In 1988 Warner Roadshow Studios opened on the Gold Coast in south-east Queensland, with four soundstages and other facilities to support film and television production. It was a partnership between Warner Brothers and the Australian exhibition and distribution company, Village Roadshow, when they took over the studio development from the troubled Australian interests of Dino De Laurentis. The studio had originally been De Laurentis’s idea and it was he who had convinced the Queensland government to put money into its construction. Village Roadshow, long time distributors of Warner Brothers films in Australia, brought Warner into the venture and also as partners in the associated Movie World theme park.
This was a significant investment of money and infrastructure into a region that had previously been known only as a tourist destination, rather than as a site for film production in Australia, which was mainly located further south in Sydney and Melbourne. It also represented a departure for the screen production sector as studio based production of this kind had not been part of the local industry lower budget production methodologies and naturalistic aesthetics. There had previously been US and English films shot on location in Australia, but any activity had been sporadic and not part of any government policies to support the development of a ‘new Australian cinema’.
Many in the Australian screen production sector viewed this development with suspicion, if not with outright hostility. The business model for the studio was clearly predicated on attracting larger budget international production, which while they might provide employment, were not going to be under the creative control of Australians. Unions and guilds feared that crew would be imported limiting local job opportunities. Others worried that this kind of production would be culturally irrelevant to Australia and could swamp the precarious local industry. Indeed, the first production at the studio, a remake of the sixties television series Mission Impossible, seemed to confirm these fears when it emerged that the mere fact of being made in Australia meant it could count as Australian content under the television local content rules then in place.
More than twenty years later most of these fears have evaporated. There are studios in Sydney and Melbourne and high budget foreign screen production has become a significant part of the economics of the local industry. Between 2001/01 and 2009/10 it represented 27 per cent of drama production expenditure in Australia (1). It is supported not only by studio infrastructure but by government incentives at the Federal and State levels through the tax system and other measures designed to make Australia ‘film friendly’. These incentives are available for both production expenditure and for post-production utilizing the services of Australian companies that compete internationally for such work. Australia as a location is aggressively marketed through the national organization AusFilm and through state film agencies and state business development ministries.
This could be seen as an inevitable outcome of that aspect of globalization affecting trade and investment flows between nations, as all kind of manufacturing and services industries move around the world seeking the most efficient utilization of resources and markets. The authors of Local Hollywood discuss globalization, taking as their starting point what they describe as the phenomenon of ‘Global Hollywood’ in which increasingly films are “made in several locations with finance, actors and crew drawn from a number of countries” (p. 1). More than ever before the financing and production of American films has been globally dispersed.
If this suggests Local Hollywood is an attack on Hollywood domination of the world film industry, similar to that of David Puttnam in The Undeclared War (2), this is not the case. This work is about globally dispersed high budget film and television production, but it is not told from the perspective of the motives and strategies of the major studios. Instead, it takes the perspective of the places that have chosen to engage with Global Hollywood, in this case the Gold Coast, and in the process become a Local Hollywood. Global Hollywood, they argue is simultaneously global and local.
The authors admit that ‘Local Hollywood’ is more difficult to describe than Global Hollywood as a concept; not least because there are different historical, cultural, political and economic forces at work in each location. Little time is spent on discussing it as a theoretical concept. Instead the authors get down to business by describing how the history of global film production on the Gold Coast and at the studio is an example of how Local Hollywood can work. Certainly, the term is not meant to just describe the economic presence of the major studios activities in a particular place; nor is meant simply the importation of Hollywood production methods and budgets. Those things happen, but what is described is a much more complex interweaving and intersection of industrial, political and some aesthetic considerations.
The authors use the idea of Local Hollywood as a stepping off point to a detailed historical case study with a series of timely insights into how the emergent global film economy works. They begin by locating the invention of the Gold Coast studio development in the context of the changes occurring in international film production and distribution in the eighties – such as the rise of the independent production companies like De Laurentis, Carolco, Orion and Cannon, the growth of the multiplex driving a resurgence in cinema attendance, the effect of the VCR on finance and distribution, the growth of cable television in the US and expansion of private television in Europe and Asia, the integration of the major studios into industrial conglomerates. In Australia it was the time of the corporate raiders, the share market bubble, the boom in tax incentive investment in film production and the success of Crocodile Dundee.
In Queensland De Laurentis was attempting to do what he had already done in Wilmington, North Carolina; build a film studio in a location not previously associated with film production using generous assistance from the state government to build studios and attract production. In Bjelke Petersen’s National Party government he found a willing partner eager to support De Laurentis’s plans for a steady stream of his own and other company’s productions at the studio. While De Laurentis failed the studio survived with the intervention of Village Roadshow.
The authors devote a chapter to a case study of the role of Village Roadshow, not just in saving the studio project by bringing in Warner Brothers and some of the subsequent projects that have been produced at the studio, but they also analyse its role its role as ‘junior partner’ to Hollywood. They trace its evolution from an Australian film distribution and cinema exhibition company in the 1980s to an international conglomerate with interests in filmed entertainment, music and theme parks. It is now one of the largest co-producers and co-financiers of major studio pictures. The authors argue that the success of Local Hollywood needs a local entrepreneurial partner like Village Roadshow to extend the reach of the Hollywood majors, but also to extend the reach and possibilities of Local Hollywood into Global Hollywood.
This is an important insight and a welcome attention to the role of Village Roadshow in the Australian industry that is not often acknowledged beyond the business pages of newspapers. It also raises an interesting question as to how one might assess the roles of producer directors like George Miller in Sydney or Peter Jackson in Wellington, both cities being candidates for other examples of a Local Hollywood.
Due attention is paid to the combination of financial incentives and other measures that make a location attractive and smooth the way for production, so that a place becomes known as ‘film friendly’. Governments can help by providing the finance to build studios on a greenfield site, as was the case in the Gold Coast, or provide existing infrastructure that can be converted to production, as was the case with Fox Studios in Sydney. Governments can also help by providing tax concessions, offsets and rebates or one off grants to a production, as the NZ government did to keep production of The Hobbit in Wellington.
Governments also help form film commissions, as the Queensland government did with the Pacific Film and Television Commission, the purpose of which was to promote, market and in some cases coordinate government agencies in asserting the film friendly nature of Queensland and the Gold Coast. Often, as the authors point out, this film friendliness can involve not only promoting the amenity of the place, but also its capacity to stand in for other places desirable as fictional locations. A chapter is devoted to discussing how the utilization of both the natural and built environments has been extended this sense of place. They also demonstrate, in the particular instance of the Gold Coast, the dual promotion of the Gold Coast as a tourist (with movie related theme park) and film production destination contribute to this perception of being film friendly.
Of course, it is not just a case of ‘build it and they will come’. The authors show how the strategies for attracting and keeping production are in constant need of adaptation to changing circumstances. The early years of the studio saw a mixture a few large budget feature films combined with drama made for television. Some of this television drama was intended for the Australian domestic market, but most was feeding into a boom in the production of US mini-series and telemovies for the expanding cable market. As this demand eased in the late nineties new strategies were employed to utilize the resources, such as the series of Australian originated television co-productions by the production company Coote-Hayes that utilized the studio. More recently the screen production sector has had to adapt to the effect of the Australian dollar reaching par with the US dollar.
Those who are looking for discussion and analysis of the textual, stylistic or aesthetic nature of the production that has come from the Gold Coast will find little of it here, but this is not a weakness. That would require another work and in many senses might be a fruitless exercise, given the diversity of productions that has used the Gold Coast, from UK reality television to low budget US television drama to Bollywood cinema. However, what would have been useful would have been a statistical presentation of the number and value of the productions that have used the studio and the Gold Coast as a location to get a better sense of how the local production economy works.
The authors are careful not to generalize from the particular of this case study and acknowledge that the social, political and economic characteristics of those places that have become dispersed production centres are different. In other words the historical specificities that made Vancouver or Wellington a production centre are not the same for the Gold Coast. The concluding chapter outlines some of the lessons that can be learned from the Gold Coast experience. This is useful, but it begs the question, how have others learned from this experience?
This is a solid, well written piece of research, which is accessible to a general reader interested in the business of screen production. The approach of looking at the local rather than becoming lost in the generalisations of writing about Global Hollywood is welcome. The insight is to be commended. What we need now are further studies of other examples of ‘Local Hollywood’- Sydney, Wellington, Vancouver, Toronto, Prague and so on. I hope that other scholars take up this challenge and test the author’s thesis further.
Goldsmith B, Ward S and O’Regan T, Local Hollywood: Global Film Production and the Gold Coast, (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2010)
- Puttnam D. The Undeclared War: The Struggle for control of the world’s film industry, (London: Harper Collins, 1997).