Labor pledges $100m for film studio on quay

Photographer Fred Flood’s evocative 1930s tribute to Victoria Quay, focusing on its immigration buildings and the CY O’Connor statue. Lumpers can be seen arriving for morning shift. “Where is that appreciatio today” Fremantle Society president John Dowson says of the photo’s form, scale and respect for the area’s stories. Photo courtesy John Dowson.

But grumbles locals were not consulted

THE McGowan government’s pledge to build a $100 million film studio on Victoria Quay in Fremantle has been well received, although there have been grumbles locals weren’t consulted and hints Fremantle Ports isn’t keen on the plan.

On Friday premier Mark McGowan announced the state-of-the-art studio and screen production facility would be built and run by a company set up by Perth developers Adrian Fini and Ben Lisle following final negotiations.

Mr McGowan, flanked by film star Kate Walsh, comedian Tim Minchin and director Ben Elton (who appears to have jumped ship after previously spruiking Fremantle council’s more modest studio proposal), said there was insatiable demand for screen content around the globe, creating a need for new facilities.

“That’s why we established the process in government to work with the private sector to develop a new film studio, to take WA to the next level.

Added advantage

“The fact that we have managed the pandemic well means we have an added advantage and can offer a safe environment to produce the productions.

“The creation of a film studio at Victoria Quay builds on our plan to transform this part of Fremantle Port into a vibrant precinct, full of attractions and jobs.”

The announcement also drew praise from former WA resident and WAAPA graduate Hugh Jackman, who said it would do “amazing things” for the industry.

“I truly believe this will create great excitement all over the world, with the opportunity to shoot in the beautiful and unique state of WA.”

Screenwest, which worked with the state’s culture and arts department to ensure filmmakers needs would be front and centre of the proposal, welcomed the studio announcement and its additional $20 million commitment to attract new productions.

Chair John Driscoll said they’d long been advocating for government support to help attract more productions and facilitate a studio.

“This is a game changer and gives WA a competitive edge nationally and internationally to attract incoming productions while ensuring our local homegrown stories don’t leave the state,” Mr Driscoll said.

Screenwest wants WA’s screen investment to triple to $150 million by 2024.

But the Fremantle Society is deeply troubled about the impact of a giant fenced shed on the heritage-listed quay, considered one of the last relatively intact 19th century ports in the world.

“Now a massive series of simplistic boxes are set to be plonked on the heritage listed Victoria Quay for film studios, by a state government drunk with power,” president John Dowson said.

“Local MP Simone McGurk headed a secret Victoria Quay committee last years that excluded community experts.

“It seems she wants to consider heritage at the end of the process instead of the beginning.

“While film studios may be a great idea, the proposal is so large it will create a new urban precinct, one that requires sensitive bulk and scale and design.

“And, it should not be a privatised land grab without significant public access.

“The over-large sheds being proposed wipe out the heritage listed lumpers’ cafeteria, built during WWII on the express orders of prime minister John Curtin.

“They wipe out the scale of the area by being too tall and bulky.”

But acting mayor Andrew Sullivan warned about jumping the gun on the final design.

He says that as an architect, he interpreted from early drawings that there were two locations on the quay being considered. He also saw the premier’s announcement (where the Chook noticed council representation was notably absent) was about Fremantle being chosen over other potential locations, rather than specific detail.

“I think we should ask ourselves if it is a great thing Fremantle and Victoria Quay were chosen over the other sites, and I think the fair answer is ‘very much so’,” Cr Sullivan said.

He expects the council and community to be consulted as the project develops.

Although the announcement kills of the council’s hopes of a small-scale studio targeted a local filmmakers on its own site in O’Connor, Cr Sullivan says there will be trickle-down benefits for existing small companies.

“The knock-on effect is it might not be available for an emerging up-and-comer, but they will be part of a much bigger industry.

“Whether you are a stage builder or a makeup artist or in post-production, you have a chance of taking what might be a hobby into a career, or a small career into something much bigger.”

Liberal candidate for Fremantle Miquela Riley, noting the proponents were major donors to Labor last year, said the McGowan government had got stars in its eyes and was ignoring the needs of local filmmakers.

“I’ve been talking to industry, and they’re not telling me they need a big Hollywood-style studio, they need incentives to help make it cheaper to produce – such as tax breaks or incentives,” Ms Riley said.

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