In a small theatre hidden away in the heart of Sydney's Fox Studios, an American producer and an Australian politician fronted up to a small band of media this morning. The occasion was the announcement that the sixth film in the X-Men franchise, The Wolverine, would be filmed in Sydney from August.
The previous Wolverine instalment, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was filmed in Sydney in 2008 and directed by Gavin Hood. This time around, Hugh Jackman will be directed by James Mangold, who is best-known for Walk the Line, the bio-pic about country music legend Johnny Cash. The pair has already worked together: on Kate & Leopold, starring Meg Ryan, which was made about a decade ago when Jackman was still a fresh new face in Hollywood circles.
Australia is no longer as popular as a location for big-budget Hollywood blockbusters as it once was and there is one reason for this: the strength of the Australian dollar means the numbers no longer add up. For some of the cast, crew and facilities houses that have been starved of earnings because of the downturn, the imminent arrival of The Wolverine is a blessing.
This morning, it was US producer Joe Caracciolo, representing US studio Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, and Deputy Premier and Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Stoner at the microphones. There were probably only two dozen people in attendance including publicists, ministerial advisers and film agency bureaucrats.
Politicians like to tell good news stories and like to tout the strengths of their constituency and Stoner did both. He said that Sydney has something that no-one else has in the Asia Pacific and that's a big pool of film talent. He said that Sydney stood in for New York for The Great Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann's Hollywood blockbuster, and now it would be standing in for Japan – in this new film Wolverine travels to Japan to train with a samurai warrior which demonstrates its diversity as a filmmaking centre. And he said that the film is expected to create 720 jobs for local cast and crew and 1,200 jobs for extras.
Caracciolo provided quite a contrast. The US studios aren't known for discussing films before cameras have rolled, preferring to make a fuss when it's time to entice audiences into cinemas. Whether it was this or his nature, Caracciolo proved to be a man of few words.
Asked why The Wolverine was kicking the trend and coming to Australia, he said that there were two key reasons: the high quality crew and technical facilities, and the State and Federal Government financial incentives. Indeed, the Federal Government is providing a one-off payment of $12.8 million in taxpayer funding to secure the picture for Australia, the NSW Government is tipping in an undisclosed sum and it is also accessing other filmmaking incentives. Whether it should will be subject to debate in many film industry forums in the coming months, with the “for” side pointing out that it is expected to spend more than $80 million in NSW anyway, so whatever has been spent will be returned, and the “against” side mentioning worthier causes such as hospitals and education and perhaps even Australian films, the presence of Jackman in The Wolverine notwithstanding.
The Wolverine is due out in July 2013.