A MAJOR director and cameraman with Hollywood cred has taken shot at the McGowan government’s plan to locate a $100 million film studio on Victoria Quay.
Dean Head has been living and filming in Hong Kong and China for the past 30 years working on blockbusters such as Transformers 4, Tomb Raider II or Batman – the Dark Knight, but last year joined the stream of Sandgropers heading home to avoid Covid-19.
Mr Head said WA’s Mediterranean climate suited a studio development because there’d be plenty of sunny filming days, but he favours “empty lands south or north of the city” rather than the port.
He says the location should offer views of ocean in one direction, and bush, city or suburbs in the others.
“This is only if the economics can work with the government donating the land and all parties first coming together in the design to work out the enormous level of logistics it would involve which would include the need to bring crew and equipment from over east of Australia or overseas to support the handful of experienced crew here in Perth, plus they must utilise Screen West’s ‘attachment’ initiative whereby local crew are attached to more experienced visiting crew with an allowance plus experience learnt as payment,” he said.
Mr Head said if that location couldn’t be found, heading towards Perth airport would be next.
He said a busy quay aiming to be a tourist destination wasn’t the place for a film studio.
“What WA needs right now is overseas promotion of its wonderful weather and blue skies giving excellent images for filming, promotion of our unique and amazing fauna and flora and our benefit of being in the same timezone as China.”
Mr Dean is currently in pre-production to direct a kids adventure movie promoting WA to China – plus delivering “good moral messages”, and while he’d like any studio space at the moment, he’s still looking towards China.
He says the involvement of studio designer Mike Lake in the Vic Quay proposal gives him great confidence in the quality of the finished design, but says Mr Lake’s involvement doesn’t extend to the environs.
“In terms of ‘convenience’ it would make sense to have a studio near Perth or near Fremantle making all the logistics nice and easy and trouble free, but that convenience can directly affect productions in terms of nearby noisy public or inebriated individuals who decide it’s fun to jump in front of the camera, or security of actors and crew and equipment who may be filming exteriors, general expensive interruptions to a filming schedule – all of which have happened to productions I’ve worked on,” Mr Head said.
“There is always a compromise involved and allowing the tail to wag the dog instead of the dog wagging the tail means many miss out, unnecessarily. What the government really must do, in order to cover themselves, is check that this project is actually about a film studio for professional filming rather than a property developer’s dream and land grab which I’ve seen in other places, with near total disregard to the film side of things.”
A film industry insider, who didn’t want to be named, said a number of local production companies also felt their needs had been overlooked in the rush for a headline act.
He said there was no one in WA with the qualifications to run a large studio and there are fears much of the work will go to outsiders.
Another criticism was that the studio is based on a new technology which replaces green screens with videos of pre-recorded graphics, and he’s concerned the Vic Quay studio will be stuck with a trendy technology which will be outdated within a decade.
But former Screenwest CEO Ian Booth, who has been working on Hesperia’s proposal on Victoria Quay, said they’ve done their background work and those concerns have been taken into account.
He’d seen a number of proposals come before Screenwest seeking acknowledgement and endorsement in his 10 years at the helm, all pointing to the need for a local facility so big studios wouldn’t overlook WA any more.
“There are many examples of projects that have gone to other states which have not looked at WA because we don’t have a studio,” Mr Booth said.
He says Victoria Quay might not be able to attract the biggest productions because of its size, but there was plenty of content being produced that would be suitable, while there were also plenty of WA-born directors producing world-class material who’d prefer to work closer to home.
Mr Booth revealed he and local producer Jamie Hilton hatched the plan for the studio and took it to Little Creatures co-founder Howard Cearns: he felt his diverse CV, which includes time as deputy chair of Tourism WA and giant brewer Nathan Lion’s innovation director, made him a perfect candidate to bring it to fruition.
He believes there’s plenty of scope for local production companies to use the studio, but it would come down to how they financed and sold their ideas.
It’s kind of a call to think big at the right time.
“Look at the leading production companies; when Nelson Woss makes Red Dog he starts with himself, and then he brings on hundreds of people,” Mr Booth said.
He said while the screen design, based on the technology used in Disney’s The Mandolorian last year, was definitely an industry trend, the studio would have the flexibility to move with the times. He says the technological advances are helping film studios reduce their impact on their sites.
“Imagine that instead of sending out 50 people to the desert to shoot a scene, you send out three people and they take photos back and they are used on a screen.”
Fremantle MP Simone McGurk, who chaired the Vic Quay steering committee that recommended it as a studio location, said Hesperia’s proposal would be a “game changer”.
“There is a small minority in the community who want Victoria Quay to stay exactly as it is, and I suspect this has motivated some of the criticism of the film studio,” Ms McGurk said.
“But this project will revitalise the precinct and bring new jobs and creative industries to Fremantle.”
By STEVE GRANT