Marvel, Netflix and NBCUniversal change debate on overseas production

International productions are building alliances with local companies as the game changes from features to streamed series.

International productions come to Australia because they are subsidised, we have the skills and the facilities, and our lifestyle is both safe and cosy. That relationship is changing because US production is disrupted by COVID and we offer clean production and low risk of infection.

But those deals are changing for reasons we are only beginning to understand. Some people have advanced the idea that Marvel would occupy Fox Studios in Sydney for the next five years, and even base the whole operation in Australia. That is pretty unlikely, though I do understand that Marvel will move more of its administrative apparatus to the Fox lot, which makes perfect sense.

TEN SHOWS SUPPORTED BY FEDERAL LOCATION INCENTIVE PROGRAM

Ausfilm published a list  of the international productions supported by the federal Location Incentive Program since July 2020, which provides some fascinating clues about the evolving interdependency of Australian and international production. 

NSW has two TV series, Victoria has one feature film, South Australia has a TV series and Queensland has four series and two feature films. But the list does not account for productions already booked and delayed, like Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis at Roadshow Studios or Shantaram, parked at Docklands for most of 2021. 

A squizz at the credits and production companies reveals that many of these productions are heavily involved with Australian companies, though the local companies don’t have creative control. 

many of these productions are heavily involved with Australian companies, though the local companies don’t have creative control. 

The Tourist, slated for South Australia, shows you how this works. It is a co-production between Stan and BBC1, with local television producer Lisa Scott who was a producer (in the television sense) on The Hunting, Pine Gap and Anzac Girls. Her company Highview Productions is co-operating with the British production company Two Brothers Pictures. That company produced Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, and the owners Harry and Jack William wrote this show. The director is also British. 

Matchbox plays the identity game

The system allows Australian producers and their companies to work on international shows with classy foreign companies with the equivalent federal subsidy benefits of a local production without having to demand creative engagement. Traditionally companies were supported more if they could demonstrate their value to Australian stories, but that demand is effectively evaporating. 

Read: Screen industry debates impact of policy earthquake

Occupying an ambiguous position in that flexibility is Matchbox, still considered as an Australian company but owned by NBCUniversal International Studios and backed by the federal international subsidy system to make no less than three television series, all to be shot in Queensland. Locating a sub-office in Brisbane turns out to be a very good deal for the state government.

The power of Netflix 

Three projects are also being made for Netflix. It is worth looking at these a little more carefully.

New South Wales is hosting series God’s Favourite Idiot which is a ‘workplace comedy about a mid-level Tech support employee Clark Thompson (Falcone) who finds love with co-worker Amily Luck (McCarthy) at exactly the same time he becomes the unwitting messenger of God.’

The show is being produced, performed and written for Netflix by comic duo and life partners Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy through their production company On The Day. It has been shooting in Lismore, spending the $10 million from the federal Location Incentive Fund.

In Queensland, Escape from Spiderhead is a straight up US Netflix feature made here, with Chris Hemsworth the only obvious Australian connection. Both of these are traditional footloose productions. 

Netflix is also hosting Pieces of Her, an eight episode series created by Charlotte Stoudt and starring Toni Collette. Australian Bruna Papandrea is an executive producer while UK Hollywood Minkie Spiro is directing. She has a fabulous CV which includes Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey, Better Call Saul and Fosse/Verdon. It is produced by Darren Demetre, Anne Uemura and Jeanne Snow, all from the US. 

Ausfilm will be hoping that the producers are as happy as cats on a couch on this production, because the company behind it is Endeavour Content, which is the investment and screen ownership half of William Morris Endeavor, the talent agency company which has pushed aggressively into developing and owning screen content to the horror of traditionalists. It owns part of more than a hundred properties including Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, His Dark Materials, Killing Eve, Call Me By Your Name and The Revenant.

The other half of the ownership is equally interesting. Made Up Stories was started by Bruna Papandrea in 2017 after her company with Reese Witherspoon ended. Made Up Stories is a very engaged enterprise, dedicated to inclusivity and championing women. Pieces of Her is all female creative team. Papandrea has quietly turned herself into a key player in the Australian sector through her involvement in The Dry, Penguin Bloom, Nightingale and Little Monsters. And those are just the names that hit the trade headlines. 

WHERE ARE WE GOING? 

We think of the streaming companies as thieves of audiences that undermine local production and Australian stories. We ask for Netflix to support Australian shows for that reason. At the same time, the streaming companies are having a substantial effect on the industry because it makes shows here which have nothing to do with our identity. As work and revenue, we expect these shows to have much more impact than any Australian stories supported by Netflix.

But the balance between features and series has changed – we can expect to see a substantial rise in the actual number of screen hours made by foreign companies here which is a productive change. 

At the same time, some of these productions are working with Australian companies in a much deeper way which is neither fee-for-service or shared creative control. It is a symbiotic relationship which shares knowledge, creates prestige and leads to the kind of stability which the dreamers imagined from Marvel.

Here is the list of international productions attracted to Australia since July 2020 through the Location Incentive Program:

Screen New South Wales 

1. TV series – God’s Favorite Idiot (Netflix)

2. TV series – Pieces of Her (Netflix)

Screen Queensland

3. TV series – Australian Survivor (Endemol Shine)

4. Feature film – Thirteen Lives (Imagine Entertainment)

5. Feature film – Escape from Spiderhead (Netflix)

6. TV series – Young Rock (Universal Television and Australian based production company Matchbox Pictures, part of NBCUniversal International Studios)

7. TV series  – Joe Exotic (Universal Content Productions & Matchbox Pictures)

8. TV series – Irreverent (NBCUniversal International Studios & Matchbox Pictures)

Film Victoria

9. Feature film – Blacklight  (US Producer Mark Williams & Australia’s Lightstream Productions)

South Australian Film Corporation

10. TV series – The Tourist (BBC One, Stan and Australian Producer Lisa Scott)

David Tiley was the Editor of Screenhub from 2005 until he became Content Lead for Film in 2021 with a special interest in policy. He is a writer in screen media with a long career in educational programs, documentary, and government funding, with a side order in script editing. He values curiosity, humour and objectivity in support of Australian visions and the art of storytelling.