Along with the largest studio complex in the southern hemisphere offering nine stages and three tanks, local crews’ specialist abilities to shoot on and under water have jumped to be among the most sought-after drawcards for major productions flocking to Queensland.
Media and entertainment giant Disney is the latest to capitalise on the unrivalled local skills in water work, bringing its big-budget, high-end production of Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo to the Gold Coast.
The 10-part series called Nautilus, based on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, will begin shooting at Village Roadshow Studios’ three water tanks and locations around the Gold Coast early next year.
Screen Queensland Head of Physical Production and COVID Liaison Gina Black said the skills of the local crews in water filming, as well as experience working with American series television, was a key factor luring the productions to Queensland.
“They love coming here. It’s about the locations, the facilities and the incentives, but definitely it’s also the expertise of the crews. They love them, they really do,” Black said.
“They’re not all water-based shows, but they just love the crews here.”
Ahead of Nautilus, other films are locked in to capitalise on the skills and facilities on the Gold Coast that have combined to create blockbusters such as Aquaman and Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
They include True Spirit, the Netflix biopic about Jessica Watson’s 2009 around-the-world sailing odyssey.
“True Spirit has got an amazing array of our expert crew because they’re topside on her boat, they’re also underwater so you can look up and see the boat from under,” Black said.
“Out on the Broadwater there’s the flotilla of boats. We’ve got a huge marine team that provide the camera platform boats and the green room boats. There’s safety boats with all the safety experts.
“We also have the support of our well-known boating industry to keep all of the boats in extremely good condition.”
Black said the local industry’s unique and coveted skillset had been key to building the relationships that have secured so many productions at a time when Queensland is in the global spotlight for its COVID-safe capacity to keep the industry moving amid increased worldwide demand for film and television content.
She said a show called Dolphin Cove shot at Sea World and, later, 88 episodes of Flipper over four years, established the rare specialisation.
“Our relationship with the water in what we call long-form television, which is series and feature films, started with larger crews in 1988 during the writer’s strike,” Black said.
“We now have that depth of expertise, and of course we have the infrastructure to go with it.”
Black said Village Roadshow studios built its giant exterior tank for the Kate Hudson-Matthew McConaghey action romantic-comedy production of Fool’s Gold shot in 2008.
The purpose-built main tank cost $2.3 million and even had a boat wrecked on rocks set inside the tank in one scene.
Some of the world’s leading cinematographers and crews, including Simon Christidis, known as the “Mr Hollywood of underwater filming,” were among the local talent also contributing to the flood of productions headed for the Gold Coast.
Christidis is internationally recognised for his undersea and surf cinematography and worked on James Cameron’s famous Deep Challenge dive into the Marianas Trench, as well as projects such as Adrift, The Shallows and Extraction.
He came to international prominence in the production of Angelina Jolie’s big-budget war drama, Unbroken, about an American soldier who survived in a raft for 47 days after his bomber crash-landed in the ocean and was then capture by the Japanese during the Second World War, that was shot on the Gold Coast in 2014.
“We are very well known for water shows, underwater and topside,” Black said.
“It keeps building. Village Roadshow Studios is the largest studio complex in the southern hemisphere with nine stages and three tanks.
“So that’s what brings shows like Nautilus in – they need the tanks, and they know how important the crews are,” she said.
“The studios are the linchpin because a show like Nautilus also needs an infrastructure as big as that because they’ve got construction, they’ve got workshops, they’ve got wardrobe, they’ve got prop making facilities.
“But the other area that Nautilus needs is expertise. We’ve got the water work. They also need the expertise of sculptors and lighting and rigging teams, and we’ve got that.
“We’ve got amazing sculptors, and prop makers and construction people. You can see it on Thor, you can see it on Aquaman, you can see it on all the futuristic shows. We’ve got the lot.”