It might come as a surprise to some that many of the TV series and films that we’ve been watching in recent years have been filmed in Queensland.

In fact, it’s now been elevated to second place only behind NSW when it comes to the volume and value of film and TV shoots.

Almost 30 per cent of all scripted content is now filmed in the Sunshine State, with the latest one being SPIT, the sequel to the much-loved 2003 movie, Gettin’ Square.

Queensland producer Trish Lake, of Freshwater Pictures, feels there was never a question of SPIT being filmed anywhere other than the Sunshine State.

“There were offers of investment from other state screen agencies to make a sequel in their region, but in the end none of us could part with the Gold Coast setting,” Lake says.

Gettin’ Square was filmed with the iconic Gold Coast coastline and skyscrapers as its backdrop whereas SPIT will have some surprising locations. From sugarcane fields to the hinterland and the sleepy backwaters of the Broadwater, SPIT’s shady characters will introduce audiences to a whole other side of the Gold Coast region.”

One might wonder why it’s taken 21 years to make the sequel to the film, which introduced audiences to the lovable criminal Johnny Spiteri – the Spit of the new film’s title. Both the film’s star David Wenham and screenwriter Christopher Nyst have been continually asked if there was going to be a sequel.

“Eventually, Chris and director Jonathan Teplitzky and David began workshopping some ideas, and it went from there,” Lake says.

That includes a bigger dose of diverse roles to reflect contemporary Australia.

Part of the surge for Queensland productions can be attributed to the state’s Production Attraction Strategy, which has secured 59 local, interstate and international productions to Queensland since 2015.

This has resulted in 20,000 jobs for Queensland cast and crew. Hollywood heavyweight producer and director Ron Howard, speaking at Screen Forever on the Gold Coast recently, said such initiatives helped make Queensland a desirable place in which to shoot.

That was the case for Howard’s upcoming survival thriller, Eden, starring Jude Law, with an additional lure being the Federal Government’s Location Incentive.

A recent production already on screens is the TV adaptation of powerhouse Aussie author Liane Moriarty’s novel, Apples Never Fall (Foxtel and Binge). While the book was set in Sydney, the TV version takes place in Miami, Florida, and has big names Annette Bening and Sam Neill alongside US and local actors.

The Queensland backdrop is pretty convincing as its glitzy US counterpart, except for the occasional jolt when you see that the characters are strolling around somewhere strangely familiar, such as the very recognisable Water Mall in the Queensland Art Gallery. It seems a shame that the choice was made to transfer the setting stateside, but no doubt it’s to do with having more appeal for the much bigger market.

While some in the local industry have been critical in the past that Queensland has been a location for hire for big-budget overseas productions, while not being as supportive as it might be of nurturing local creatives, the situation has improved.

Local productions, written by local screenwriters and with an Aussie idiom, are being produced with greater frequency these days, including the highly successful Netflix series Boy Swallows Universe (from Brisbane author Trent Dalton’s book). It’s heartening to see that the streets of 1980s working-class suburb Darra can be a backdrop for a coming-of-age story of a boy that can touch hearts, both here and in the US, where the series ascended to the top on Netflix.

That show will no doubt make stars out of the two young actors, Felix Cameron and Lee Tiger Halley, and is also a great showcase for Travis Fimmel (Vikings) as the brothers’ stepdad.  Fimmel stars in Black Snow too, with all of its six episodes having been dropped onto the Stan platform on New Year’s Day this year.

Filmed in North Queensland, the series – created by Queenslander Lucas Taylor – features the rarely seen Australian South Sea Islander community in a murder mystery. The show created opportunities for South Sea Islander cast and crew, one of these being Boyd Qwakawoot (Troppo, Black Comedy), who penned one of the scripts.

Black Snow from Goalpost Pictures has been renewed for Season Two, supported by Screen Queensland through the Screen Finance Fund. This time it’ll be filmed on the Gold Coast, the home of many a Queensland production with its Warner Brother Studios and varied coastal, mountain and rainforest scenery.

The location has been likened to Australia’s own Hollywood, with director Baz Luhrmann and costumer designer wife Catherine Martin singing its praises as a filmmaking destination after making the smash hit film Elvis. 

Another Queensland production is the feature film How to Make Gravy, adapting music industry legend Paul Kelly’s song. Filming wrapped up last year on the Gold Coast and its stars include Hugo Weaving and Kate Mulvany. Singer Meg Washington is co-screenwriter with her director husband Nick Waterman. They’re also producing with Hamish Lewis and Schuyler Weiss, an Academy Award-nominated producer who worked on Elvis. 

Then there’s procedural comedic drama Good Cop/Bad Cop – a Stan original series, which has just got underway with shooting in Southeast Queensland. Once again, the state is doubling for a US location, this time the state of Washington.

Former OG Gossip Girl regular Leighton Meester plays one half of a sister/brother detective team whose father just happens to be chief of police. It’s produced by Jungle Entertainment and Future Shack Entertainment and was created by US screenwriter John Quaintance (Reboot, Will and Grace).

Along with the Gold Coast studios and the Screen Queensland Studios at suburban Hemmant in Brisbane, new studios at the cost of $12.6 million will be opening in Cairns in late April to help sweeten the deal for producers looking for an attractive shooting package.

Now we just need a local long-running soapie, Home and Away or Neighbours style, to create longterm fulltime jobs for local creatives of every variety.

Vicki Englund is a film and TV screenwriter, and a film, TV and arts reviewer.

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