THE McGowan government is being asked to put up $8 million to help create a film production hub in Fremantle’s industrial quarter.
Fremantle council, Screenwest and the Professional Film Crew Association of WA have put together a business case to repurpose a huge shed in Jones Street, O’Connor to house offices, workshops and studio spaces, and build a “sound-friendly” studio next door.
If they pull it off, it could help the council turn a lemon into lemonade; it bought the site for $7.8 million in 2014 with plans to relocate its depot, only to discover asbestos contamination in the building was worse than it thought. Part of the site is leased to a company which cleans mining equipment, while the shed has been sealed off and empty since then, leading critics such as the Fremantle Society and former mayor Peter Tagliaferri to accuse the council of making a rash purchase.
But with some state money to remediate, re-clad, fit out and raise the roof of the building, Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt said it could take the council’s Film Friendly City Policy to the next level.
“Fremantle is a really attractive destination for film makers because we’ve got a great mix of locations, from beautiful heritage buildings to big industrial warehouses, funky shops and cafes and the river and the ocean.
“Establishing a film hub in Fremantle represents a great opportunity for local businesses that could provide services ranging from accommodation and catering right through to set construction and transportation.”
During a site inspection of film industry stakeholders this week, PFCA vice president John Fairhead said the council was offering a five-year lease on the site without rent or rates.
The council had approached local film advocate Chris Veerhuis about the potential of the site after hearing he was part of a group already looking for locations.
“We looked at it and we thought ‘wow, this one stands head and shoulders above the rest,’ especially with the deal that the City of Fremantle was pitching on,” Mr Fairhead told the Herald.
He revealed that Screenwest had already been talking to media behemoth Netflix about staging a production in Fremantle.
“Netflix is saying ‘we don’t know what you’re like over there, we are not going to come here with our $50 million project until we have established those connection, established that you can service this sort of production’,” Mr Fairhead said.
“So they said ‘well, build this and we’ll put a project here of a suitable budget range’.”
Mr Fairhead said the business case, which hadn’t been released publicly, found the hub could be financially sustainable with one big-ticket international production a year, with local studios using it for the remainder.
A bigger, international-size studio has been proposed as part of Victoria Quay’s redevelopment, with developer Adrian Fini’s name linked by the tour group, who referred to it almost reverently as “The Dream”.
There were concerns that Freo’s bid might scupper that opportunity by sucking away limited funds, but North Fremantle author, playwright and director Ben Elton said the international shut-down of the film industry by Covid-19 made now the right time to be bold.
“WA’s behind the curve at the moment and it seems ridiculous that we are, with so much natural resources and such a great talent base, so maybe this could be the thing to help us start catching up the others.
“If Covie lasts, we can really get ahead; everyone’s going to want to come here to put their shows on – we’ll be the only ones putting them on.
“In WA we’re hanging on by the skin of our teeth, so surely phase 1 of the dream is to establish our base camp to get production moving, and then on to phase 2.
By STEVE GRANT