Repeat business is a stamp of approval in any context. The number of productions made in Australia under the Universal brand continues to grow and Marvel Studios is eager to return after making three blockbusters in five years. Sandy George reports.

“Everyone I talk to is thinking about Australia,” says John K Corser of Universal Content Productions (UCP). “It is on our radar as one of the top few places to look at around the world alongside the UK, Ireland, Hungary, Canada and Atlanta in the US. It is in the mix as a serious contender for the work.”

Corser carefully considered five countries for the Apple TV+ mini-series Metropolis, inspired by the visionary 1927 German science fiction film of the same name. He says Australia usually scores highly on the standard checklist covering purpose-built stages, crew experienced in high-end US production, financial incentives, high-quality VFX and suitable locations. In the case of Metropolis, his modelling enabled him to show the producers how much more money would be available to make the series in real terms - “a few hundred thousand dollars more per episode makes a big difference” - but it was the support for the show's virtual production ambitions from the Federal and Victorian Governments that “tipped the scales immensely”.

The driving force behind the show, Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot, Homecoming), operates under the UCP umbrella. UCP is part of the Universal Studio Group (USG), which is under the NBCUniversal banner.

Metropolis will be the latest in a long line of television projects made recently in Australia by USG and its local affiliate Matchbox Pictures. Others include Clickbait and Irreverent (Universal International Studios), two series of La Brea and Young Rock (Universal Television), and Joe vs Carole (UCP). Their feature film stable mates include Ticket to Paradise, the Woody Woodpecker sequel and, currently, The Fall Guy.


Metropolis received a Location Incentive grant and plans to claim a tax rebate under the Location Offset. These two Federal Government offerings are likely to add up to 30% of most of the Australian production expenditure. In addition, the Victorian Government is providing an incentive.

But it was the bespoke aspects of the deal that secured the show, namely the Victorian Government's support of the cost of the virtual production infrastructure being built at Docklands Studios Melbourne and the Federal Government's support of a ramping up of skills development in this leading-edge technology.

One of the two LED volumes being constructed will be permanent and it will be the biggest and technologically the best in the world, Corser says. This legacy of Metropolis will add to Australia's global competitiveness. As UCP's Senior Vice President of Production and Production Technology, Corser is constantly rethinking how shows get made. The virtual production space delivers 3D photo-real environments for the actors to perform in front of. No longer is it always necessary to go on location. And think of the convenience and control: magic hour available 24/7.

The 160-day shoot for Metropolis begins in April 2023 on five of Docklands' six stages. Corser expects at least 2,500 people to be on the payroll and probably 20 - not counting cast - to be from abroad.

That said, there's been a positive shift in attitude from cast towards Australia: “A lot of cast have gone to Sydney, the Gold Coast and Melbourne for big shows and they like it. Not a lot (of very major productions) have been shot in other places in Australia so there's still an opportunity or a challenge - whatever you want to call it - for those places to get known and for producers and cast to get comfortable with them.”

Up to 60% of the extensive VFX work is likely to be undertaken locally.

Another factor behind USG returning often is the presence of Matchbox Pictures, which Corser describes as being “as good as any production company in the world”.


Some of the biggest names in screen entertainment continually back Australia as a location. The features Dora and the Lost City of Gold and Love and Monsters, and the television series Shantaram, were made in the territory for Paramount. The films Mortal Kombat, Elvis and the upcoming Mad Max Furiosa got a big tick from Warner Bros. The series Clickbait and Pieces of Her and the feature Spiderhead were made in Australia for Netflix. And then there's Marvel.

David J Grant confesses to being “a huge fan” of working in Australia but he didn't consider locating Thor: Love and Thunder anywhere else for a different reason: “Our lead actor, a little-known Australian called Chris Hemsworth, requested that we produce the film there - if possible”.

Marvel Studios' Vice President of Physical Production is joking about the “little-known” part, of course, and later says Australia has some of the best cast and crew in the world.

“A couple of stars had to line up to make it happen, specifically, getting the incentives and getting enough studio space for a feature of that size. When that came to fruition, we didn't have to look any further.” Chasing the best incentives around the world is key to getting big budget Marvel features made, he added.

Grant was co-producer on Love and Thunder, on Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings just prior and, in 2016, on Thor: Ragnarok. Ragnarok was made at Village Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast, the other two at Disney Studios Australia (formerly Fox Studios Australia) in Sydney. Both are fine facilities, he says. Marvel's owner, The Walt Disney Company, bought Fox in 2019 and has since renamed the facility.

“The crews have been nothing but professional; a treat to work with. Some producers want to have hyperactive people around them. They live for that. I lean more towards casual and relaxed. It helps to relieve the stress factor of making these kinds of films and creates a better work environment. Australian crews are part of my bias towards Australia.”

Australia is competitive for a combination of factors, he says. He goes on to say that Marvel Studios has yet to take advantage of Australia's many geographical looks and notes that the climate in Sydney, New South Wales, is like Southern California's.

“Weather and climate is an additional factor we consider as part of our production planning.” After some pandemic-induced uncertainty during preproduction, director Taika Waititi filmed Thor: Love and Thunder from January to May 2021.

“We had a great experience. The cast we brought in were happy to be there. I can't think of a specific thing that would have made the experience better. I know that sounds lame. I know! How about a shorter flight between Sydney and LA?

“If you take into account that there was no box office from China or Russia, it was the most successful of the Thor franchise. We love being down under.” Marvel is not currently planning an Australian shoot but he implies he's itching to return - and to hire as many local cast and crew as circumstances allow, which is what he prefers when possible.

Television that's been or is being made in Australia under the big Disney umbrella includes Reef Break, The Wilds and Nautilus.

Ausfilm estimates that A$575 million was spent on international physical production in Australia in 2021/22 and that nearly 100 international productions were serviced by Australia's thriving post and visual effects sector in the same period, including first and ongoing seasons of The Boys, LEGO Monkie Kid, The Lord of the Rings and Class of '07 for Amazon Prime, and season three of See and season one of Roar for Apple TV+. Features include Spider-Man: No Way Home, King Richard, The Menu and the 2023 titles 65, The Marvels and Where All Light Tends to Go.


As the Australian industry grows, some homegrown producers are spending a lot less time in the US. Bruna Papandrea is an example.

Since Made Up Stories filmed Nine Perfect Strangers and Pieces of Her in Australia for Hulu and Netflix respectively, principal Bruna Papandrea is now as likely to be found in her home country as she is in the US, where she based herself for many years. “Energetically, Australia is a great place to work, one of the best in the world: the hours, the work ethic, the general spirit and the capability. We excel in so many areas.”

Since Covid made virtual communication normal, she says, the US industry no longer cares where its business partners are based, providing they are producing good work and maintaining relationships with regular travel.

She and her colleague, producer Jodi Matterson, constantly take calls from people overseas who are interested in filming in Australia. There's few downsides to tell them about. “Capacity is an issue but outside of that you couldn't recommend Australia more,” says Papandrea. “And it's the easiest place in the world to ask talent to come to because you know it's going to be a great experience for them.”

That's unless cast want to bring dogs because the authorities are hard-line on that. “We need more studios, trailers, crews - and training is a massive priority - but that's true of everywhere right now. We need to build a sustainable and robust business, both international and domestic, so 100% we want them (offshore projects) to come.” Says Matterson: “I don't think Australia needs to sell itself. There was once an attitude that it's so far and it's such a big commitment to come down here. Now it's just whether it's right for a particular project.” Made Up Stories sees itself as making work that travels globally whether that work is Australian, British, or American.

Now in post is the second series of Wolf Like Me for Australian streamer Stan, the series The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, starring Sigourney Weaver, for Amazon Prime, and the feature Force of Nature, the sequel to The Dry, Australia's biggest recent independent hit. Both films are made with Arenamedia. “I'm always amazed at what's possible,” says Papandrea referring to Australia's locations. For Pieces of Her the production team utilised locations that mimicked America. For Alice Hart most of the 18-week shoot was location based. “We have so many diverse environments here. I haven't shot in South Australia, even though it's my birthplace and I'd like to. It has a physical look that's completely different.”

“Look at what they did there on Mortal Kombat,” chimed in Matterson. “Yes,” responds Papandrea, “I can see myself taking a big military movie there.” She also mentions Australia's seasonal advantage: “If you have an actor only available in January and you need summer, there are few options (besides Australia).”