Entertainment The show must go on! Film and television productions find a way through COVID nightmare
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The show must go on! Film and television productions find a way through COVID nightmare

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While more than 15 million Australians are only leaving home for five reasons due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19 across the eastern seaboard, casts and crews on feature films and TV productions continue to work on location under strict conditions.

As an example, the NSW Government’s Public Health Orders state “people can go to work to perform a duty they cannot do from home, or which cannot be postponed – and this applies to the screen production sector”.

Film and television production houses must be able to produce their own “bespoke” COVID-Safe Plan “fit for their circumstances” and if they do, its full steam ahead.

And so it was with a great sense of delight and distraction for the sleepy coastal town of Kiama on the NSW south coast over the past 10 days that they spotted a fancy helicopter, and word that Master and Commander Russell Crowe was out and about.

Crowe confirmed his touchdown on August 9, posting on social media “Shooting in Kiama. What a beautiful place”.

Crowe is on location to shoot Poker Face, a film in which he plays a tech billionaire who gathers his friends in his Miami mansion for a high stakes game of poker. Hunger Games‘ Liam Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky, wife of brother Chris Hemsworth also star.

Crowe has posted photos of cliff-tops and showed us quick videos of an isolated beach at sunrise, shear rock faces, crashing waves. Idyllic.

And while the big-budget production has ruffled a few feathers – Kiama MP Gareth Ward vented his frustrations on August 11 saying it “made a mockery” of the public health orders – the locals are loving it.

“People can’t see family and friends, funerals are limited to 10, no cases in Shellharbour but still locked down, but apparently A-listers producing movies is essential,” Mr Ward said.

On August 14, Crowe, of Gladiator fame, fired back in no uncertain terms, stressing that as much as he’d love to have beers with locals at the bowling club and pub, he can’t.

“We are here working … in a strict Covid bubble. We get tested 3 times a week and have been for the past 2 months.

“The guidelines of our Covid bubble prevent us from getting out and about in the community, so I’m just going to have to admire you all from afar for now.

“This coastline is awesome and the locals I have met that are working on the film are lovely people. Thanks for the welcome,” he wrote.

Cathy Law, editor and publisher of Kiama’s only local newspaper, The Bugle, told The New Daily the celebrity influx has been “a welcome boost for local accommodation and hospitality providers”.

“So many of our businesses rely on people visiting our area … the promotion of our area through the film will also be good for businesses in the future.

“They wouldn’t be down here if they didn’t have the necessary approvals. The whole entertainment industry has suffered greatly during the pandemic, and I am sure they are working to the strictest protocols to ensure that they can continue to work at this time,” Ms Law said.

Regional NSW was plunged into a snap seven-day lockdown on August 14.

She said it wasn’t the first time a big production had come to Kiama, saying Elisabeth Moss filmed The Invisible Man in a different nearby cliff top mansion and Disney star Debby Ryan was on location to film Rip Tide on a dairy farm in 2016.

dovecote
The $5 million clifftop mansion ‘The Headland’ at Dovecote is on 150 acres of oceanfront farmland overlooking Werri Beach just south of Kiama. Photo: AirBNB

Lights, camera, action!

There are currently 11 feature films and drama series in production or post-production besides Arclight’s Poker Face, including Netflix’s Pieces of Her with Toni Colette (filmed in the US and Sydney with some COVID-related production delays), Made Up Stories’ Wolf Like Me with Josh Gad and Isla Fisher and Marvel’s Thor: Love and Thunder with Chris Hemsworth.

George Miller’s big-budget Max Max prequel Furiosa will also be filming in NSW in the coming months.

Black Swan star Natalie Portman was planning to stay in Australia to star in a second movie, Days of Abandonment, slated for filming on location in NSW after arriving last September to film Thor.

However, If Magazine reported Portman unexpectedly withdrew from the project for personal reasons.

Other international productions include Joe Exotic, Ticket to Paradise and Irreverent.

Funding for the film industry in Australia
Julia Roberts, Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman have all been filming projects in Australia in the past 12 months. Photo: TND

Shows in post-production include Miller’s 3000 Years of Longing with Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton, Netflix’s Interceptor with Elsa Pataky, Goalpost Picture’s Carmen with Paul Mescal and Rossy de Palma and Stan/Peacock and Made up Stories’ Roar for Apple+ with Nicole Kidman.

And if that’s not enough to keep the film industry going, there are four Australian films recently completed that will feature at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival 2021 (TIFF), held next month from September 9.

On top of the list is Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, starring Benedict Cumberbatch based on the 1967 novel about two wealthy brothers and ranchers from Montana.

Campion has echoed the sentiment of every movie-maker and actor this past 18 months, saying “The Power of the Dog is a film of the pandemic”.

“In March 2020 our production was shut down. We were unsure if that was it, the film was over and we would never be finished. When we did get back up we were freshly aware of the gift of our project and all of us poured our heart and souls into the film.

Adds Ms Law: “If construction can keep operating, so can the film industry”.