Creative state of mind

Every state’s film outfit invests in movies — but rather uniquely the South Australian Film Corporation actually stars in them too
Words Andrew Fenton

Every state’s film outfit invests in movies — but rather uniquely the South Australian Film Corporation actually stars in them too. The film body’s stunning heritage listed main building at Glenside, in Adelaide, has appeared in everything from Anzac Girls and Deadline Gallipoli to Oranges and Sunshine and Scott Hicks’ 1996 classic Shine.

“I like to call it the Hogwarts of the Australian film industry,” says Amanda Duthie, director of the Adelaide Film Festival, which is housed in the building along with more than 30 other businesses including production companies, animation and post production houses. “Glenside is amazing; I’d have to say it’s one of the supreme screen creative hubs in the country. It’s a beautiful place to work that enables people from all areas of the screen industry to interact and collaborate.”

A few months ago the building stood in for interiors of Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in local writer-director Anthony Maras’s feature Hotel Mumbai. Starring Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel and The Man from UNCLE’s Armie Hammer, the film details the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that left 164 dead and more than 300 wounded. With a reported $20 million budget and backing from the Weinstein Company, it’s one of the most high profile films made in South Australia in the past decade.

But South Australia has always punched above its weight internationally, helping spark the Australian filmmaking renaissance of the 1970s with films like Sunday Too Far Away, Picnic at Hanging Rock and Storm Boy (currently being remade in SA). In the 1980s it built on its reputation with Breaker Morant, Gallipoli and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome; in the 1990s there was Shine and Bad Boy Bubby and the 2000s saw Pitch Black, Look Both Ways and Wolf Creek.

Today the state still does a lot with comparatively little — without the scale of facilities to compete for Hollywood productions with the eastern states, the SAFC has instead developed a reputation for supporting innovative low to mid budget production. More recent successes include Red Dog, Snowtown, The Rover, Tracks, Danger 5, Wolf Creek 2 and its recent TV spin-off.

(Above, left to right) Actor Greg Rowe, 11, from Storm Boy, 1976; a scene from X Men Days of Future Past; Martin Freeman stars in the Australian movie Cargo. (Top) John Jarratt as Mick Taylor in horror flick Wolf Creek.

(Above, left to right) Actor Greg Rowe, 11, from Storm Boy, 1976; a scene from X Men Days of Future Past; Martin Freeman stars in the Australian movie Cargo. (Top) John Jarratt as Mick Taylor in horror flick Wolf Creek.

In 2016 alone it played host to the aforementioned Hotel Mumbai and the upcoming films Cargo, starring Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) as a man infected with a zombie virus, psychological thriller Bad Blood, starring Twilight’s Xavier Samuel and telepathic twins thriller Rabbit, with Adelaide Clemens (The Great Gatsby).

The state of the art Adelaide Studios — a 1000 sqm sound stage and a 400 sqm sound stage along with post-production facilities — were completed in 2011, a pretty significant upgrade from the former Hendon factory the SAFC called home for years. The first movie produced there laid the template: the tiny $2 million horror film The Babadook, starring Essie Davis, that ended up being celebrated internationally as one of the year’s best and won the AACTA award for best film (shared jointly with Russell Crowe’s WWI drama The Water Diviner, also shot in SA).

The reviews were so good it currently sits at number 69 on the Rotten Tomatoes list of the 100 best films of all time, above Jaws and Lawrence of Arabia. “The fact it was embraced so widely across the world is a huge bonus,” says producer Kristian Moliere from Triptych Pictures, who says it’s rare for such a low budget film to be able to access six weeks of studio space. “The SAFC attracted the project to SA because of the crews and the facilities — and the cost,” he says. “It was hugely beneficial to a project like that to be able to shoot the interiors in a studio”.

Moliere is now developing projects with US directors and production companies and has reteamed with director Kriv Stenders (Red Dog) for upcoming Ten miniseries Wake In Fright, which begins production in Broken Hill in March.

Their collaboration is a success story for the Adelaide Film Festival which supported SA’s Boxing Day and Lucky Country.

Described as the “Hogwarts of the Australian film industry”, a heritage-listed building in the Adelaide suburb of Glenside has been the star venue in numerous national and international movies. It is also one of the supreme screen creative hubs in the country, housing dozens of film creatives. But the stunning building is not the only reason why South Australia is punching above its weight internationally. From Storm Boy and Mad Max to Russell Crow’s The Water Diviner and horror film Wolf Creek, the state does a lot with comparatively little to compete with popular movie destinations including Hollywood

Not only does it program a diverse and exciting slate of films every two years, but the AFF was one of the first festivals to invest in movies directly. Since 2003 it’s invested in more than 70 projects including Girl Asleep, Samson and Delilah, Ten Canoes and My Year Without Sex. Between them the projects have won a few hundred national and international awards including gongs at Cannes, Berlin and Sundance.

Duthie calls it “the jewel in the crown of the Adelaide Film Festival” and the $1 million budget every two years supports a broad range of projects from TV production to augmented reality. “That’s very distinctive and it’s why the AFF has quickly garnered a national and international reputation,” she says.

This year’s festival, to be held in October, celebrates 40 years of punk.

SAFC chief executive Annabelle Sheehan says the corporation has more recently begun exploring online opportunities with the ABC, supporting iview exclusives including Lost in Pronunciation, Goober and director Sophie Hyde’s six part series F*cking Adelaide, starring Wentworth’s Pamela Rabe. It has also supported Adelaide online sensations the Philippou Brothers, whose Rackaracka YouTube channel has an astonishing 3.5 million subscribers.

FUN FILM FACT Did you know the region in South Australia where 2005 horror hit Wolf Creek was shot didn’t see any rain for six years, but when the crew arrived it rained for three continuous days? The unexpected rainfall ended up in the script.

Sheehan believes the studios are currently under-utilised by the commercial TV networks but intends to change that.

“With head offices in Melbourne and Sydney, there’s a real emphasis on shooting in those states,” she says. “But Adelaide is just an hour from Melbourne or Sydney. The potential is yet to be fully exploited but I think the more people come here to shoot TV, the more they realise the benefit of it. To shoot in the studios and then spend 20 minutes to get out to great locations (is unique)”.

At the other end of the scale from most local productions is Adelaide’s Rising Sun Pictures. Many of the biggest Hollywood blockbuster visual effects sequences of recent years were created at their facility on Pulteney Street — including the Nagasaki atomic bomb sequence in The Wolverine and Quicksilver’s ‘time slowing’ entrance in X-Men: Days of Future Past (the movie’s effects were nominated for an Oscar). Other credits include Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and RSP is currently working on the final Wolverine film, Logan.

It’s high end work with contracts for VFX sequences regularly worth “north of $5 million” — which is higher than the total budgets of many films shot in SA. Around half of the RSP workforce comes from overseas.

“The industry we work in is completely international and we hire people from Canada, from eastern Europe … we’re out to hire the best talent we possibly can,” explains managing director Tony Clark, who adds that fortunately SA isn’t a difficult sell overseas. “It’s pretty cool to be here and it’s not particularly expensive location. Adelaide is a fantastic destination to attract people to.”

That international experience is also available to filmmakers who come to shoot in the state, with RSP providing effects for Deadline Gallipoli and Anzac Girls. “When those kind of filmmakers come to town we’re able to work with them really directly — normally our clients are somewhere offshore,” he says.

“We’re able to bring a lot of the techniques and expertise we’ve developed on those big budget movies to the table.”