In light of our last the article about movies shot in Australia… we can ask ourselves why such great blockbusters like The Matrix and Thor: Ragnarok were shot there recently, even if that meant transforming sunny Brisbane into busy New York! But why is Australia specifically, such a hot location on the filming map?
First, we need to recognise who are the main stakeholders when it comes to ‘X’ film? Of course, directors, actors and producers are the most well-known stakeholders but a film can’t be shot without all the hard-working staff behind the scenes (i.e. costume dept, make-up, light, sound, special effects and so many more). Altogether, they make up the stakeholders for a film, and when it comes to shooting, one of the next biggest questions is how do we pay all of these people?!
A Producers role is to secure funds for a film, so they will often go to public stakeholders interested in funding movies to get their funding, and keep their film on-budget. Some of those public stakeholders include states, countries and counties who have each created funding organisations specifically for film (e.g. France launched CNC).
What is a tax incentive?
A tax incentive is a government measure that’s intended to encourage individuals and businesses to spend money or to even save money by reducing the amount of tax that they have to pay. (Collins)
Tax incentives are a long-term policy that the Australian Government offer. One of those being the ‘Australian Screen Production Incentive’ which was launched in 2007. The purpose was to attract all stages of film production to Australia, mainly to attract feature film productions regardless of their genre (e.g. live-action, documentary or animation).
At first, Australia’s tax rebate stood up to 16,5% but with huge competition against neighbour New Zealand, Aussie had to go one step further. To live up to what New Zealand proposed and to continue attracting movie productions to Australia, the Aussie government decided to increase tax incentives in 2011. They came up with a 30% tax rebate for post-production, digital and visual effects (PDV Offset) no matter where the project was shot! And it worked… it was a great help for Animal Logic for example, to secure animated sequences for The Lego Movie by Warner Bros.!
But in 2015, Australia announced another new tax incentive, with a huge new Producer Offset of 40% for feature films! This is what raised the interest of major companies and sped up some very interesting deals for the country. Among others, it helped secure productions such as X-Men Apocalypse, Alien, Thor: Ragnarok and The Lego Movie Sequel and Lego Batman.
These new tax incentives gave Australia a huge advantage compared to the US’ most popular places like Georgia, where the tax incentives never exceeded 30%. Moreover, Australia’s tax incentives could (and still can) be combined with others (stage, territory or local government)!
Well known through the country, Screen Australia is a Federal Government agency. It’s aim is to support Australian cinema, mainly in production, promotion and screen development.
Created in 2008, it could be seen as a merge of the functions of former Australian Film Commission, Film Finance Corporation Australia and Film Australia Limited.
Its fields of activity to help the development of screen projects in Australia are threefold:
First, the Production Offset. Even older than Screen Australia itself (introduced in 2007 and refined in 2011) it’s a financial incentive available for producers of Australian film. As mentioned earlier, the Producer Offset offers a 40% tax rebate for feature films. However, regarding documentaries, the tax rebate only goes up to 20% (considering the budget is superior to $500,000).
And to get Screen Australia’s approval, your project needs to have a big budget, aimed for a theatrical release or other form of distribution – btw, evidence of distribution is also a must for them to give the project the go-ahead. For feature films, you need to show evidence of intent to have a release in Australia too! But all these constraints don’t seem to be that binding considering the 40% tax rebate, in addition, it is not a barrier for huge studios like Disney, which explains why Australia is so attractive for them!
Second comes the Location Offset; former Refundable Film Tax Offset is even older (introduced in 2001) than the Production Offset! It’s a financial incentive for producers of large-budget films to include Australian locations, cast and crew members or service providers, making hiring Australian beneficial for the shooting company and bringing jobs to Australian residents in return!
At first the producer offset was at 12.5%, but it increased to 15% in 2007, alongside the launch of Screen Australia, and increased once again in 2011 up to 16.5%.
Another difference from the Producer Offset, the Location Offset is administrated directly by the Office for Art, part of the Department of the Prime minister and Cabinet.
Once again, to have a certificate and benefit from the tax rebate, some requirements need to be met.
Third and finally, the PDV Offset (established in 2007); its goal is to assist Australian post-production and the visual effects sector. However, this one means where the film is shot doesn’t really matter. What’s important though, is that the production of the movie spends at least $500,000 in PDV expenditure to benefit from the 30% offset! It’s administrated the same way as the Location Offset and includes expenditure for visual effects, audio and visual editing and mixing, orchestration and green-screen photography. Everyone can apply as long as you have a permanent establishment in Australia.
Ausfilms has a partnership with the Australian government; its main aim is to connect international film communities with Australian screen incentives. Its main office is located at Fox Studios Australia, but it has a subsidiary office in L.A. where the goal is to promote those incentives in the U.S… to show the will to attract American projects to Australia. It’s a one-of-a-kind partnership including Australia’s federal and state government, major studios complex and all kind of studios from visual effects to sound and music.
One noticeable fact is that Australian government incentives can be combined with state and local government incentives and funding.
In a nutshell, a great combination of the government-dependent federal agency Screen Australia and the Ausfilms partnership which promotes its incentives, makes Australia a particularly attractive country to shoot with a well-thought way of selling itself.
Another interesting aspect of Australia’s way of attracting movie shootings, and perhaps the most interesting is its adaptability. Indeed, during those troubled times, in order to cover the gap in the insurance market due to the COVID-19, Australia created via Screen Australia a Temporary Interruption Fund, up to $50 million. It permits movies like The Unknown Man to be shot even in a peculiar situation and allows the film industry to live as much as it can even with the pandemic.
And many more…
That’s just some of the main reasons why Australia is considered attractive for shooting tentpoles, but there’s just so many we could go on forever! We can’t forget that the great variety of interesting places to shoot, important studios based within the country, experienced crews… are all important aspects that not only attract Majors but also make them stay. Because you can have the greatest tax incentives in the world, but if you don’t have professionals who stand the test of time, or great locations to shoot, you won’t be able to have a profitable movie industry in your country!