Winners and Losers, Stage 3
Production Designer, Felicity Abbott APDG outlines her approach to working on Australian director Leigh Whannell’s new feature film, Upgrade, shot at Docklands Studios Melbourne in 2017.
Upgrade is set in the near-future when technology controls nearly all aspects of life. But when Grey, a self-identified technophobe, has his world turned upside down, his only hope for revenge is an experimental computer chip implant called STEM. Produced by Blumhouse Productions (Get Out) and Goalpost Pictures (Cleverman, The Sapphires), Upgrade was supported by the Victorian Government through screen agency Film Victoria’s Production Incentive Attraction Fund.
While Abbott has created every period in Australia from 1780s to present day, sci-fi is a genre she’d seen on screen but never designed. But this seems to have worked in her favour, with Whannell seeking a fresh and distinct vision of the not-too-distant future.
Bel Tromp (BT): Tell me about the inspiration for the futuristic design?
Felicity Abbott (FA): It’s a world that exists at the interface of high and low technology so it was immediately interesting and appealing to me as a production designer in terms of creating worlds. It was always described as a world just around the corner. So in terms of the visual style, it’s a reality that we understand from our contemporary experience, with an enhanced view of current technologies rather than a departure from life as we know it.
(BT): How did you go about building the visual references?
FA: Leigh thought it was hilarious that I’d never seen Robocop and he joked that was the reason he hired me because those fantasy genre films weren’t my primary reference point. Leigh described the film as “future noir”. It’s a mix of genres ─ it has science fiction, horror, action and comedic elements.
We had lengthy conversations about what will be commodities 20 years in the future. In my mind, it will be things like clean water and air, food, renewables and sustainable environments. Also there will be an inclination toward natural materials, so for the sets at Docklands Studios I referenced rammed earth architecture and drew inspiration from naturally occurring fractals and geometry such as webs and nests that are undercurrents rather than being obvious. Leigh’s a very generous director in terms of his collaborative approach so he and I worked very closely together. I challenged some of what was scripted in terms of character environments, and together we really developed those ideas in a way that is quite unique.
BT: What was the balance between sets built at Docklands and shooting on location?
FA: The two sets at Docklands were the most significant, as they were the two character environments ─ one the interior of Grey and Asha Trace’s house, and the other the interior of hacker Eron’s mansion containing his laboratory and work environment. They were built on separate sound stages and during shooting we were swapping from one stage to the other. Our whole production was housed at Docklands ─ the art department, the construction workshop and costume, so it was a pretty big operation.
BT: How long did it take to build the sets?
FA: We had a peak period of about six weeks where we had to put on additional construction crew because we had so many sets going at once. We’d built complex models and there was a lot of discussion around those, and Ross Murdoch managed the construction in the big workshop at Docklands. I had some incredibly skilled and experienced professionals from Victoria in the art, construction, scenic, vehicle, greens and props departments.
Top & Bottom: Upgrade‘s set build, inside Docklands Studios
BT: The futuristic vehicles are a big part of the film, what was involved in building them?
FA: We had a dedicated workshop just to build the automated and police vehicles. For one of the cars, we built a smaller set of the interior that we shot at Docklands and then we built exteriors that were actually driven on a road that was blocked off for the shoot. Those cars were driven by stunt drivers in Chris Anderson’s team and on screen it’s shown that the driver sees the outside world through cameras and sensors, or they can be making a video phone call or reading email. So there was complex VFX interaction that required a green screen and other elements.
BT: How did you use locations around Melbourne as part of this futuristic world?
FA: We found things in the suburban environment that had the tone and feel of generic US cities and suburbs. I would always check with the American actors and they thought the tone was pretty spot on. We used a vast stairwell at RMIT University in the city. Also, we shot on the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne to establish Eron’s world. He’s this genius young hacker living in a kind of subterranean environment. We shot scenes on a cliff with beautiful sunsets and for the entrance to his world we built enormous rocks and used DSX (Digital Set Extensions). We also had a backlot at Collingwood Arts Precinct with about ten sets of various sizes with lots of built elements, elevators and set pieces and that was a great adjunct to filming at Docklands.
BT: What was your experience working at Docklands Studios?
FA: I absolutely loved working at Docklands, it’s a wonderful facility. Our art department was above the construction workshops and for me and the art director Mandi (Bialek-Wester) we were in and out of the workshops multiple times a day so it’s efficient in the way it was set up. The art department offices are some of the best that we’ve worked in and Docklands Studios has really attentive staff and great crew, so for me it was a fantastic experience. I also liked its proximity to everything we needed, very close to the city.
BT: You’ve seen the final cut of Upgrade – what is your impression?
FA: I went to the premiere at SXSW in Texas (in March) with Leigh and the producers from Australia and the U.S. and the editor and the composer from Victoria. It screened at midnight which was a great experience and the audience was very responsive. It’s a wild ride and a very high energy film.
BT: Since working on Upgrade you’ve turned full circle ─ going from sci-fi to a period film?
FA: I had maybe a month off or so before I engaged with Bruce (Beresford) for Ladies in Black, which is set in 1959. But the process is kind of similar ─ you need time and conversations to allow ideas to filter through. For period films it’s all about historical research and social history of the time. I don’t find it hard to switch from one to the other and I feel incredibly fortunate to be engaged with two extraordinary projects in one year.
BT: You’re currently in Los Angeles ─ have you found your feet?
FA: I was the recipient of an Australians in Film mentorship last year and I signed with United Talent Agency, so I’m exploring the U.S. industry and are about to start on a project. I’m committed to working in Australia too and my hope is to work between the two. Upgrade releases in the U.S. in June and shortly after in Australia so there’s a lot happening and then Bruce’s (Beresford) film releases later in the year.
When not in use by film crews, our sound stages are helping Aussie basketballers reach the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
NBL’s 3×3 Pro Hustle – billed as a stepping stone to Olympic team selection – transformed our biggest sound stage into a grandstand recently for a series of games in front of an audience of around 1,000.
3×3 basketball is a shorter version of the game with three players each side, on a reduced size court. A FIBA-accredited black rubber surface was laid down for the event that drew amateurs dreaming of Olympic glory along with established names such as Andrew Steel, Tommy Greer Tom Wright, Monique Conti and Chloe Molloy.
Three courts were set up inside Sound Stage 1 for simultaneous play, while juniors competed on two outdoor courts with the event streamed live on NBL TV.
IT heavyweights from around Australia converged on Docklands Studios recently for a one day tech summit hosted by Microsoft.
Around 300 CIOs and CEOs etc. experienced the Microsoft Business Forward event that transformed our ‘blank space’ sound stages.
Across the day, event planner Andy Mirkovich Productions moved guests between two adjacent stages – one an auditorium for keynote sessions, the other set up with reception, cloak room, meals, lounges, hardware showcase areas and industry-specific break out rooms. Nearby office spaces were used as private meeting rooms.
Andy Mirkovich’s man on the ground Tim McAfee said Docklands Studios was a perfect fit for the event, which required excellent acoustics, electricals and rigging, as well as the versatility to create distinct Microsoft branding using signage, lighting and furnishings.
McAfee reported that guests were “blown away” by the venue that was new to many of them. “Instead of the same old hotel or convention centre we wanted something unique, and Docklands is a place that many people don’t even know about.”
He added, “Convenience is big for our guests, they don’t want to go too far away and (Docklands) has the advantage of being a bit secluded but also still basically CBD and very easy for these executives to get to.”
Having planned similar Microsoft events in the United States, including one at New York’s World Trade Centre, McAfee rates the Docklands experience as “probably the top event I’ve ever done”.
“The staff (at Docklands) are top notch, the crew made it that much better – everyone from Rodney, Rosey, Laz, Andrew, Lisa at the gate – you guys made our life easy.”
A production coordinator is like a mother hen – getting everybody in the right place at the right time. One of the best in the business is Mim Davis, who’s worked on a raft of productions at Docklands Studios Melbourne since she moved from Sydney to Melbourne four years ago. She spoke to our publicist Bel Tromp about the ups and downs of the job.
BT: What exactly is the role of Production Coordinator?
MD: It’s working alongside the production manager and coordinating all the cast. So as soon as a someone gets cast, touching base with their agent and making sure that they know what’s required of them, sending scripts, schedules for rehearsals and such – you coordinate everything about them and their movements. Predominantly you deal with cast but you also help set up the office, get a good team on board – a good production secretary and runners are imperative – and just make sure whenever there’s new crew members that they’re all happy and have everything they need for their role. Also it’s being the ‘go to’ person for scheduling meetings with directors, cast and crew. Then it’s organising makeup tests, costume fittings, rehearsals and the general running of the office, and when we start shooting it’s doing the call sheets, liaising with all departments and getting all the information that’s required for each day in accordance with the schedule.
BT: When you’re juggling that many things, is there a lot of scope for things to go wrong?
MD: Yes, but there’s protocols and there’s processes and you learn along the way. I think when I first started out, you know, you’re so worried about impressing everybody and making sure that you don’t make mistakes that you often make more mistakes! Then you begin to feel more relaxed and comfortable from knowing what needs to be done. To make great film and TV you need to be on the ball, but it’s supposed to be an enjoyable, fun experience because we’re here to entertain the masses and trying to make sure that we have a good time while we do it. You do come across a lot of different personalities with crew and cast but the biggest thing is to be calm (laughs).
BT: How did you get your start in the screen industry?
MD: I did hospitality, which is a great jumping off point because it’s dealing with people and different personalities. I managed restaurants in Perth, where I grew up, and then moved to Sydney in my mid-twenties and managed restaurants there. I started getting bored with hospitality, so I thought about what I enjoy more than anything – going the cinema and watching films. And because hospitality is about organising I thought I could be good at production. So I started enrolling in short film courses and I volunteered at AFTRS – the original one in Epping in Sydney – where I would production manage short films, shooting on 16mm & 35mm. Then I started working with award winning graduates on short films and music videos. All of this was unpaid for years. From here, I got a job at the Film Finance Corporation, our Federal funding body, which later became Screen Australia. It was a great experience but after four years I felt the need to move on so I started as a freelance on Around the Block, a feature film with (actor) Christina Ricci. That was my first time on set as production manager, so that was pretty intense. Then I went to Melbourne to do a job, a feature film called Patrick. So, I just sort of figured it all out along the way. I was given great opportunities from producers that took a chance and believed in me. I am indebted to these living legends (you know who you are…)
BT: Working on Patrick (2013) was your first time at Docklands Studios?
MD: Yes it was fantastic. It was a remake of an iconic 1978-horror film – lots of fun, small cast. So that’s where I met Rod (Rod Allan, Docklands CEO) and all the gang and since then I’ve done seven jobs at Docklands – Patrick, Predestination, INXS: Never Tear Us Apart, Childhood’s End (pre-production only), The Moon and the Sun, The Big Music Quiz, and last year I finished Upgrade with (director) Leigh Whannell.
BT: What was it like working on Upgrade?
MD: It was incredible. Working on feature films seems to be more of a personal experience – there’s one script, there was a small cast, lots of ‘stunties’. We closed down a freeway for three nights ─ we were smashing cars, building futuristic machines, lots of fantastic prosthetics and the story was epic. We had a couple of great actors from America plus the incredible local talent and a great team. There were a few night shoots as well so it got pretty intense, but everyone was just focused on making it all work.
BT: Tell me about the night shoots.
MD: We would start at 7pm and wrap at around 6am in the morning, and then the next night it would be another 7pm start. We did that for a week near the start and for a couple of weeks towards the end of the shoot. But it was fantastic – I wouldn’t change a thing about the experience because that’s how you learn and grow in our industry.
BT: Leigh Whannell has quite a bit of experience in Hollywood – does that show through?
MD: Yes and he loved the fact that he was back filming in his hometown. He had worked previously with a lot of crew – like his D.O.P. – and he wrote the film so he was very close to the story which helped every department with his vision. He really looked after the crew. He would organise surprises – once it was the Nutella food truck that arrived at three o’clock in the morning with crazy things like Nutella burgers. A super fun, delicious way of Leigh saying thank you to all the crew for all our hard work. He’s a very generous director – really takes note and appreciates every single crew member helping make his vision come to life.
BT: Do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on?
MD: There’s a couple – probably one of my favourites was Molly, the TV Series with (actor) Samuel Johnson. That was with Kev Carlin directing and John Molloy producing and it was just a fun-filled vibe. I think maybe because it was around my era – it was all Countdown and vinyl playing constantly from that time – and it was a wonderful story about an Australian icon. Upgrade is another one, again because it was an exciting action packed shoot with great cast and crew. They’re probably my top two but, you know, there are good and tough things about all of them.
BT: What are the challenges of working as a freelancer?
MD: You don’t know when your next job’s going to be, so you do need to learn time and finance management. It’s great when you are able to get gigs back to back but it means you don’t really have a proper holiday. But you just need to plan. It is important to have breaks because you have a job for three months and it’s intense, its long hours and you’re in an awesome crazy bubble. Since working on Upgrade in 2017, I worked on couple of ABC TV shows then Channel Ten’s The Wrong Girl which shot around the Docklands precinct and used the studios for truck park up. I recently wrapped on another feature film which also used Docklands Studios for truck park up plus we filmed in a one of the stages for a few days.
BT: What do you like about working at Docklands Studios?
MD: The best thing about Docklands is the people who work there – like Lisa, Brooksy, Rosey, Laz, Andrew and Anton (who has since moved on) – they’re awesome. Lisa on the gate is fantastic and I’m not sure how she does it but she remembers everyone’s name as they come through. Broosky is a top bloke who is always happy to help – even from the golf course on a Sunday! When it’s busy at the studios and there are a few productions at the same time, the Docklands team handles it very well and always get things done in good time and with good humour. It’s a great facility.
Mim Davis (supplied)
Production designer Matthew Putland blended historical accuracy with artistic licence for the recently released Helen Mirren thriller Winchester. In recreating rooms from the famous San Jose mansion that Sarah Winchester (Mirren) started building in the late 1800’s, Putland drew inspiration from old images and a visit to the mansion. Filmed at Docklands Studios Melbourne in early 2017, Winchester was Putland’s second project at Docklands with writer-directors Michael and Peter Spierig and producer Tim McGahan, following Predestination (2014). Putland spoke to Bel Tromp.
MP: When I first did a Google search on the Winchester mansion I found there wasn’t much online because they don’t let anyone take photos at the house. When I visited I was overwhelmed – the layout was such a confusing mix of architecture. Michael Spierig joined me on the first day for the guided tour and for the next three days I was there by myself. Even on the last day I needed a guide because I kept getting lost. It was mindblowing to think this widow Sarah Winchester had built such an expansive house, adding on rooms and corridors and hallways and staircases.
BT: The mansion has been described as a labyrinth and has more than 160 rooms. Which spaces did you build as sets?
MP: The (Tom Vaughan and Spierig Brothers) script dictated where the scenes took place, and those scenes were written to take advantage of the eccentricities of the house. For example, the switchback staircase is a notorious part of the house that we recreated stick for stick at Docklands Studios. There was another staircase that led nowhere, stopping at the floor above, so we built that oddity as well. Then we built the main entry and corridor where characters come and go, to replicate as close as we could to what existed in San Jose. As well we built a séance room – a cone shaped tower which, at the real house, has a strong presence and was something that Peter and Michael wanted to include. This was an iconic room because it was here that Sarah spoke to the spirits to find out the layout of the room they died in, so she could appease those spirits by having that room reconstructed at her mansion.
The séance room at the California mansion was recreated as a set at Docklands Studios (photo: Ben King)BT: An earthquake damaged the original Winchester house. How did that affect the way it’s depicted on screen?
MP: The film is set in 1906, the year of the big San Francisco earthquake which destroyed a large part of the house, so we wanted to show the house before and after. The historian had a photo of a seven stories high tower that was severely damaged in the earthquake so we created that. Also there was a chimney on the front of the house which had crumbled and fallen over, so we built that. We used the earthquake to give us some freedom with how we showed the house before that event, adding some rooms that may not have been in the original mansion. One of these was a garden room modelled closely on one at Rippon Lea mansion in Melbourne – we shot scenes there and built that as a set at Docklands Studios.
BT: What are some of the tricks you used to make the house look creepy?
MP: A lot comes through lighting, such as lighting at the end of corridors to silhouette the cast. With the colours, we deviated from the palette inside the real house. The historian showed us a very pale lime green but for the horror genre we decided to keep the colours intense – a darker green was our main colour along with a tobacco colour and the richness of timber. On the exterior we kept the colours as they were historically – a dark grey trim with a grey green façade. We created a sense of luxury and opulence using designs and features from the actual house such as stained-glass windows. The Victorian era had layers and layers of decoration and we sourced great props from all over the place including the antique shops in Melbourne which are some of the best. I had a great team, including Janie Parker (art director) and Vanessa Cerne (set decorator) who are both Melbourne locals and were key players in achieving the look of Winchester.
BT: You made the most of Melbourne’s historic mansions from the same era?
MP: We did a lot of location shooting at heritage buildings. At Rippon Lea we not only used the conservatory but also the servants’ quarters. We used the Werribee and Labassa mansions to shoot interiors and an old railway workshop at Newport. It was great to find all these locations that we could pass off as the house. The spaces were more expansive than rooms at the real house which helped us fit in our film crew and we confined the spaces with furniture.
BT: What was your biggest challenge?
MP: Other than budgetary I think it was dealing with the various depictions of the house that we shot in Docklands Studios and around Melbourne, along with scenes shot at the real house in San Jose. We brought it all together in one cohesive look. For example there’s one scene in the beginning where you start inside the set, followed by a point of view from the real house, then you end up on location. It’s all in one fluid movement and made to feel like it’s in the one place.
BT: You were on familiar ground working with the Spierigs?
MP: I went to university with Peter and Michael Spierig and I was in Tim McGahan’s class at uni, so our connection with film goes way back, to around 1996 at Queensland College of Art in Brisbane. I designed the Spierig’s ultra-low budget zombie film Undead, and I was involved as set decorator on their film Daybreakers. Then we did Predestination at Docklands together, so I was glad they were willing to give me another go with another subject – same directors and same D.O.P. (Ben Nott) so the process is the same.
BT: What do you like about working at Docklands?
MP: The biggest bonus with Docklands is its position. It’s smack bang next to the centre of Melbourne so to get anywhere is easy and to get to the studios is easy. And you’re in amongst everything – it’s just around the corner to a vintage wallpaper shop or an antique emporium.
Official synopsis: Inspired by true events. On an isolated stretch of land 50 miles outside of San Francisco sits the most haunted house in the world. Built by Sarah Winchester, (Academy Award®-winner Helen Mirren) heiress to the Winchester fortune, it is a house that knows no end. Constructed in an incessant twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week mania for decades, it stands seven stories tall and contains hundreds of rooms. To the outsider it looks like a monstrous monument to a disturbed woman’s madness. But Sarah is not building for herself, for her niece (Sarah Snook) or for the brilliant Doctor Eric Price (Jason Clarke) whom she has summoned to the house. She is building a prison, an asylum for hundreds of vengeful ghosts, and the most terrifying among them have a score to settle with the Winchesters…
Our studio lot has been abuzz with activity recently as home base for film and TV productions shooting in rural Victoria.
Rachel Griffiths’ directorial debut Ride Like a Girl is in pre-production for an 8-week shoot from mid April that will feature landmark locations including Hanging Rock and Ballarat.
A biopic of Melbourne Cup winning jockey Michelle Payne starring Teresa Palmer and Sam Neill, Ride Like a Girl is tipped to inject $14 million into the state’s economy and is scheduled for the big screen in early 2019. It tells of Payne’s personal struggles as one of ten children raised by their father Paddy after their mother’s death.
Meanwhile British-Australian co-pro The Cry made itself at home on the lot while on location around Victoria. Executive Producer Claire Mundell of Scotland-based Synchronicity Films raved about the ‘incredible Australian light’ while shooting in various coastal towns including Queenscliff.
The Cry is a four part psychological thriller about a young couple whose baby is abducted, and stars Alex Dimitriades and Asher Keddie alongside major British names Jenna Coleman and Ewen Leslie. The Cry is also shooting in Glasgow with support from Film Victoria and Creative Scotland and will screen on ABC TV later this year.
The team at Docklands Studios Melbourne has a reputation for making productions feel at home – time after time our clients tell us how easy it is to work here.
So it’s only fitting that some of our crew feature in a brand new ad campaign, being rolled out during 2018 in publications such as Inside Film magazine.
CEO Rod Allan came up with the idea of putting individual faces to our brand. On the day, Rosey Cullinan, Andrew Tran, Rodney Brooks and Laz Tsavdaridis stepped into the spotlight, with Allan himself keeping a slightly lower profile.
Here’s a sneak peek at the new ads.
Thanks to graphic artist Sarah Rudledge for coming up with the concept design and helping out with copy, designer Jo Briscoe and builder Ben Corless for creating the film set, and photographer Lisa Saad for helping our staff feel comfortable in front of the camera.
Here’s Lisa’s time lapse clip showing how the shoot came together in our sound stage.
Ausfilm’s February newsletter pays tribute to Victoria’s first class film crews and locations
The red carpet was rolled out for the nation’s top production designers at a Docklands Studios-sponsored awards evening in Melbourne on December 3.
The Australian Production Design Guild ceremony at the Melba Spiegeltent in Collingwood awarded trophies in 23 design categories in live performance, screen, animation, interactive and web.
APDG President George Liddle acknowledged Docklands Studios Melbourne as the awards’ Principal Sponsor, and thanked studio CEO Rod Allan for being “a staunch supporter” since the annual competition began seven years ago.
Academy Award winning animator Adam Elliot hosted the popcorn-and-bubbly-fuelled ceremony, with Rod Allan presenting two Docklands-sponsored awards – for Set Decoration on a Feature Film (won by Nicki Gardiner for 2.22) and for Production Design on a Feature Film (won by George Liddle for The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One).
Full list of winners here.
Docklands Studios Melbourne has shown yet again it’s a place where anything is possible, catering for screen projects of all shapes and sizes in 2017.
This is how production designers from four different films used Docklands Studios this year:
(Above) The set of Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built, starring Helen Mirren. Interiors of the haunted mansion were pieced together in Stage 4 to match scenes shot at the real Winchester mansion in San Jose. Produced by Tim McGahan and Brett Tomberlin, directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, production design by Matthew Putland, art direction by Janie Parker, set decoration by Vanessa Cerne. Release date February 22, 2018.
(Above) The set of the ‘hybrid’ documentary Guilty, produced by Maggie Miles, directed by Matthew Sleeth, production design by Nicki Gardiner. The filmmakers re-created the last days of convicted Bali Nine drug smuggler Myuran Sukumaran who was executed in Indonesia in 2015. The film screened at the Adelaide Film Festival in October 2017.
(Above) The main set of sci-fi thriller The Wheel, produced by Sunjive Studios. Cardboard sheets assembled with a hot glue gun were used as a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly addition to the main set built of steel. Liam McLachlan, 20-year-old son of the movie’s director Dee McLachlan, built the cardboard sets in around two weeks with a couple of friends, under the guidance of production designer Robert Webb. To be released in late 2018.
(Above) The Docklands Studios production office doubled as a movie set for the independently financed thriller Choir Girl. Other sets of a hotel and apartment were built in a nearby sound stage. Produced by Ivan Malekin of Nexus Production Group, production design by Fiona Delalande.
When Andrew Tran answered an advertisement for an IT job 13 years ago, he never imagined he’d be working behind the scenes on movie and TV productions. As IT Manager at Docklands Studios Melbourne, Andrew’s in charge of setting up the communications technology – phones, computers, internet, etc. – that keep productions rolling.
You are the only member of our operations team who’s been here since the start – what do you remember of the early days?
Things were very different when the complex opened back in 2004. We were called Central City Studios and we didn’t actually have an admin building. Our office was in a demountable shed and the car park was just gravel so when it rained there’d be puddles all over the place. We had to lay down wooden planks to cross the water so it was like being in the trenches! The first production we had here was Ghost Rider and that was huge – it took almost the entire lot.
Typically, what IT services do you provide to productions?
Usually it’s making sure they have Wi-Fi for email and the internet, and for sending recorded footage to the post-production house which might be interstate or overseas. For example when The Leftovers (HBO Series 3) was based here in 2016 they sent a lot of their footage to the United States and it was edited there in real time. Some productions also need a Network Area Storage where there’s a central storage for all the data, allowing each department to access it. For example an art department can share its drawings, so anyone can update them.
Productions rely on you to supply good bandwidth?
These days everything is sent via an internet link. Previously productions might store everything on hard disk drive or film whereas now it’s digital. They send footage to secure sites like VIMEO so approved people can look at draft versions. If we need to increase bandwidth we can call on our providers to scale up to 1 GB on demand. We currently have a 400 MB link and a 50 MB scalable link on standby, so a production can call me and say ‘I need a special 200 MB link because we’ll be sending videos to America’, and I can arrange that within a few days. That’s good to have when we have multiple productions on the lot.
Most crew need an extensive phone system?
People still use landlines because they want to be professional and it helps things run smoothly. With a phone system you can overflow to different phones and transfer calls, and with a crew list it’s easy for people to contact each other. The phone system is IP based so there’s virtually no limit – a big production might need 100 to 150 handsets, but we can fit up to 300.
How early in a new production do you get involved?
Before the crew arrives I liaise with the production manager about the IT and communications requirements and I send floor plans of the work areas that they’ll be occupying. They mark out where they require the phones, internet outlets and Wi-Fi access points and I provide a quote. The good thing about production crew from my point of view is they don’t come all at once. For example we have one at the moment with just the line producer, the coordinator and the location manger so this week there are only three people for that production. I can easily manage installations for batches of ten to twenty people but if I need help I can call in contractors. Then as the crew arrives, I train them on the phone handsets and the internet, I set up their printers, and so on.
Do gremlins sometimes interfere with things?
There can always be problems along the way. For example on one production I got a call from a particular department saying their computers kept getting disconnected. So I went over and looked at the network of that particular building to check each connection one by one. Then I noticed one particular computer had no anti-virus software and I discovered it had a virus. So I cleaned the computer, installed anti-virus software and put it back on the network. That took at least an hour to figure out. That sort of thing can happen because productions crews are mainly freelancers who bring their own laptops, although nowadays most new computers come with anti-virus software so it’s becoming less of a problem.
You also run all the IT systems for the studio admin?
I’m in charge of phones and computers in the admin building, and I help maintain the website. I also oversee technology like the CCTV cameras that monitor the external areas and feed data back to a server. And since we became state government owned in 2008 I have to make sure our I.T. systems comply with government standards.
Working behind the scenes, how much of the filmmaking process do you get to see?
Sometimes I get to see productions up close. For example with The Pacific mini-series (2010) we’d see soldiers practicing their marching in the car park. Another one I remember was Where The Wild Things Are (2009) – the costumes and the prosthetics for the monsters were amazing and the sets looked so real. From time to time I catch a glimpse of a big name actor – Kate Winslet (The Dressmaker, 2015) walking to get her costume fitted, or Helen Mirren (Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built, 2018) strolling to the canteen. One time I went to Guy Pearce’s ‘star van’ to help him connect his laptop. It’s great to see how filmmaking works and it makes me look at movies differently when a film’s been shot here.
You’ve seen big changes around here since you started?
In the past the Docklands area had lots of old sheds and it was pretty deserted. Now there’s so much activity and so many food outlets, and soon we’ll have a new supermarket and a cinema complex nearby. I can hardly believe it’s been 13 years since I started. There’s no project- whether it’s a film or TV series, a domestic or international project – that’s the same. I feel really fortunate to be able to see filmmaking as part of my day.
When it comes to car launches, Docklands Studios Melbourne has done some serious name dropping lately.
In December, Jeep unveiled its new range to a select audience in sound stage 2, with a touch of black-curtain glamour and excitement described by one guest as ‘Detroit goes to Hollywood’.
The show-and-tell by leading experiential marketers Dig and Fish included every new Jeep destined for the Australian and New Zealand market in 2018, including the Compass SUV.
Back in October in the same space, Ferrari Australia popped the cork at a black tie cocktail party to showcase its $12-million Aperta, dubbed ‘the most expensive limited edition supercar in the world’.
Melbourne-born, ‘Friend of Ferrari’ supermodel Jarrod Scott was behind the wheel of the Aperta as it roared into the cavernous space, one of a series of celebrations around the world marking Ferrari’s 70th anniversary.
The event was arranged by the local arm of international media production agency, Damn Good Productions.
Australia writer-director twins Michael and Peter Spierig spoke to IF Magazine about their latest film centred on a famous San Jose mansion.
Read More: IF Issue #179-Oct-Nov-2017
The Legend of Ben Hall production designer Das Patterson and property master Steph D’Alessi shared their secrets with students at Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts in August.
In a Master Class on production design on a micro-budget, Das and Steph explained how they recreated 1860’s bush huts, a general store and a hotel for the 2016 bushranger epic.
Dubbed a ‘genius’ by producer Russell Cunningham for his work on the film, Patterson explained the use of time-and-money-saving cheats such as a shipping container, miniature buildings, and rough beams salvaged from timber yards.
During two weeks in a sound stage at Docklands Studios Melbourne, Patterson and D’Alessi dressed 3 main sets into 13 different interiors.
The Master Class was hosted by Docklands Studios Melbourne and the VCA.
Docklands Studios Melbourne has cemented its reputation as THE place to shoot a car TVC – the latest is for Mazda.
Ad producer Studio Pancho chose Docklands Studios as it allowed them to have complete control of the light and illuminate the car like art in a gallery, reflecting the brief by creative agency Grant Day James.
Over 4 days in Sound Stage 3, Studio Pancho filmed several Mazda models under different lighting, while post-production added swooshes of colour and graphics to convey the car maker’s “Art of Value” philosophy.
Other cars ads filmed at Docklands Studios in recent years include Kia, Toyota, Hyundai, Porsche, Volvo, Jeep, BMW, and Ford.
Check out this amazing time-lapse video of the talented crew at Mediatec and Resolution X – you won’t believe how fast they can transform a space.
In just 48 hours they turned Sound Stage 4 into a breathtaking showcase of event technology.
Several hundred guests experienced the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling visual display, complete with the latest in LED screen technology; broadcast, camera and vision control systems; hundreds of lighting fixtures and effects such as a mirror ball wall; and ‘Australia’s largest chandelier’. There was even a conveniently placed chill-out zone for those at risk of sensory overload!
It was the first showcase of its kind for both companies and Docklands Studios Melbourne was integral to its success.
Andrew Skim, Mediatec’s Business Development Manager, said: “The beauty of Docklands Studios is that it’s a vast blank canvas, where you can basically do whatever you like. We needed a large space that offered flexibility in building a production of this size, including easy access for our clients. Also, dealing with an on-site facilities team who are responsive and understand the requirements of productions made Docklands a perfect fit for us.”
Docklands Studios is hoping to host the showcase again next year. In the meantime you can see Mediatec and Resolution X work their magic at various major sporting events, festivals, music, theatre, community and corporate events.
Visitors to Docklands Studios will be familiar with the friendly face of Lisa Barnes. As the security gate attendant, Lisa has seen all types – from starry-eyed TV audiences, to bleary-eyed film crew, as well as a long list of famous actors and producers. Lisa spoke to Bel Tromp about her job.
How long have you worked at Docklands Studios?
I started almost 8 years ago, having worked in customer service in the retail sector. My first stint at Docklands was in the security office for a TV show that was filming here, Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation. Coincidentally that show is on the lot again right now, filming a whole new series, so it’s like déjà vu. Anyway, I love my job – working with the production crew and helping them out and being able to talk to them. I didn’t know much about Docklands Studios before I came here, but now many of my friends are film and TV crew I’ve met here over the years.
Take us through a typical day.
When we’ve got new productions on the lot, my day could start at 7am. I work closely with each production secretary, because they have to authorise to allow each person on site. Earlier this year we had multiple films including Stem and Winchester. I think Stem had 140 people and that’s just the main crew, not extras or actors. Then when Winchester was shooting as well, that was another 120 coming through the gates. With each new visitor I have to make sure they get to the right place on the lot, whether it’s production or costume or somewhere else. I also deal with couriers delivering things like props, costumes, production tapes, payroll forms. Again I direct packages to the right person so they don’t get lost, which can be tricky when a production is spread across several buildings. It’s all pretty full on. We also get a lot of production vehicles coming through the gates, including huge trucks that need to be parked here. But we can always find a way to fit them in as we’ve got plenty of space. I have great back up from Steve and Laz and Rodney* – we’re a good team.
*Steve Wyatt, Security; Laz Tsavdaridis, Facilities Co-ordinator; Rodney Brooks, Facilities Manager.
You must know most of the production secretaries in the industry pretty well?
Yes, and each one is different. For example, one will want to know the minute their talent arrives, and others are more relaxed. Some are a lot stricter about who can and can’t go on site, such as when a crew member brings along a family member. So, I’ve got to chop and change to deal with different styles. That’s why they like it here, because I already know what their style is and I know most of them by now. Every production that comes here has at least a couple of dozen people who’ve been here before.
People say you have a good memory for faces and names?
Yes, I can’t really explain it. Usually I can look at the face and remember the name, but sometimes I just look at the car rego and remember their name!
Another aspect of your job is welcoming members of the public who come to be in a TV audience?
Yes, we could have a couple of movies going while we’re also dealing with audience for shows like The Footy Show and Hot Seat Millionaire. We’ve got to work out who is crew and who is audience, who’s supposed to be there and who’s not, in case the audience try to wander away. I think Hot Seat has 160 and The Footy Show has over 200 and they could be arriving over a short period. On those days I barely get breakfast or lunch! Most people are very excited to be here, and they have no idea what’s going to happen and what they’re going to see. Some people turn up two hours early because they’re scared they’ll be late or stuck in traffic!
At the other end of the scale, you greet A-listers turning up for exclusive events such as car launches or fashion shows?
Yeah, a lot of visitors will come in a hire car, a limo, but for me it doesn’t matter, they’re all treated the same. And when a hire car arrives, I have to actually see who is inside for security reasons because anyone could hire a limo. Sometimes the drivers don’t like it, but it’s my job. I have to be a step ahead, especially when there’s a high-end celebrity on site. I’ve stopped so many people from trying to talk their way in – they try to trick you!
A long list of famous actors have worked here over the years? I know you don’t like to drop names, but you must have some favourites?
Well, when people come through the gates they’re just another crew member on the lot to me. I don’t care if they’re famous or not and I just treat them like anyone else. But one that springs to mind would be Hugh Jackman, who was here to rehearse a stage show, and he stopped every day to ask me how I was going. Another is Ethan Hawke who was shooting Predestination, and later sent his driver around with some cakes to say thank you. Then there’s Shane Jacobson, who always remembers my name, and Shaun Micallef who recently told me: “I was driving in today hoping that you would be here!” He hadn’t been here for a few years so it was good to be acknowledged in that way. Another nice one is Sam Newman from The Footy Show – he’ll run in front of me and open doors!
You’ve had the odd surprise visit?
Yeah, I was here early one morning and I saw a hot-air balloon come in low. I was waiting for it to go up and it never did, it just suddenly hit the ground hard. Luckily the pilot found the perfect landing spot in the car park. I ran over to see if everyone was ok, and I was about to call emergency services, but the people in the balloon were actually quite excited about where they had landed and started taking photos! The pilot told me he had landed in the Yarra River the week before.
Have you seen this part of Melbourne evolve over the years?
Yeah, it’s changed dramatically. When I first started working here at the end of Docklands Drive it was like being in the naughty corner! But now there’s so many buildings going up and there’s lots of greenery and the park nearby, and more people know that we’re here. Before, no one had a reason to be near the studios, whereas now they come past to have lunch in the park. It’s really vibrant and alive.
Inside Film’s Jackie Keast examines why Docklands Studios appeals to smaller productions.
Read More: IF Issue #177 Jun-Jul 2017
Staying true to its goal of supporting emerging filmmakers, Docklands Studios recently welcomed debut writer-director John Fraser and his independently financed Choir Girl.
Shot in black and white, Choir Girl is the story of a lonely photographer obsessed with a teenage prostitute being controlled by an underworld criminal. It stars Peter Flaherty (The Leftovers), Roger Ward (Mad Max), Krista Vendy (Neighbours), Andy McPhee (Ali’s Wedding), Kym Valentine (Neighbours), Jack Campbell (All Saints), and VCA graduate Sarah Timm.
With a budget of around $600,000, Choir Girl made the most of its month-long stint in Sound Stage 4, constructing two main sets of a hotel then converting these into an apartment. Even the overhead gantry and production offices featured in scenes, according to producer Ivan Malekin of Nexus Production Group. “If we were going out and trying to find all these locations we’d be constantly moving and that takes a lot of money and a lot of effort. So being at Docklands actually allowed us to save money. You wouldn’t think so with a massive studio but it made the production more efficient.”
Fraser completed the gritty urban look at various Melbourne landmarks including Pentridge Prison and St Kilda’s Oslo Hotel.
During their time at Docklands the cast and crew of Choir Girl rubbed shoulders with a number of larger productions, including the Spierig Brothers’ Winchester, starring Helen Mirren.
“It adds a certain level of legitimacy and excitement to the production when you’re rolling up to work at Docklands every morning – you get a good energy in the air,” said Malekin.
It’s a long way from a prison cell in Indonesia to Docklands Studios Melbourne. Yet here in a brightly lit sound stage a film crew has been recreating the final days of Myuran Sukumaran, an Australian drug trafficker executed in Indonesia on April 29, 2015.
In an intimate set dwarfed by the vast space, actor Adam McConvell channels a frenetic Sukumaran, painting his final artworks as he awaits the firing squad.
Around the set are tangible connections to Sukumaran – five of his paintings were loaned to the production by his family. Christie Buckingham, Sukumaran’s real life spiritual adviser, represents herself in these final scenes and debut director Matthew Sleeth befriended Sukumaran while running art classes in Bali’s Kerobokan Prison alongside Archibald Prize winner Ben Quilty.
These scenes inside the cells, filmed over five days, are what producer and co-writer Maggie Miles describes as “the soul of the piece”, adding “it was only a dream that we could film at Docklands Studios Melbourne. [CEO Rod Allan] was really supportive and we’re very grateful for his belief in the project”.
These creative scenes will be edited with archival footage of Sukumaran’s case and that of fellow Bali Nine prisoner Andrew Chan, interviews, and footage from a posthumous exhibition of Sukumaran’s work held as part of the Sydney Festival last January at Campbelltown Arts Centre.
The team behind this hybrid film, working title Guilty, hope to engage with people who believe the death penalty is an appropriate punishment. Miles says it comes with a great sense of responsibility. “We’re conscious of handling and managing a story which belongs to others and is incredibly sensitive in many ways.”
Guilty will debut at the Adelaide Film Festival in October.
The team from Guilty includes director and co-writer Matthew Sleeth, producer and co-writer Maggie Miles (The Turning), co-writer Matthew Bate (Shut Up Little Man) and script consultant Andrew Bovell (Lantana). The executive producers are Robert Connolly (Paper Planes) and Rebecca Summerton (Sam Klemke’s Time Machine).
Guilty has been supported by HIVE (a collaboration between Adelaide Film Festival, ABC Arts, Screen Australia, and Australia Council), Good Pitch, Film Victoria, and private investment.
It’s not every day The Fastest Man Alive appears in one of our sound stages.
On this occasion, Usain Bolt came by to shoot an ad campaign for Optus. With the Olympic champion on a tight schedule, the ad makers built a series of bespoke and green and blue screen sets, to move Bolt efficiently through takes.
The series of 5 to 45 second TVC’s by creative agency The Works and production company Emotive, were designed to showcase the Optus 4G Plus network.
With the slogan “Ever Wondered What Life is Like at the Speed of Bolt?”, the campaign taps into the fun side of Bolt’s personality, showing him sprinting as the ground explodes, watching soccer on his phone and dancing to music.
Shot entirely at Docklands Studios, the campaign builds on the telco’s relationship with Bolt who starred in the 2016 “Relentless” campaign.
An Australian film found a unique way to save time and money while shooting at Docklands Studios Melbourne – making some of the sets from cardboard.
Like most indie productions, the sci-fi action feature, The Wheel sought a big look on a limited budget. The challenge was to build a 15-metre-long concrete corridor for the story about a paraplegic inmate who becomes a ‘lab rat’ in a scientific experiment.
The corridor had to match the concrete interior of the Hoppers Crossing Pumping Station outside Melbourne, where other scenes were being filmed. The producers flinched at quotes for building the set with the usual materials such as plywood, steel or cement, and even considered omitting the corridor scenes.
Enter Liam McLachlan – the 20-year-old son of the movie’s Director Dee McLachlan – who knows a thing or two about cardboard. Since age 13, Liam has been obsessed with Boxwars, a hobby where people construct elaborate costumes and props for themed battles in public parks.
Having built armour, weapons and four-wheeled vehicles from cardboard, designing a corridor was all in a day’s fun for Liam. Under the direction of production designer Robert Webb, Liam used an open source computer program called Blender to create a 3D-model where he could place a virtual camera inside the world of the set.
“Everyone was incredibly sceptical that it would ever work. I think we slowly convinced them, and once we did a trial day, which showed them what it would look like, Rob, the designer was instantly sold. He loved it,” Mclachlan said.
The build took less than two weeks, with McLachlan working alongside close friends and fellow Boxwars enthusiasts, Will Burgin Stevenson and Noah Burdekin. A hot glue gun was used to put the panels together. “That stuff is amazing, it dries in about 30 seconds, and it’s cheap!” Scenic artists then came in to complete the concrete bunker effect.
The cardboard is recyclable and surprisingly strong, according to McLachlan. “If you put it vertically it holds a lot of weight as long as you have the correct angle. So every sheet of cardboard is one and a half metres wide and you have four triangle struts at right angles, and the roof sat on top of that.”
Naturally there are limits to the amount of pressure cardboard can withstand. Three other sets for the movie – a board room, a control room and a ‘steel’ room – were built from timber, steel and plywood or a combination of these materials.
The cost of cardboard is a fraction – Liam estimates around one tenth – of other commonly used building materials. Other cost savings were found by shooting at Docklands Studios, according to The Wheel producers Veronica Sive and Silvio Salom. “Regardless of the external conditions, in the stage we could shoot 10 hour days on the various sets. With two cameras rolling on one particular day we managed 88 set ups,” said Sive.
As for the cardboard sets, McLachlan might have just stumbled on a winning business idea. Completing a Bachelor of Science at Melbourne University majoring, not surprisingly, in physics, McLachlan has already been contacted by at least one other screen production, while the producers of The Wheel hope to use his skills in their next movie later this year.
McLachlan concedes The Wheel may not be the first time cardboard have appeared on screen – the long-running TV series Doctor Who comes to mind. But he adds, “some of those sets looked so cheap and obviously made out of cardboard. This is the first time it’s been done well!”
The Wheel is produced by Veronica Sive and Silvio Salom of SunJive Studios and directed by Dee McLachlan (Out of the Shadows, The Jammed). It stars David Arquette (Scream) alongside Jackson Gallagher (Patrick, Home and Away) and Kendal Rae (Out of the Shadows, The Shannara Chronicles).
It tells the story of a paraplegic inmate (Jackson’s Matt Mills) forced to take part in a scientific experiment that will give him use of his legs. Dr Emmett Snyder (Arquette) along with Dr Allison Turner (Rae) push Mills to breaking point, as he fights off a succession of assailants, mysteriously becoming stronger.
You can see more of Liam McLachlan’s work at: https://pictank.wixsite.com/mysite-1
“A little bit weird and a little bit different” is how showrunner Damon Lindelof describes Melbourne.
Fairfax film writer Karl Quinn talks to Berlin Syndrome director Cate Shortland about piecing together a film shot on opposites sides of the globe.
We’ve started the year on a high note, with all five sounds stages fully booked.
Among the productions is The Wheel, directed by Melbourne filmmaker Dee McLachlan (The Jammed) and featuring Hollywood actor David Arquette, who starred in the 1990’s Scream franchise.
Arquette joins Victorian actors Jackson Gallagher (Home and Away) and Kendal Rae (Out of the Shadows) in the independently financed feature set in the near future where prisoners are the subjects of scientific experiments.
Producer Silvio Salom said “The Wheel is the first of a slate of films that SunJive Studios is embarking on in a privately funded business model aimed at creating a sustainable flow of productions in Victoria. Docklands Studios has been extremely accommodating allowing us to create a film look that is many times the actual budget”.
Victoria’s Minister for Creative Industries, Martin Foley, visited the set of The Wheel on April 6, declaring that the production boom was “a sign of the strength, and diversity, of Victoria’s screen sector”.
Also on the lot, another local project, Choir Girl is underway. The low budget thriller, starring former Neighbours regulars Krista Vendy and Kym Valentine, tells the story of a lonely photographer who becomes obsessed with a 15 year old girl.
And a feature length documentary Guilty, has taken over a sound stage for a two week shoot. The film marks the directorial debut of Melbourne artist Matthew Sleeth and details the final 72 hours in the life of Myuran Sukamaran of the ‘Bali Nine’.
Other sound stages are occupied by Winchester and Channel Nine’s live audience programs, The AFL Footy Show and Millionaire Hot Seat.
Anthony Galloway, State Political Reporter for the Herald Sun joined Victoria’s Minister for Creative Industries, Martin Foley on a visit to our sound stages.
Victoria’s scenic landscapes and some Melbourne landmarks will flash across U.S. screens in April, when HBO launches the third season of The Leftovers.
With leading character Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) at large in Australia for this final series, the official trailer provides glimpses of Victoria’s vast open spaces, the red dirt roads of the outback, and Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay with the iconic West Gate Bridge in the background.
The city’s trademark graffiti lane ways and 19th century State Library reading room are part of the backdrop as Garvey deals with impending doom foretold by the words “13 days to go” written in the sky.
The Leftovers, co-created by Damon Lindelof (Lost), tells of those left behind after the Sudden Disappearance of two per cent of the world’s population.
Series one and two were filmed in New York and Texas respectively, with the producers choosing Victoria for the final eight episodes which shift the story to Australia. The series used Docklands Studios sound stages, construction workshop and various production offices during a three month stay in 2016.
The Leftovers will screen on HBO on April 16 and Foxtel Australia on April 20.
Ahead of the release of director Cate Shortland’s stylish new psychological thriller, here’s a peek inside the Docklands Studios set of the Berlin apartment where much of the action takes place.
Berlin Syndrome movie poster (Source: Entertainment One Films ANZ)
A team led by production designer Melinda Doring created the apartment where Andi (Max Riemelt) keeps Clare (Teresa Palmer) captive over several months after they meet on the streets of Berlin.
The designers matched these interiors, as well as a specially built facade, with exteriors of a real Berlin apartment block that Doring and Shortland identified on an earlier visit to the German city. Filming was split between Berlin and Melbourne during 2015.
Doring’s team, which included Stephen Speth in Berlin and Janie Parker in Melbourne, captured the look and feel of a rundown East Berlin apartment block, right down to light fixtures brought in from Berlin and details on the small, double glazed windows that help keep Clare imprisoned.
Festival screenings at Sundance, Berlin and Glasgow indicate the film, produced by Polly Staniford, is set to be a hit with both audiences and critics.
The sets have already garnered one gong – the Docklands Studios Best Set Trophy for 2015!
Berlin Syndrome is scheduled for worldwide theatrical release in April.
(Photo credits: Ben King with kind permission from Aquarius Films)
We’re thrilled to have Helen Mirren working her Academy Award winning magic in our sound stages.
It was announced on March 15 that principal photography had commenced on the supernatural thriller Winchester, in which Mirren plays the starring role.
Mirren plays firearm heiress Sarah Winchester, who was convinced she was haunted by the souls killed at the hands of the Winchester repeating rifle.
Alongside Mirren, who won an Oscar for The Queen, the film stars Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Zero Dark Thirty), Sarah Snook (The Dressmaker, The Glass Castle), and Angus Sampson (Insidious, Fargo).
Producer Tim McGahan (Blacklab Entertainment) and writer-director twins Michael and Peter Spierig are on a return visit to Docklands Studios Melbourne – they were here in 2013 making the Ethan Hawke thriller, Predestination.
Winchester will shoot later in the year on location at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California.
You never know where a chance encounter will lead you in life – just ask Ross Murdoch. Back in 2000 he was a house carpenter having a quiet drink in a pub when he struck up a conversation with a stranger, who happened to be a set painter on a popular kids’ TV series, Saddle Club. Murdoch went away with the phone number of the series’ art director and within days found himself on set building horse stables.
Fast forward to 2017 and Murdoch is one of the busiest construction managers in Victoria’s film industry. He’s in charge of sets for the new sci-fi thriller Stem, by writer-director Leigh Whannell, who’s back home in Melbourne after a big splash in Hollywood with Insidious and Saw.
In the cavernous workshop at Docklands Studios – a former maintenance depot for the Port of Melbourne – Murdoch leads a 25-strong crew creating a world in the near future where technology controls almost everything. Stem is the story of a paralyzed technophobe using an experimental computer chip to avenge his wife’s murder.
As trucks rumble in with building materials and machinery, Murdoch pauses to reflect on a career spanning two dozen film and TV productions, building sets or heading construction. Highlights include an elaborate old London street scene for the Gold Coast shoot of Peter Pan (2003) and a dilapidated Mexican church for the Docklands shoot of Ghost Rider (2007). For the West Australian shoot of Red Dog: True Blue (2016), Murdoch created an underground cave filled with water. On a tight budget and a fast turnaround his team sculpted the cave from concrete in Perth and trucked it in sections to the filming location where it was sealed and filled with water.
Murdoch’s longest project was the $200 million blockbuster The Pacific (2007-08), at the time the most expensive mini-series ever made. As second in charge of construction, Murdoch spent six months in tropical far north Queensland crafting bloody battle scenes from World War Two. Then came five months based at Docklands Studios, including the re-creation of 1940’s Melbourne in the city’s CBD for the dramatic re-enactment of US troops arriving in town.
Along the way, he had a stint on the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta, running a fleet of 80 trucks transporting crew and equipment for the ambitious World War Z (2013) – a job he rates as his most stressful to date.
“Murdoch seems to thrive on tight timelines and budgets, along with the pattern of working feverishly for weeks on end.”
Over the years, Murdoch’s steady-as-a-rock persona has served him well in the high-pressure world of film – 12 to 13 hour days crafting sets, adding finishing touches as the cast and crew move in, while making every dollar count. “When we start a shoot, I’ll discuss ideas with the art department and they’ll get their people to start drawing things up. That’s when I start costing things, trying to justify each expense to the art director.”
These days Murdoch spends most of his time in his hometown Melbourne, and has been a familiar face at Docklands since it opened in 2004, on productions such as Where The Wild Things Are (2009), Predestination (2014) and Childhood’s End (2015). As sets take shape in the workshop, Murdoch has created a family atmosphere among the tight knit crew. His wife, Jess Rogers, coordinates travel and transport while their Blue Heeler, Zissou, greets visitors with a friendly lick.
Murdoch seems to thrive on tight timelines and budgets, along with the pattern of working feverishly for weeks on end interspersed with down time. With the Stem shoot close to wrapping up, he and Jess are looking to grab a quick break before the next project comes along. In April, he’ll be keeping an eye on the small screen for the launch of Season 3 of The Leftovers. Murdoch was construction manager on the acclaimed mini-series, shot at Docklands Studios and around Melbourne during 2016.
Bringing filmmakers’ visions to life is an unexpected career path for a bloke who used to knock together house frames. So, what about the guy he met in the pub all those years ago? Well, fate has brought them back together, making sets for Stem. “If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably still be building kitchens,” Murdoch laughs.
(Staff writer Belinda Tromp spoke to Ross Murdoch in March 2016)
Fairfax Media reports that the Australian film industry has started 2017 on a high.
“Saw” co-creator Leigh Whannell returns home for his latest production, as Fairfax Media looks back on his brilliant career.
Docklands Studios Melbourne continues to attract high profile productions with the December 15 public announcement of writer-director Leigh Whannell’s new sci-fi thriller Stem.
Creating around 200 jobs and injecting millions into Victoria’s economy, Stem is in pre-production at Docklands and was brought here through Film Victoria’s production incentive fund. Starring Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus, Spider-Man: Homecoming), Stem will be made in association with Goalpost Pictures Australia and Blumhouse Productions.
Docklands Studios CEO Rod Allan says Stem enhances the international reputation of the studios, with Helen Mirren’s new thriller Winchester also to start pre-production and HBO’s The Leftovers wrapping up filming in September. “We’re delighted that influential film-makers like Leigh Whannell, along with Goalpost and Blumhouse, recognise the world-class facilities we have at Docklands.”
Whannell says “It is not only hugely exciting for me to be making Stem but to be doing it in Australia makes it extra special, utilizing the incredibly talented artists we have here to realize the film with me. And to be shooting this science fiction film on the streets of my beloved hometown of Melbourne is a dream come true for me.”
Stem will start filming in early 2017 and centres on a technophobe who avenges his wife’s murder with the help of an experimental computer chip called Stem.
Award-winning production company FINCH took over Sound Stage 4 for two days to shoot a new anti-speeding campaign on behalf of Clemenger BBDO for Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission.
A number of crashed cars were placed inside an arc of street lamps to depict what happens when a car runs into boy on a bike – seven different scenarios at seven different speeds.
FINCH Producer Kate Merrin says Docklands is the only space in Melbourne large enough to accommodate the cars in light-locked space.
45 crew worked on the shoot which was seamlessly stitched together with computer generated elements.
There was magic in the air at Docklands Studios in November as many of the world’s top circus acts performed together for the very first time.
Circus 1903 includes acts from all corners of the world – including acrobats from Ukraine, a high wire act from Mexico, a knife thrower from Brazil and jugglers from France.
The biggest drawcard is two live elephants. Well not actually live, but close enough to the real thing – mother and baby puppets created by the award-winning team behind War Horse.
Two weeks in a Docklands sound stage gave the 60 performers the chance to rehearse Circus 1903 from scratch.
Executive Producer, Andrew Spencer says using Docklands Studios was a ‘no-brainer’ because it was the only place he could find in Australia that was both high enough for the 12-metre circus truss and close to cafes where cast and crew could have a break.
“We divided the sound stage in half using a humungous black curtain, with one side as a rehearsal space and the other side was where the set was built.”
The set was assembled around an old-style circus wagon shipped from Brazil with additional scenic props and soft furnishings made in Docklands Studios’ workshops.
“Not only were we rehearsing, but we were also running a scenic studio, and a wardrobe space to fit costumes. Music was being composed in the venue as well — our composer came from the UK for three weeks and sat in one of the rooms adapting the music to how the show was evolving”, Spencer says.
Circus 1903 bills itself as a turn of the century circus spectacular and comes from the producers of the ‘biggest selling magic show’ The Illusionist and puppeteers from London’s Significant Object.
The show is touring Australia from December through January before heading to the United States.
When you’ve been around the Melbourne screen industry for as long as Vanessa Cerne then Docklands Studios feels like a second home.
Cerne’s talents as a set decorator can be seen in more than half a dozen filmed-at-Docklands productions, including Predestination (2014), Partisan (2015), The King’s Daughter (2017), Childhood’s End (2015) and The Leftovers (2017). Now Cerne’s back on the lot, this time for the supernatural thriller, Winchester.
Cerne’s brief is to bring to life the interiors and exteriors of the mansion built by firearm heiress Sarah Winchester in San Jose from 1884, following the deaths of her daughter and husband. Helen Mirren will play Winchester, a woman who believed she’d been cursed by the spirits of all those killed by Winchester rifles over the years. Winchester thought she’d be able to appease the spirits by adding more rooms to the mansion, and by the time she died in 1922 the house had 160 rooms, 2,000 doors and 10,000 windows.
These days the ‘Winchester Mystery House’ is a popular tourist attraction in San Jose and will be used for some of the exterior shots. Recreating and imagining the interiors is no mean feat – the mansion’s rooms were completely stripped when Winchester died and little trace is left of the original contents. Cerne is researching images in books and online relating to the Winchester mansion that was built in the Queen Anne style and is renowned for its architectural curiosities.
Fresh from the successful HBO series The Leftovers, Cerne is on a roll. For the shoot on Winchester, Cerne is working with production designer Matt Putland, writer-directors Michael and Peter Spierig and other art department personnel that also worked on Predestination. “It feels a bit like getting the band back together”, jokes Cerne.
Cerne, who won an Australian Production Design Guild Award for Set Decoration for her work on Predestination and Partisan, thrives on collaboration. “After establishing an overall visual style with the designer, my team and I revel in transforming the blank canvas of a set. With specific details, I’m able to create an authentic environment revealing more about who the character is and the worlds they inhabit.”
Produced by Blacklab Entertainment’s Tim McGahan and Imagination Design Works’ Brett Tomberlin, Winchester starts an eight week pre-production in January 2017 with shooting to begin in March.
Hollywood producer Eugene Kelly – a long-time fan of Docklands Studios – sat down with Fairfax business reporter Lucy Battersby to explain the appeal of working in Melbourne.
As the new bushranger epic, The Legend of Ben Hall continues its tour of Australia, the movie’s producer explains how he stayed on top of a tight schedule and budget.
From the first production meetings for The Legend of Ben Hall producer Russell Cunningham knew one thing for sure: “We needed a sound stage to save time and money.”
While director Matthew Holmes had had little experience with sound stages, Cunningham saw the advantages. “I wanted a roof over our heads so we weren’t bound to the weather and didn’t have to hire expensive facilities like toilets, electricity or water. I couldn’t bear not knowing if it was going to rain or not, or worrying about getting sets from one place to another on the back of a truck”, Cunningham says.
With this in mind he knocked on the door of Docklands CEO, Rod Allan who, according to Cunningham, was “flexible, accommodating and keen to support Holmes as an emerging director”.
What Holmes managed to do in just two weeks at Docklands was to capture almost all the indoor scenes for the movie. One key scene was set was in the tiny town of Binda in the New South Wales Southern Highlands. It was here on December 26th, 1864 that Hall and his gang held the entire township captive at the Boxing Day ball in the local hotel.
The sprawling set of the Binda Ball was a hive of activity over two and a half days of shooting. Extras rehearsed colonial style dances while teams of wardrobe, hair and makeup staff worked their magic. The set itself was constructed at Docklands to recreate the feel of an 1860s hotel, complete with wooden dance floor.
To get through the Binda Ball scene quickly and efficiently, Holmes decided not to shoot the sequence shot by shot. Instead, he had two cameras covering every scene at all times, with the sizeable cast performing in long takes of up to two or three minutes. The resulting sequence came together smoothly in the edit suite and is one of the movie’s most dramatic.
Another way the Ben Hall crew made the most of every dollar was designing sets that could be reconfigured to create different interiors. One particular hut was redressed by the Art Department in seven ways.
The Docklands Studios sound stage was used for two of the eleven weeks of shooting, a decision that Cunningham says kept stress levels in check. “Having the costumes, make up, wardrobe right there, we couldn’t have done it without that. Thank God we had toilets and kitchens and so on – you don’t get that luxury on location!”
Production days at Docklands were a contrast to the shooting of outdoor scenes in rural Victoria and New South Wales, where cast and crew faced extreme weather. One outdoor scene for the Binda Ball was shot in sub-zero temperatures after midnight with actors in thin costumes for a summer evening in December.
The Legend of Ben Hall is the story of the last months of Hall’s lengthy criminal career. His life has been unravelling since his wife Biddy ran off with his friend Jim Taylor, taking Hall’s 3-year-old son, Henry. Ben Hall is played by Sydney actor Jack Martin who appears to bears a strong resemblance to the bushranger.
American-born Cunningham – a long-time fan of Westerns – is confident The Legend of Ben Hall will have broad appeal. “Australia is a tough market, you can’t just focus on the domestic audience. You need international appeal and this movie has that already.”
On the prospect of bringing future projects to Docklands Studios, Cunningham is unequivocal. “One thousand per cent we’d love to come back to Docklands. No, make that two thousand percent, or three thousand!”
The producers of HBO’s critically acclaimed The Leftovers did not have far to look for a leading art director when they shifted production of the series to Melbourne’s Docklands Studios this year.
With an impressive list of film and TV credits including The Railway Man, Lion, Tracks, The Sapphires and The Slap, Melbourne’s Janie Parker was an obvious choice to lead an art department of around 60, with all but one drawn from the city’s large pool of creative talent.
The Leftovers tells the story of a world where two per cent of the population has inexplicably vanished, seen through the eyes of two families dealing with the aftermath. It was co-created by Damon Lindelof, Emmy winner for Lost, and Academy Award nominated writer Tom Perrotta.
While viewers have to wait until 2017 to see how this third series takes The Leftovers story from Texas to Australia, it’s already clear that Victoria’s vast landscape will be heavily showcased.
Featured locations include the wide vistas just west of Melbourne, the city’s expansive Port Phillip Bay and picturesque green landscapes. Additional filming took place at Docklands Studios where sets and props were also constructed.
“One of the challenges with a TV series like The Leftovers was the fast turnaround of sets built both in studio and on location compared with some feature films which have longer pre-production times”, Parker says. “The layout of Docklands Studios was perfect for us. Our art department design hub was upstairs so I could run down to see progress on the sets and props, or check in with the costume department or production office also located on the lot. And the amount of parking so close to the city is a big bonus for saving time.”
New York based Production Designer John Paino (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) created a different look and feel to the first season of The Leftovers with a new colour palette and design style. Parker set about marrying Paino’s preferred use of vivid colour with the typical bleached look produced by Australia’s sometimes harsh natural light.
Paino’s detailed mood boards were a vital reference point to introduce the style to the art team, along with gathered images from magazines, books and the internet. Even Australian landscape painters Tom Roberts and Albert Namatjira served as inspiration for the look of The Leftovers.
With the series now in post-production, Parker has handed over the design bibles to leading Melbourne VFX studio Iloura to ensure the visual effects blend seamlessly with the physical space depicted on screen.
Production took place in and around Docklands Studios Melbourne over 21 weeks from May 2016, with a cast led by Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman and Liv Tyler.
The Leftovers series 3 is due for release in 2017.
CEO, Rod Allan, took to the stage in Sydney recently to honour the work of creative artists in stage and screen at the annual Australian Production Design Guild Awards.
Allan presented the Docklands Studios Melbourne Award for Production Design for a Feature Film to Jonathon Oxlade for Girl Asleep.
The Docklands Studios Melbourne Award for Set Decoration for a Feature Film went to Lisa Thompson for The Dressmaker.
The Dressmaker, starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth, was filmed at Docklands Studios in 2014 before going on to become one of the highest-grossing Australian films of all time.
Docklands Studios is a principal sponsor of the event, which recognises creative artists in stage and screen.
A total of 24 awards were announced at the event at NIDA on November 7, capping off a year of great celebration for Australia’s creative talent with successes at the Oscars, BAFTAs and Emmys.
Docklands Studios Melbourne has resembled a giant house party of late during filming of the popular Big Music Quiz.
The mad-cap musical extravaganza sees two teams of celebrities showing off their knowledge of music trivia.
A roll call of Aussie stars, including Hollywood funny girl Rebel Wilson, Eurovision runner up Dami Im, and Olympic gold medallist Giaan Rooney were tested on their recall of well-known songs and artists.
Along the way they burst into song and dance along with the large, exuberant studio audience, egged on by host Darren McMullen.
The Big Music Quiz, produced by Endemol Shine Australia, screened on Channel Seven during August to October.
The third and final season of star-studded HBO drama series The Leftovers is getting ready to shoot at Docklands Studios Melbourne.
Created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers explores a world in shock (and the lives that are changed forever) when 140 million people inexplicably vanish. In the second series, the show expanded on the original concept of The Rapture that was explored in Perrotta’s bestselling novel of the same name, while the third series moves the action to Australia.
Set construction has begun in the studio workshop and the production has booked two sound stages on the studio lot.
The Leftovers Season Three cast includes Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, Amy Brenneman, Kevin Carroll, Christopher Eccleston, Scott Glenn, Lindsay Duncan, Regina King, Jovan Adepo, Janel Moloney, Margaret Qualley, Jasmin Savoy-Brown, Liv Tyler, and Chris Zylka.
Docklands Studios Melbourne is delighted to welcome back HBO and Warner Bros. – both of whom have used the studio before, Warner Bros. on Where the Wild Things Are, and HBO on The Pacific.
The Leftovers is produced for HBO by White Rabbit in association with Warner Bros. Television; created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta; executive produced by Lindelof, Perrotta, Mimi Leder, Tom Spezialy, Gene Kelly, Peter Berg and Sarah Aubrey. Lindelof serves as showrunner.
START YOUR ENGINES
Docklands Studios Melbourne has been attracting plenty of traffic of late … in car commercials!
Ford, Jeep, Mazda and Nissan have all been on the Lot in recent weeks shooting new television commercials.
In March, Renault chose to unveil its bold new Formula One racing colours at the studio ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.
THE DRESSMAKER HAS DESIGNS ON THE US
Following on from its highly successful run in Australian cinemas The Dressmaker is now cutting a swathe through cinemas and film festivals across Europe, Asia and South America. Amazon Studios will release the film in the US on 300 screens on September 23.
Produced by Sue Maslin and written and directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, from a book by Australian author Rosalie Ham, and with a top-notch local and international cast led by Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving and Liam Hemsworth, The Dressmaker is a film made by women for women, delighting audiences at home and abroad, winning awards and critical acclaim. The Dressmaker was shot at Docklands Studios Melbourne and on location in Victoria in late 2014.
More recently, Docklands Studios Melbourne welcomed two other feature films produced by women. Berlin Syndrome produced by Polly Staniford of Aquarius Films and directed by Cate Shortland, stars Teresa Palmer and Max Riemelt, in one of the most anticipated Australian films this year.
A psychological thriller about a holiday romance that takes an unexpected and sinister turn when an Australian photographer wakes one morning in a Berlin apartment and is unable to leave, Berlin Syndrome was shot on specially created sets at Docklands Studios Melbourne and on location in Germany.
Aquarius Films’ Angie Fielder also used Docklands Studios Melbourne as its production base for Lion, the eagerly awaited debut film from Top of The Lake director Garth Davis, written by Luke Davies (Candy) and starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara and David Wenham.
After a wrong train takes a five-year-old Indian boy thousands of kilometres from home and family, he survives many challenges before being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years later, armed with only the scantest of clues, he learns of a new technology called Google Earth and sets out to find his lost family.
Lion is slated for release in the US on November 25 and January 19, 2017 in Australia. Aquarius is producing in association with Academy Award-winners See-Saw Films (producers of The King’s Speech).
Economist and strategy expert David Hanna has joined the team of Docklands Studios Melbourne as the new Chair of the Board.
Currently the Director of Business Strategy at Monash University, Mr Hanna has more than thirty years’ experience in the public sector in Victoria and Canberra. He has also lived and worked in many parts of Asia.
He has a strong connection to film and has been a longstanding committee member for Film Victoria’s Production Incentive Attraction Fund – which provides government grants to attract productions to Victoria. He is also a member of the Course Advisory Committee for the VCA’s School of Film and Television.
Prior to his Monash appointment, Mr Hanna held a variety of senior management positions in the Victorian and Australian Governments with a focus on economic development, international policy, trade and innovation.
Docklands Studios Melbourne welcomes David Hanna to his new role and thanks outgoing Chair Elizabeth Eldridge for her tireless work and leadership over the last eight years.
It has welcomed Hollywood heavyweights, dressmakers and penguin wranglers – and now economist and strategy expert David Hanna will join the team of Docklands Studios Melbourne as the new Chair of the Board.
Announcing the appointment today, Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley said Mr Hanna’s high level strategic and international experience will put him in good stead to lead the next stage of growth for the publicly-owned studio facility.
Currently the Director of Business Strategy at Monash University, Mr Hanna has more than 30 years’ experience in the public sector in Victoria and Canberra. He has also lived and worked in many parts of Asia.
He has a strong connection to film and has been a longstanding committee member for Film Victoria’s Production Incentive Attraction Fund – which provides government grants to attract productions to Victoria. He is also a member of the Course Advisory Committee for the VCA’s School of Film and Television.
Prior to his Monash appointment, Mr Hanna held a variety of senior management positions in the Victorian and Australian Governments with a focus on economic development, international policy, trade and innovation.
Since opening in 2004, Docklands Studios Melbourne has hosted local and international productions that have brought more than $800 million into the Victorian economy.
In recent years, its five sound stages have hosted a mix of domestic and international productions including the hit Australian film The Dressmaker, the NBC Universal mini-series Childhood’s End and the Nine Network’s Millionaire Hot Seat and The Footy Show.
Mr Hanna will take over the role from former senior executive Elizabeth Eldridge, who has served as Chair since the Victorian Government took ownership of the studios in 2008. Ms Eldridge steered the studios through a critical transition, helping to raise their domestic and international profile.
The Board of Directors also includes public relations and marketing executive Ann Fletcher-Nicholls and former Melbourne Lord Mayor, and Melbourne International Film Festival Chair, Desmond Clark.
Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley said, “Productions filmed at the Docklands Studios generate jobs and skills for local screen workers and bring flow-on benefits for local businesses in construction, catering, transport and tourism.”
“David comes to the role with a wealth of experience and a passion for film and I look forward to working with him as we take Docklands Studios Melbourne into the next era.”
Incoming Docklands Studios Melbourne Chair David Hanna said, “I’m delighted to be taking on this role at what is an exciting time for local film and television production.”
“Docklands Studios Melbourne is a vital part of our screen industry here in Victoria with a great team running it and a strong slate of productions in the pipeline for the year ahead.”
Docklands Studios Melbourne thanks outgoing Chair Elizabeth Eldridge for her tireless work and leadership.
DSM welcomed French car manufacturer Renault, who chose to unveil their striking new Formula One racing colours at DSM ahead of the Australian Grand Prix last weekend.
On hand for the yellow carpet launch were champion drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer, and Australian pro surfer Ellie-Jean Coffey.
The very next day, the champions of the AFL were on site for the launch of the 2016 Toyota AFL Premiership Season which was broadcast on FOX FOOTY.
But it wasn’t all sport. ABC TV’s must-see national debate program Q&A was broadcast from its newly designed set here at DSM.
Host Tony Jones was joined by Daniel Andrews, Premier of Victoria; Jacqui Lambie, Independent Senator for Tasmania; Josh Frydenberg, Minister for Resources and Energy; Clementine Ford, Fairfax columnist and feminist speaker; and Elizabeth Proust, Businesswoman and Chair, Bank of Melbourne.
Now in its second year, the Docklands Studios Melbourne ‘Best Set Trophy’ for 2015 has been awarded to Production Designer Melinda Doring for the ‘Apartment 402’ set for Berlin Syndrome.
The in-house award, judged by DSM staff, is given in recognition of a studio set that demonstrates innovative art direction with fine craftsmanship while overcoming any inherent complexities within the storytelling.
Berlin Syndrome (due for release later this year) is a psychological thriller from the book of the same name by Melanie Joosten. It was filmed at Docklands Studios late last year, following a period of on-location shooting in the German capital.
The themes of intimacy, captivity and obsession are explored when Clare, a young Australian woman holidaying in Berlin, meets handsome and charismatic local man, Andi. What begins as a holiday romance turns into a nightmare as Clare becomes a prisoner in Andi’s apartment … and he has no intention of letting her go.
As most of the plot takes place inside ‘Apartment 402’, Melinda Doring was faced with the intricate and complex task to recreate the distinct ambience of a European apartment, matching it with the exterior shots filmed in Berlin. Everything from windows to light switches formed part of a meticulous challenge.
The engraved trophy was presented to the film’s Art Director Janie Parker on 1 February.
The 2014 ‘Best Set Trophy’ was awarded to Michelle McGahy for her ‘Underground Cavern’ set for The Moon and the Sun.