Tinseltown is looking to Australia to recreate, well … the world, as the nation is deemed a movie-set safe haven in the current climate, with location-rich choices and substantial tax incentives from our state and federal governments.
While international travel may not be within our reach right now, there is a silver (screen) lining with what’s happening in our own backyard. There’s Julia Roberts and George Clooney filming a romantic comedy in the Whitsundays that is being made to look like Bali, where the story is set. Ron Howard is shooting his epic drama Thirteen Lives in Queensland as he tells the story of Thailand’s cave rescue (co-starring Central Coast local, Paul Gleeson). Ballina in NSW’s north has also been repurposed to look like a Russian snow town for Nicole Kidman’s latest series, Nine Perfect Strangers. Byron Bay, well … it has Chris Hemsworth. Enough said.
Location scouts have also been busy on the Central Coast,areas of which have been made to look like a US coastal town in Georgia for an upcoming Netflix series starring Toni Collette, David Wenham, Richard Roxburgh and Bella Heathcote.
The eight-episode thriller, titled Pieces of Her, is being produced by the team behind HBO’s The Undoing and Netflix’s Anatomy of a Scandal and has been quite conspicuous in its filming at MacMasters Beach, Kincumber, Ocean Beach and Ettalong Beach earlier this year.
The Peninsula was made to look like the sleepy coastal town of Belle Isle in Georgia. The vibe however was anything but sleepy as eager onlookers flocked to grab a glimpse of the stars and the abundant entourage that clustered in and around a number of hard-to-miss locations. Ettalong and Umina Beaches saw similar alterations made to local landmarks.
Actor Toni Collette is quite at home on set on the Central Coast, having owned a weekender in nearby Pearl Beach with her family. The actor said she was thrilled the producers and Netflix were able to relocate Pieces of Her to film in Australia so that production can remain on-track and this story can be told. ‘On a personal level, for me, it also brings with it the great joy of shooting at home,’ she says.
The series was originally scheduled to be shot in Canada last year, but was delayed a number of times due to Covid-19 and faced a tumultuous and uncertain production journey before settling on the Central Coast location. Australian producer, Bruna Papandrea (Wild, Big Little Lies, The Undoing) had temporarily relocated back to Sydney from LA and seems to be making it her sole mission to develop and shoot as many of her projects as she can locally, taking advantage of our current ‘pandemic free-ish’ status and other obvious attractions.
Minister for the Arts, Don Harwin (also a Central Coast local) said the eight-episode Netflix adaptation of The New York Times’ bestselling thriller from internationally renowned crime author, Karin Slaughter, was a huge win for the NSW screen industry. ‘It will provide a significant amount of work for locals, cast and crew,’ he said.
Pieces of Her has been projected to create 400 local jobs and contribute an estimated $58 million to the state’s economy.
With Pieces of Her scheduled to be released on Netflix in late 2021 or early 2022, it will be quite a surreal experience to watch this stellar Australian cast don American accents in a mock-up of a Georgia town filmed entirely in Australia. There will be a guaranteed audience of Central Coast locals keen to spot the local transformations and identify some of the region’s landmarks.
In the spirit of all things Hollywood, this reminded me of a fitting quote:
‘If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!’ Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz.
WORDS ALEX ALEXANDER
Alex Alexander of 412 Entertainment is the co-producer of Alantown, a yet-to-be-released TV series starring Guy Pearce.