News 08.11.21

THE BIRTH OF BYRON STUDIOS



NESTLED AMONGST THE MAGICAL LAND OF THE BUNDJALUNG, IN THE NORTHERN RIVERS, BYRON STUDIOS HAS ALREADY MADE SIGNIFICANT STRIDES WITH PROJECTS INCLUDING GOD’S FAVORITE IDIOT, PRODUCED BY MELISSA MCCARTHY AND PARTNER, BEN FALCONE.

Byron Studios was conceived by local VFX and screen professional, Will Gammon. Gammon had envisioned infrastructure to support the increasing film and TV industry expansion in the area. The field of talent was already abundant locally, from production, creative professionals to on-screen talent and crew. The Byron Studios founders had everything at their fingertips to set up a fully operational studio space which would enable turnkey shooting with post and VFX support.

Will Gammon (Byron Studios) and Netflix APAC Director, Debra Richards

“Location scouts (from Sydney) were looking for studio space and the foundations were here already, with crew and filmmakers already firmly established.”

Will Gammon

The initial studios, located in Byron’s industrial estate, evolved after years of development into a full studio complex concept, which came to life in the nearby suburb of Alstonville. Co-founder Mark Holden enlisted local government support from the Ballina Shire Council, who saw value in the venture and approved the town status as ‘Film Friendly’.

The first international project attracted to Byron Studios was Netflix’ God’s Favorite Idiot, which was based at Byron Studios for over six months.

Byron Studios – Alstonville, Ballina Shire

The Byron Bay region has seen a number of recent large-scale projects including the Blossom Films/Made Up Stories mini-series for Hulu, Nine Perfect Strangers created by David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies, The Undoing), starring Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy.

HEAVEN FOR GOD’S FAVORITE IDIOT AND NETFLIX

Following the successful completion of Nine Perfect Strangers, Melissa McCarthy and partner Ben Falcone happily continued their residence in the Byron area, with new efforts directed into Falcone’s comedy series God’s Favorite Idiot, to also take place in the Northern Rivers.

McCarthy and Falcone’s production company, On the Day recruited local Location Manager, Fiona Gough along with Location Manager Mary Barltrop. Both individually arrived at the conclusion that the Byron Studios’ location and facilities would be an ideal fit for the project.

Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy at the 2019 Cinemacon

“It was a dream come true to have the opportunity to safely shoot our show in a beautiful country like Australia. I was very fortunate to have the best and most hard-working cast and crew. We are very proud of God’s Favorite idiot and can’t wait to share it with everyone”

Melissa McCarthy, star and EP on God’s Favorite Idiot

According to Location Manager Mary Barltrop, the decision to film the new series in the Northern Rivers region was a Clarion’s call to action.

“It was a moment when all the stars aligned. Melissa (McCarthy) had been working on Nine Perfect Strangers, and was comfortably set up in the Northern Rivers area with her partner Ben (Falcone) and their family, and were loving the lifestyle in this wonderful part of the world. Ben was writing God’s Favorite Idiot which was set in California, but as COVID issues grew globally they started thinking, ‘maybe we could shoot it here as it could double extremely well?’ said Barltrop.

“It was an immersive experience,” said Barltrop who was based in Lennox Head for that period of the shoot. “we had our production offices in Ballina and Byron Studios was in Alstonville, a sweet spot in the zone of accessibility. Most of our team in the production office and crew were locals and based in the immediate area. Logistics wise it was super easy to have us all placed in that area within half an hour of each location.”

Byron Studios 400sqm studio

On The Day’s Producer for God’s Favorite Idiot, Divya D’Souza reflects fondly of her time in Australia,

“Australia quickly became our home away from home and I am so grateful for the kindness and the hospitality that was provided to us.”

Divya D’Souza, Producer for God’s Favorite Idiot

NORTHERN RIVERS: A DIVERSITY OF LOCATIONS

For international screen location professionals like Barltrop, the area is like a gold mine for the film and TV industry.

“We realised that we could tap into different location looks, not just the familiar coastline and beaches. Once you head inland into places like Lismore, for instance, you get a surprisingly wide range of location options.”

Mary Barltrop Location Manager (on location in the Northern Rivers)

“Everything started falling beautifully into place, and the final piece of that puzzle was the establishment of Byron Studios: the icing on the cake.”

Mary Barltrop

“It was then a no-brainer decision for the team to go “yes, this all works extremely well; let’s lock it in.”

“You’ve got not just one major airport (but) three decent airports within easy reach, Ballina, Lismore and the Gold Coast. The highway infrastructure provides fluid easy movement between studio, offices and filming locations. Services, accommodation and great restaurants are all within a concentrated area, creating a very practical, very liveable support network for any production.” Barltrop adds.

Minyon Falls – Image credit: Destination NSW

Transformative is the way comedian and emerging actor, Suraj Kolarkar describes working on his first Netflix production with a Hollywood power couple in an iconic Australian location. “Driving to base unit and going past the most gorgeous beaches and scenery is a luxury few production locations have. I would have to make sure I left 10 minutes earlier to allow myself the time to pull over and take photos if the light was particularly good, which it often was. Hanging out in Byron and watching the community come alive at night was great,” he said of the atmosphere.

Suraj Kolarker

After filming completed on God’s Favorite Idiot, Kolarkar worked on Paramount Television’s epic series Shantaram and he was grateful for the grounding he received amongst an eclectic global crew that prepared him for his first international shoot,

“The crew were excellent, particularly the stunt team with whom I worked extensively. There was a dizzying variety of set pieces when it came to stunt work which was coordinated phenomenally well by the stunts department. Special shoutout to Luci Romberg (McCarthy’s long-time stunt double), who expertly trained me for fight scenes with a very friendly approach.”

“There’s nothing more humbling than watching your stunt double squeeze into a fat suit.”

Suraj Kolarker

Kolarkar is thrilled to see that the Northern Rivers, which has a gravitational pull for creative folk due to the lifestyle, is finally getting the opportunities it deserves. “In the past, there was a gap between the creative urge to live in Byron and the scope for industry opportunities to sustain that, but this is rapidly being rectified due to large international productions recognising the potential of it as a long term shoot location with great talent.”

THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT FOR BYRON STUDIOS

As new productions roll into the Alstonville studio, Gammon and new CEO Paul Anderson have secured a new site slated for development in 2022 on the outskirts of the town which will be a fully-fledged media precinct once completed, with the help of the regional creative community.  Once ratified the greenfields studio precinct will feature various stages ranging from 800 – 2,500 sqm, office space, workshops, extensive backlot area (incl a quarry lake) and a full arts and screen industry hub precinct that will include theatres, accommodation and end to end ancillary services.

Byron Studios

The Studios’ purpose-built bespoke network infrastructure has been valuable to productions based there. Providing 1GB synchronous enterprise class internet connection and security infrastructure, which allows for the smooth transfer of dailies and data management from production in the Northern Rivers to anywhere, including global locations like LA.

For Netflix’s Director, Production Policy, APAC Debra Richards who has spearheaded significant investment in the region with God’s Favorite Idiot, and reality TV series Byron Baes in addition to a AU$500,000 Regional Crew Development Fund with industry development organisation, Screenworks, the surge of regional screen production development in the area is one to be watched.

“Who wouldn’t want to live and work in the Northern Rivers? There’s access to talent, crew and great numbers of crew have now moved up into the area and we’ve been working with Byron Studios in terms of the infrastructure. It’s a compelling place to be. So the more that is invested in the industry, the better.”

Debra Richards, Director of Production Policy, APAC – Netflix
Behind the scenes at Byron Studios with Debra Richards

In terms of development of the screen industry as an ecosystem in regional areas Richards suggests that the Northern Rivers is a great example. “It’s developing a crew base, it’s training up, it’s utilising spaces to make new studios such as Byron Studios, and here we have a very film friendly government, in the local Ballina Shire council and that’s incredibly important.” 

Location Manager, Barltrop also welcomes the further development of infrastructure to the region, “To remain competitive in the Northern Rivers and to remain competitive on a global scale, you have to expand and you have to develop.  I know that Byron Studios are positioning and developing themselves in that global framework, which bodes well for the future. If the studio infrastructure is there then the crew will stay and new talent will also be attracted.”

“There is no reason that the Australian studio production pool needs to be city-centric. There is demand globally for a very liveable and film friendly regional centre that [the Northern Rivers] is almost an untapped resource in terms of diversity and depth of location, crew and talent.”


Mary Barltrop’s Northern Rivers Secrets

Location Manager, Mary Barltrop gives her insider info on some favourite filming locations:

Mary Barltrop,
on location in the Northern Rivers

 “I’m always looking for locations for future projects, as is every location manager, and I’ve already got in my head several locations that I want to use for things in the future. I don’t know what those projects are going to be, but I’ve got them tucked away in my brain and would love an opportunity to roll them out!”

Richmond River:
The Rivers and Creeks

Photo by Natalie Apostolou

“Everybody knows the coastline and the headlands of Byron Bay area, but the places that I actually fell in love with were the rivers and the creeks, which are an untapped resource when it comes to locations. The beautiful Richmond River, and all the rivers that lead into it are absolutely astounding.”

Lismore

Winsome Hotel Lismore. Photo by Jacklyn Wagner -The Northern Star

“Lismore has got a great range of looks, a huge amount of character, and a real variety of building styles and eclectic locations. It also has urban elements, laneways, and some surprising gems you stumble across. For God’s Favorite Idiot it gave us a good catalogue of locations to work with, especially when it came to matching US streetscapes. An international audience would never guess that we were in a small Australian country town. It is very underestimated, but it’s a location goldmine.”

Ballina

Image: Lennox Head,
part Ballina Shire

“I’m a big fan of Ballina’s beautiful houses and streetscapes, and the community has a ‘can do’ attitude, so we benefited from lots of grassroots support from the community, both in Ballina and in Lismore.” 


GET IN TOUCH WITH BYRON STUDIOS

CHARLOTTE BRIGEL
General Manager
[email protected]
www.byronstudios.co
+61 414 224 993