Victorian government announces $33.8 million package to stimulate production

Liam Neeson in 'Honest Thief', also directed by Mark Williams.

The Victorian government announced a $33.8 million screen industry package today, including an incentive fund to attract footloose production, additional funding for local projects, and the establishment of a new technical hub near Docklands Studios Melbourne.

A vast majority of the funding will be spent in this financial year, with Film Victoria CEO Caroline Pitcher telling IF it is designed to be a ‘stop gap’ post-COVID to stimulate the industry, ahead of the implementation of the five-year Victorian Government Screen Industry Strategy in 2021-22.

At $19.2 million, the Victorian Screen Incentive will be targeted at attracting interstate and international physical production over the next two years, and visual effects, animation, post-production and digital games within this financial year. It will be overseen by the Film Victoria Economic Development Committee.

The fund has already helped to attract Liam Neeson-starrer Blacklight, which started shooting in Melbourne last week. Directed by Ozark creator Mark Williams, the film is predicted to create jobs for 340 local crew, 825 casuals, cast and extras, 50 PDV professionals and 30 Victorian businesses.

Neeson plays a troubled off-the-books fixer for the FBI, tasked with pulling undercover agents out of dangerous situations. He finds himself in the middle of a deadly conspiracy when an undercover agent starts questioning the very people he’s working for. The production is being housed at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Blacklight has also been supported via the Federal Government’s $400 million Location Incentive Program, which Pitcher says has led to an incredible amount of enquiry – that the Victorian incentive will then hopefully help to secure.

Competition for international production looks to be fierce, with the NSW government announcing an additional $175 million over five years towards its attraction fund, Made In NSW, earlier this week. Queensland also has three back-to-back projects lined up for Universal Studio Group, including Young Rock, Joe Exotic and Irreverent.

In many respects, Victoria’s is a pilot program, the results of which will feed into the aforementioned five-year plan.

“We’re forming a view on how we will address our production attraction holistically over the next five years to ensure that the Victorian industry continues to grow and succeed in this space,” Pitcher tells IF.

It helps us gauge demand, competition, and where the pinch points might be in terms of crew. We don’t want to overwhelm the state or imbalance the ecosystem that we have between local and international production attraction.”

Ahead of the state budget on November 24, the Victorian Government has also returned $8.6 million into Film Victoria’s budget for production investment, industry skills and development programs.

On top of that, it has allocated an additional $4.7 million for development and production of local content across film, TV, online and games.

Pitcher says this additional funding will be used bolster existing programs, but also for targeted initiatives.

While the programs are yet to be designed, she is keen to address the challenges facing feature film and documentary with regards to the proposed changes to the Producer Offset legislation, advance more production in high-end TV drama and will double investment in local games.

“We will be looking at other market partners to come together with us so that we can leverage that financial investment even further,” she says.

“We’ll be having conversations with Screen Australia and all of the broadcasters to make sure that we’re not going into this alone.”

Lastly, the Victorian government has allocated $1.3 million to create a trade and technical hub close to Docklands Studios for crews and support businesses. This will be run by a formal association known as the Melbourne Screen Hub, with Film Victoria managing the funding contract over a three year period.

The news comes as work gets underway on Docklands’ sixth sound stage, worth $46 million. The build is expected to be complete in late 2021.

As it emerges from lockdown, production in the Victoria is gearing up in earnest, with Netflix’s Clickbait and AppleTV’s Shantaram gearing up to restart, along with around 15 other projects underway including ABC’s Superwog (season 2) and Fisk, and Seven/Acorn TV’s Miss FIsher’s Modern Murder Mysteries.

Film Victoria is currently encouraging industry to undertake a survey for its five-year plan, and is taking one-on-one meetings and roundtables to inform the strategy.