Docklands Studios expands and secures two big US movies

Artist sketch of Dockland Studios’ new sound stage.

In a dual boost for the Victorian screen industry, Dick Cook Studios (DCS) will shoot two big budgeted movies at Docklands Studios as the facility unveiled plans to build a sixth sound stage costing $46 million.

The production company founded by the former chairman of Walt Disney Studios will set up its Australian base at the lot, headed by Melbourne-born Kate McLean.

A former vice president, office of the CEO to Bob Iger and senior director of the business development group at the Walt Disney Company, McLean will oversee creative content, production, business strategy and operational plans for DCS Australia. She will start recruiting full-time staff early next year with the aim to build towards 25 personnel.

In Melbourne for the announcement with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Paul Fletcher, Federal Minister for the Communications, Cyber Safety and Arts, Cook said DCS Australia is committed to working with Victorian creatives and is planning a writers’ room and other initiatives that will benefit the local industry.

The Federal Government will give DCS a grant of $30 million under the Location Incentive Program to produce the fantasy features Ranger’s Apprentice and The Alchemyst, the first of six novels in the series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Irishman Michael Scott.

Both potential franchises, these productions will inject $280 million into Victoria and Australia, are expected to employ around 4,500 cast and crew and use the services of 800 local businesses, according to Ausfilm CEO Kate Marks.

American Bruce Hendricks, who was an EP on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and Pearl Harbour, is in charge of producing both films.

Due to shoot next July, Ranger’s Apprentice is based on the series of novels by Hey Dad! co-creator John Flanagan.

Cook, who ran Walt Disney Studios from 2002 to 2009, overseeing the likes of the Pirates of the Caribbean and National Treasure franchises, launched the production company in 2015.

The following year he secured the rights to Ranger’s Apprentice which was to be co-written by Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby) and his daughter Alissa Sullivan Haggis, with Haggis senior to direct and produce with Michael Nozik (Syriana, The Motorcycle Diaries).

Haggis is no longer attached and Nozik will produce with Hendricks. The plot follows an orphan who becomes the apprentice of a Ranger as they battle to keep the fantastical kingdom of Araluen safe from a plethora of enemies and threats.

The producers are looking to hire an Australian director, according to Film Victoria CEO Caroline Pitcher.

(L-R) Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, Communications and Arts Minister Paul Fletcher and Dick Cook.

Mario Andreacchio and Hendricks will produce The Alchemyst, the saga of Nicholas Flamel, who was born in Paris in 1330 and is said to have discovered the secret of eternal life. Seven hundred years later he is still alive, protecting the book which contains his secret.

The mysterious John Dee plans to steal the book, which leaves twins Sophie and Josh Newman as the only ones with the power to save the world as we know it.

Shooting is due to start in January 2021; no director has yet been set but the intention is to hire an Aussie.

It’s been a long journey to the screen for the project, which originally was set up with New Line Cinema before it was acquired by Warner Bros. The rights then reverted to Scott and were acquired by Hollywood producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura in 2009.

In 2012 Andreacchio’s Adelaide-based AMPCO Films partnered with di Bonaventura Pictures on early development and planning, with production due to start the following year in Australia and New Zealand.

Kate McLean.

Cook said of McLean, who co-founded theAudience, a digital media content publishing and influencer agency after leaving Disney: “I’ve known Kate for 15 years and she is a consummate professional. She possesses the rare quality of being both a right brain/left brain thinker.

“Her creative abilities combined with her entrepreneurial spirit, strategic vision and deep roots in the community make Kate the perfect executive to lead our mission.”

McLean added: “After being in the States for over 20 years, I am eager to return to home and begin establishing DCS Australia at Docklands. We are committed to create and produce multiple large-scale productions and I look forward to meeting and working with the unbelievable talent.”

Construction of the 3,600 square metre stage 6 will start mid-year and will be completed by late 2021, with no disruption to the existing five sound stages.

Rod Allan, CEO of Docklands Studios Melbourne, said: “Our stages are in high demand and Stage 6 will give us the flexibility to cater for more high-end productions than ever before. The studios will aim to retain space for domestic projects, including low-budget productions and will continue to welcome projects of any size.”

Marks added: “Around the world we are seeing a shortage of studio space, paired with increased demand in content production out of the US and China. It is an astute and timely decision by the Victorian Government to expand and build a super stage within Docklands Studios Melbourne.”