World-class crew drives Queensland film industry

filming on the Gold Coast
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The Gold Coast’s film industry is powered by some of the world’s top filmmaking talent; Queensland residents with international credits on Oscar-winners and blockbusters alike.

Screen Queensland CEO Tracey Vieira says the local industry has grown from humble beginnings in the late ‘80s into a sector capable of mounting some of the largest films made anywhere in the world.

“The foundations of the Queensland industry were built in the ‘90s on episodic US TV – high-volume production that taught local crews speed and adaptability,” says Ms Vieira.

As the Gold Coast’s talent base and filmmaking infrastructure grew (including the nine-stage Village Roadshow Studios), larger films from Europe, Asia and the US were produced here.

Experienced Heads of Department and world-leading technicians settled here as Universal’s Peter Pan, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Steven Spielberg’s Terra Nova TV series showed our filmmaking muscle to the world.

Today, says Vieira, with blockbuster-ready infrastructure in place and local crews working at the peak of their craft, the Gold Coast hosts a consistent string of some of the world’s most complex physical productions.

Recent productions powered by locals include: San Andreas (New Line), Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Warner Bros’ Aquaman.

Below you’ll meet some of the top filmmakers who call Queensland and the Gold Coast home.

Peter McLennan: first assistant director

(Iron Sky, Camp (NBC), Hunters (SyFy), The Dressmaker, Nim’s Island, Guardians of the Tomb)

Peter McLennan’s career spans work as a production assistant in Queensland’s fledgling film industry of the early ‘90s to status today as one of Australia’s most respected first assistant directors.

He’s shot in Fiji, Germany and throughout South East Asia but says he “always feels confident” marshalling a Queensland crew.

“Queensland crews have proven to be as good as anyone in the world,” he says, “and probably better because we know the conditions here, particularly the light and how to control it – it’s different to anywhere else in the county.”

In Queensland he’s worked with a Finnish director and producers on the sci-fi comedy Iron Sky, a Bollywood film and Guardians of the Tombs, the largest-ever Australia-China co-production.

“I’ve worked with directors and producers from all over the world,” he says.

“We want to make the director feel welcome and feel that they can own it the way they do at home, and work the crew the way they do at home.”

Duncan Jones: location manager

(Unbroken, The Shallows, Thor: Ragnarok, Aquaman)

As one of Australia’s most in-demand location managers, Duncan Jones has helped turn parts of South East Queensland into New York City (Thor: Ragnarok), Amazonian jungle (The Shallows) and even a wintery Canadian fishing village (Aquaman).

Jones, who’s been scouting and managing locations here for almost 20 years, says key to finding Gold Coast locations that serve the story is the region’s broad community support of film production.

“Whether it’s local law, government agencies or complex locations like mine sites or private airports, I work every day with stakeholders who understand what we’re trying to achieve,” he says.

“There is little limitation to what inbound productions can achieve as the community here is so film-friendly.”

Jason Baird: Emmy-winning makeup effects designer

(Thor: Ragnarok, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Kong: Skull Island, The Shallows, The Pacific, The Matrix Reloaded, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones)

Jason Baird’s JMB FX Studio on the Gold Coast has produced effects ranging in scope from hundreds of corpses on a battlefield to prosthetic makeups capable of conveying subtle emotion in a close-up.

He’s worked with producers and directors from the US, New Zealand, China, India and throughout Europe, with his creations shipped around the world as well as sent on a 10-minute drive to the Gold Coast’s nine-stage Village Roadshow Studios.

JMB FX tap a network of local artists and technicians, many of them part of Baird’s Emmy-winning team on the Steven Spielberg-produced HBO series The Pacific.

“The talent base I draw from locally consists of some of the finest artists in the world: digital concept artists, fine artists for painting and sculpting, and animatronic engineers as well as lab and mould technicians,” he says.

FUN FACT: Baird personally made life casts of the Pirates 5 co-directors, with their “severed heads” ending up onscreen in a guillotine basket.

“It was all their idea,” he laughs.

Brian Cox: special effects supervisor

(Aquaman, Gold, Thor: Ragnarok, San Andreas, Unbroken, The Wolverine)

Special effects master Brian Cox, based in Queensland since 1993, has watched the Gold Coast film industry grow from humble beginnings to blockbuster proportions.

“We used to be proud of the fact we’d get it done with two men and a ute full of gear,” he says.

“Now on Aquaman I’ve got more than 40 people in my department, most of them locals and every one of them experienced working at that scale.”

He says inbound producers, particularly out of the US, “don’t like leaving home without their own people”, a preconception that’s slowly changing as the reputation of Queensland’s personnel grows.

“It can be a leap of faith [for inbound producers to crew from Queensland], but word of mouth and even IMDb helps,” says Cox, whose departments on the effects-heavy Queensland films Thor: Ragnarok and San Andreas were almost entirely local.

“Once producers arrive they realise there are world-class locals here, guys I’d go anywhere with.”

Jean Marashlian: costume designer

(Return to Nim’s Island, George of the Jungle 2, At World’s End, Unfinished Sky)

Gold Coast-based costume designer Jean Marashlian’s career hopscotched from the dressing rooms of the Australian Ballet and the theatres of London before arcing home to design for film and television.

She’s created looks for whole fantasy tribes, researched intricate laces and braids to nail period detail and dressed Oscar-winners Judi Dench and Heath Ledger.

Marashlian says the local industry’s current capacity to handle the world’s biggest blockbusters was built on the volumes of episodic US TV produced here in the ‘90s.

“Shooting so much US TV taught the Queensland industry speed and scale,” says Marashlian, who’s designed several locally produced US, European and Asian films.

“And most of our local technicians have trained up on overseas productions as well; they are experienced, competent and creative.”

Michelle McGahey: production designer and art director

(Killer Elite, I, Frankenstein, Aquaman, Terra Nova, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones)

Production designer Michelle McGahey says the Gold Coast’s film industry has grown “exponentially” on the back of successive blockbuster productions, including Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, the largest film ever produced in Australia.

“With Terra Nova, Narnia and especially with Pirates and now Thor: Ragnarok and Aquaman, the industry has evolved and the quality and skill of local crew has grown exponentially,” she says.

She says the past decade of growth means producers can now confidently crew a mid-sized film entirely out of Queensland.

“Of course on films in the $100m+ range you would need to supplement with crew from interstate, but it’s the same interstate – you can’t for example wholly crew films of that scale out of Sydney.”

She also says her department in particular has benefitted from upgraded local training and university offerings with industry relevance.

“Across digital art and design, architecture, concept illustration… the cut of local graduates we can reach out to now and offer a place in our industry is amazing,” she says.

Sharon Miller: line producer and production manager

(Pacific Rim: Uprising, The Shallows, Life of Pi, The Light Between Oceans, Man of Tai Chi)

Sharon Miller, one of Australia’s most experienced production managers, says international producers that steer their films to the Gold Coast are “knocked out” by the work of local crews.

“I talk to producers who’ve worked all around the world and they’re consistently knocked out by the skill and work ethic of Queensland crew,” she says.

In Taiwan, Miller served as production supervisor on the Oscar-winning Life of Pi and was line producer on Keanu Reeves’ Man of Tai Chi, shot in China with a majority Chinese crew.

She says most blockbuster-scale films shot in Queensland inevitably need interstate crew to bolster local numbers, but that it’s “entirely possible” to crew mid-size films entirely out of Queensland.

“The Shallows, for example, was made here with a majority local crew and department heads, and that was a great-looking film that was incredibly successful worldwide,” she says.

John Cox: Oscar-winning animatronics designer and 3D modeler

(Babe, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Alien Covenant, Nim’s Island, Peter Pan, Aquaman)

Twenty years on from his Visual Effects Oscar win for Babe, John Cox remains a pillar of the Queensland film industry.

His studio, John Cox’s Creature Workshop, is a short drive from Village Roadshow Studios and offers a turnkey suite of VFX services: animatronics, laser scanning, 3D modeling, and production and sculpting via a five-axis router.

Recent projects include large-scale prop creation for Alien Covenant and sculpting life-size moulds of Aquaman stars’ bodies for the film’s wardrobe department to design from.

In 2006, Cox was awarded the prestigious Kinetone Award for “significant contributions to the Queensland Film and Television Industry” and also won the 2007 Australian Film Industry Award (Visual Effects) for the Greg McLean-directed Rogue.

FUN FACT: In the early ‘80s Cox was part of the team that built Australia’s first motion control camera, which was designed from study of two photos of the rig ILM used to shoot the Star Wars space effects.

Keir Beck: Taurus World Stunt Award-winning stunt co-ordinator

(Mad Max Fury Road, Hacksaw Ridge, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Casino Royale)

Gold Coast-based stunt co-ordinator heads an “action factory” at his AP8 Action Pact facility, minutes from the Village Roadshow Studios.

His team comprises qualified stunt drivers, fire specialists, riggers, military advisors and fight choreographers, including several Gold Coast members of the action unit he co-ordinated on Mad Max Fury Road.

Internationally he’s conducted stunt rigging training for the industry’s elite and performed stunt rigging R&D for Matrix masterminds the Wachowskis and the James Bond stunt team.

Beck, who made his second unit directing debut on Russell Mulcahy’s Queensland-shot In Like Flynn, won two Taurus World Stunt Awards for Mad Max Fury Road (Best Stunt Co-ordinator and Best Stunt Rigging) and SAG Awards for Mad Max and Hacksaw Ridge.

FUN FACT: Beck helped design rigs for 007’s iconic “crane jump” from Casino Royale, later voted the best stunt in the franchise’s history.

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