UPDATE, MONDAY SEPT 1, 2:12 AM: The Australian government has approved the reassignment of a A$21.6M ($20.2M) tax incentive for Disney to bring the shoot for Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Down Under. In 2013, those same funds had been earmarked for 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: Captain Nemo, but the studio is understood to have asked for a transfer with that project now in stasis. According to local trade If.com, a spokesman for Oz Arts Minister George Brandis said, “The government is pleased to agree to Disney’s request to enable earlier funding to be repurposed for the production of Pirates Of The Caribbean 5.” However, “Any decision to film productions in Australia… is a commercial matter for Disney.” The incentive is said to fall a bit short of an extra boost Disney was seeking and could mean that regional agencies would be relied upon to make up the difference. I had previously been cautioned that Disney was mulling other locations, and If today suggests one possibility could be Mexico. Should Pirates end up in Oz, The Queensland Times says special tanks at Village Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast would be employed. Australia has been pushing for legislation to make it a more competitive destination for foreign productions with calls to raise the standard tax rebate from 16.5% to 30%, something that’s been slow in coming.
PREVIOUS, AUG 18: While Hollywood has been fighting to get new tax incentives cleared by Sacramento that would help stem runaway production, Australia has faced its own battle to push for legislation that would allow it to be more competitive as a location destination. In recent years, the strong Oz dollar has hampered Australia’s ability to attract large-scale foreign films, but one mega-production may soon be setting sail for the Gold Coast.
Disney is understood to be considering an early 2015 shoot for Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales in Australia. I hear Oz is just one location being mulled, but if the movie were to set up shop Down Under, it could do so under potentially lucrative circumstances. Last year, in the largest inducement it’s ever offered to a Hollywood production, the Oz government confirmed it would give Disney a one-off payment of A$21.6M (US$20.14M) to shoot 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: Captain Nemo in Australia. However, with the status of that film unclear, it’s understood that discussions are underway to transfer the incentive to Pirates 5. The original amount offered to 20,000 Leagues was in addition to the standard 16.5% tax rebate on local spend by foreign productions in Australia, and effectively raised the rebate to 30% — a figure the local industry has long lobbied for as the standard.
With California’s Senate Appropriations committee last week passing an expansion of the state’s $100M Film and TV Tax Credit Program to $400M, and with other increasingly attractive offers in the UK and elsewhere, it would seem appropriate that Australia be more vigilant than ever.
The Oz government, which in May announced A$38M in cuts to Screen Australia over four years, has been slow on the uptake of an across the board 30% incentive. But if it were to pony up to bring the Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg-helmed Pirates Down Under, it would not be without precedent. The payment would be similar to the A$12.8M granted by the federal government which persuaded Fox to shoot The Wolverine in Sydney in 2012. The last Pirates movie, On Stranger Tides, partially shot at Pinewood in the UK where Disney has made many of its recent films, but I hear it’s looking likely this one could go to Oz. A move would be a boon for the local production sector whose big 2014 shoots included Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken and Dwayne Johnson disaster pic, San Andreas — which ostensibly takes place in California.
Oz’s Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance union says it has met with Disney to discuss “a big-budget feature proposed to shoot in Australia at the start of 2015.” It also says it understands the federal government has agreed to allow the additional funding incentive originally reserved for 20,000 Leagues to be reallocated to this new production.
MEAA Director Malcolm Tulloch wrote to Arts Minister George Brandis on Friday to express the group’s support for an overall increase in the incentive for foreign productions. He noted in his letter that “Australian film talent is now being lost to the UK, the U.S. and Asia. Australia’s film industry is at the crossroads and in danger of losing its world standing unless it introduces competitive location incentives. The previous Federal Government committed additional support to The Wolverine in 2012, lifting the total taxpayer contribution for that movie to $25M. This small investment resulted in over $80M of foreign investment in Australia and created more than 2,000 jobs.”
MEAA says it’s aware that there have been “a significant number of productions” that have applied for a one-time increase to the rebate. “None of these productions have however come to fruition. As a result of uncertainty in this area Australia is now being overlooked by international feature film producers,” Tulloch contends. Further, he says, “We are aware that your department has been or will be approached to make a one off 30% Location Offset for a planned Disney production for this year. The production is mooted to be the biggest international feature film to be made in this country. We are currently negotiating industrial agreements that give the production certainty regarding its production labour costs. We would encourage the Federal Government and your department to work constructively with the film’s producers to ensure that this production is filmed in Australia.”
All this is happening while nearby New Zealand last year upped its production tax incentives in tandem with James Cameron agreeing to shoot his three Avatar sequels in the territory. Cameron pledged to spend at least NZ$500M over the next three installments of Avatar and that about 90% of the crew would be local. Overall, the Kiwi government at the time hiked the rebate from 15% to 20% for international film and television productions with a further 5% available for international productions that deliver significant economic benefits to New Zealand.