camera, action, by Garry Maddox - 1st May 2004
The Sydney Morning Herald)
The habitat of the endangered giant
dragonfly has been saved - but at what cost to
the Australian movie industry? Garry Maddox reports.
director Rob Cohen knows how to make a Hollywood
blockbuster. After racing turbo-charged cars in
The Fast and the Furious, he had Vin Diesel playing
a secret agent in xXx.
was the whole Hollywood experience ... motorcycles,
fast cars, ski-mobiles, explosions, gun battles
and a Bond-style chase down a river to stop a
futuristic speedboat carrying lethal gas.
latest movie, Stealth, is about the American military's
attempts to control a rogue Stealth fighter plane.
The $130 million action-adventure, starring Josh
Lucas and Jessica Biel, has been filming at Fox
Studios and locations around Sydney since the
start of the year. Early on, the Australian cinematographer
Dean Semler said it would make Top Gun seem like
On Golden Pond. But in the past week it has turned
into The Perfect Storm.
the eye of the storm was a planned two-day shoot
in a Blue Mountains wilderness area. Environmentalists
blocked the move in the Land and Environment Court,
which decided that filming contravened the laws
covering national parks.
Premier declared that the ruling threatened the
country's reputation as a paradise for overseas
filmmakers and pledged to use "all legal
options" to give the filmmakers access to
the Mt Hay wilderness. This included an appeal
to the Supreme Court and possible new legislation
to override the court decision.
the filmmakers couldn't wait, not with delays
said to be costing $500,000 a day and the crew
scheduled to leave for filming in the Flinders
Ranges and Thailand. "The film needs the
certainty of a location this week," they
they'll find an alternative site.
is not clear whether the filmmakers will seek
compensation from the Government, given that they
had been working closely with the National Parks
and Wildlife Service to shoot in the Grose Wilderness.
of damaging the habitat of the endangered giant
dragonfly, the controversy has damaged Carr's
ability to deliver to international filmmakers
along with his conservationist credentials.
message that would go round the world if these
producers now can't shoot these scenes here is
that there are real difficulties about doing things
in Australia," he told ABC radio before the
filmmakers announced their decision.
dispute recalls the widely publicised claim that
Hollywood filmmakers destroyed an idyllic section
of a Thai national park for The Beach, starring
Leonardo Di Caprio, in 1999. The damaging allegations,
repeatedly denied by the film's star, have encouraged
filmmakers to take extra care to preserve pristine
was Carr risking the environment in the chase
for Hollywood dollars? Or was a two-day shoot
subject to strict conditions unlikely to damage
a vast wilderness area? And do authorities take
enough care to ensure sensitive locations are
the Matrix trilogy and Star Wars - Episode II,
Stealth has brought economic benefits to the state.
On one estimate, the production has spent $60
million here and created 500 jobs.
Stealth director insisted the protesters were
misinformed about his plans. Describing himself
as a member of Greenpeace and other environmental
groups, Rob Cohen said the Mt Hay sequence involved
nothing more high tech than his lead actress being
chased on foot by actors playing Korean soldiers.
"It's not like there's a huge gun battle."
Greens MLC, Ian Cohen, who spoke at the protest
rally, said Rob Cohen might be well-meaning but
he knew nothing about the giant dragonfly or the
impact on a hanging swamp. "He's obviously
not understanding that wilderness in the act clearly
means no commercial filming."
called the Premier a hypocrite for being prepared
to challenge the court's ruling. "It makes
a mockery of the concept of Bob Carr being any
sort of reasonable conservationist. He's seeking
to override what the courts are clearly indicating
- that wilderness should be protected."
believed other locations were suitable for filming,
including Newnes near Lithgow.
chief executive of the NSW Film and Television
Office, Jane Smith, said the filmmakers had been
allowed to shoot at Mt Hay only after a 147-page
review of the environmental issues. "It took
three months of consultation, it was on public
exhibition for three weeks, a whole lot of different
groups were consulted."
production company undertook to build temporary
boardwalks to protect the landscape and pay for
a National Parks officer and an environmental
consultant to be on set. The crew and actors had
to wear rubber-soled shoes and retrace their steps
so no new paths were created.
in this area they run canyoning tours so it's
an area that has been used for other purposes,"
Smith said. "But [the filmmakers went] to
a lot of effort to try and protect the environment."
said that Mission: Impossible 2, which had 40
per cent of its shoot in national parks around
Sydney, proved to have very little impact on the
environment. "Filming is quite a low-impact,
relatively environment-friendly activity, assuming
it's handled properly. But it does need to be
properly planned and managed."
this planning also minimises disruption to daily
life. When The Matrix sequels wanted to fly a
helicopter through central Sydney, there was intensive
planning to minimise the risk and the impact on
residents, traffic and spectators.
publicity about the protests and the abandoned
shoot could now damage the chances of attracting
production to major studios in Sydney, the Gold
Coast and Melbourne.
decisions on where to film are usually driven
by many factors, including the value of the dollar,
the variety of locations and the availability
of studios and crew.
Rothkrans, the chief executive of AusFilm, which
markets Australia as a location for international
filmmaking, is worried.
is very unfortunate for Australia that the producers
of Stealth have had this interruption to what
has been a very successful shoot," she said.
experience is placing other big-budget productions
that AusFILM has been pitching for in jeopardy."
said it was imperative that there was a "whole-of-government
approach" to organising access to locations.
need to support National Parks with legislation
that gives them the ability to process filming
applications as soon as possible."
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