Sport & Culture

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Film in Australia?

Disney is in talks with the Australian government on tax incentives to shoot a remake of a classic film down under.

The Daily Telegraph reported Friday that Disney executives were scouting spots along Australia’s Gold Coast and in New South Wales and Victoria for a remake of the 1954 sci-fi adventure picture 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Disney has waffled on itscommitment to the film for about three years, but is approaching a potential deal.

Rumors swirled that Brad Pitt would play the part of fabled harpooner Ned Land in the remake of the 1954 sci-fi flick starring Kirk Douglas and based on the 1870 science fiction classic written by French novelist Jules Verne. Across the media headlines declared Pitt, Angelina Jolie and their six children could be heading to Australia.

The “Brangelina” rumors proved unfounded, but the real story is the movie itself. If the Australian government can successfully woo American director David Fincher, it would be the largest Australian film production to date. Not a moment too soon: If the film comes through it will be the only project of its size on the books for Australia in 2013.

Fincher, whose film credits include Fight Club, Panic Room and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Disney executives and Australian Minister of the Arts Simon Crean, met February 15 to talk finances.

The main sticking point is the strength of the Australian dollar, which drives up production costs, which the Australian government offsets through major incentives. The Australian dollar was at just 68 U.S. cents when the latest Matrix film was made in Sydney.

Since then, the Aussie has appreciated dramatically, to the point where it is beyond parity with the U.S. dollar. To offset this, the Australian government offers a location incentive off the bat in the form of a tax rebate of 16.5 percent.

To lure The Wolverine, starring Aussie Hugh Jackman, this rebate was increased to 30 percent, for a payment of AU$12 million. The Australian government is angling a similar deal to net 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo. Deadline reported an incentive of $12.2 million, while The Hollywood Reporter put the figure higher at $19.2 million.

“We’ve made our offer but the deal is not yet done,” Crean told Fairfax Media, according to The Age. “It’s contingent on similar commitments that New South Whales made to Wolverine, and likewise in Queensland.”

Disney executives are probably reluctant to take the plunge for good reasons, following decidedly weak performances in 2012 on The Avengers and John Carter.

But for Australia, the kicker is job creation. Shooting of The Wolverine, to be released this July, created 2,000 jobs, attracted $80 million in local investment and contracted 850 local companies to the Sydney-based project. The 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo venture is expected to be an even larger boon for investors and film industry professionals.

If the project goes forward in Australia, scouts have zeroed in on Village Roadshow Studios in Queensland and Fox Studios in Sydney. And if not, thousands of studio pros – from camera operators and audio engineers to lighting specialists and special effects whizzes – might have little choice but to pack up their equipment and move to friendlier filmmaking climes abroad.

And this doesn’t necessarily mean Hollywood. Romania, the Czech republic and Hungary have become major film centers in recent years, with a growing base of skilled film professionals working for lower costs. London, Berlin and Canadian cities have also gained ground as filmmaking centers.

If Australia can snag this potential blockbuster project, shooting would be expected to begin in the next few months.

Fincher plans to shoot in 3D, and has estimated that 70 percent of the finished product will be CG.

“Wolverine employed 2,000 people and the director, James Mangold, said it was the best crew he’s ever worked with,” Crean told Fairfax Media. “This is the first one Disney have done with us – and if they get the same view as James, they’ll want to be looking here in the future.”

This deal is crucial for Australia’s film business. By inking a deal with Disney, the country could plug its film industry brain drain – at least for a while.