fantastic, but when you compare it to other states, it is quite small,” Ms Penders said.
“Funding is an issue, we have got a little bit of state funding, but compared to New South Wales and South Australia we don’t have as much for production and other works,” Mr Shrubb said.

Film director and curator of several film festivals Simon Weaving said that the development of local fund in Canberra is essential to attract bigger players in the film industry.

“When filmmakers make funds, often the funding they get ties them to a location, so they will take up funding from New South Wales or Queensland or Romania or Canada and the requirement for that funding basis is that they film in that funding location, so without a production fund here, that is doing the same, it is difficult for Canberra to compete as a location for filmmakers,” he said.

The ACT Government provides lower funding than other Australian governments – about $1 million compared with other state film budgets of up to $20 million.

While there are many beautiful locations in the capital for filming, a filming studio requirement by filmmakers is a major issue.
“Studio space is a major concern; if you are shooting things you want close space without a lot of sounds, and so you can build your set inside the place,” Mr Shrubb said.

ScreenACT has acknowledged the lack of suitable studio space is an problem.

“We are looking at the lower market because we don’t have a studio here and you really need that infrastructure which we don’t have,” Ms Penders said.

“And we also need to have more crew, which we are working on.”

The local TAFE provides the media industry with work-ready graduates to go on set as an assistant or in the production area.

Canberra Institute of Technology head of communication, media and music Piers Douglas said the lack of work opportunities was a concern for graduates.
“You need to have productions with enough money in town for people to stay,” he said.

“There is always a risk, and I know some of our more talented graduates over the last few years often end up drifting to Melbourne or Sydney to get more regular work.”

Recently a local production house signed with a Chinese production company to produce around 10 pictures in the next 10 years, but the implementation will take months.