On Location: Why Filmmakers Are Flocking to Melbourne

The Melbourne skyline has a modern appearance but the streets below offer something special for filmmakers from all over the world
The Melbourne skyline has a modern appearance but the streets below offer something special for filmmakers from all over the world | © Aaron Brown / EyeEm / Getty Images
Photo of Cassam Looch
Film Editor3 December 2019

Melbourne was forged out of the mid-19th century gold rush, and today filmmakers from all over the world are also rushing in to capitalise on its stunning natural scenery and varied architectural backdrops.

Melbourne’s architecture can stand in for any city in any country | © Keitma / Alamy Stock Photo

“Melbourne has proved to be a chameleon on screen. It has doubled for cities and regions in Europe, Africa, the US and the Middle East, as well as 1930s Shanghai, and recently played ‘itself’ in acclaimed BBC series The Cry, and in season four of AMC’s Preacher,” Caroline Pitcher, CEO of Film Victoria (a government agency that supports the film, TV and digital media industry in Victoria), tells Culture Trip.

A number of high-profile Hollywood films have been shot in the city, including Nicolas Cage’s superhero adventure Ghost Rider (2007) and fantasy drama Where the Wild Things Are (2009). Australian filmmakers have also been drawn to Melbourne for their domestic productions, with cult classics Mad Max (1979) and Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) garnering international acclaim and launching the careers of Mel Gibson, Peter Weir and George Miller.

Mel Gibson rose to international fame after his blistering turn in the violent thriller ‘Mad Max’ (1979) | © Kennedy Miller Prods / Kobal / Shutterstock

“Filmmakers love Melbourne, as it’s a vibrant, multicultural city with a mix of historic and modern architecture and a strong cultural scene. We hear again and again how inspired they are by Melbourne and everything it has to offer,” says Pitcher.

In 2005, Salaam Namaste, a musical drama that follows the story of a young Indian couple over the course of a year in Melbourne, became the first Bollywood film to be shot entirely on location in Australia. Opening to positive reviews, the movie was one of the biggest hits of the year in India and led to Australia being used as a location for several other Bollywood projects.

It’s easy to see why Hollywood producers use the city as a stand-in for US cities | © Picture Partners / Alamy Stock Photo

In the year after Salaam Namaste was released, the number of Indian tourists visiting Australia rose by 23 percent, indicating a direct correlation between popular film locations and trending travel destinations. Producers of the Bollywood movie were planning to shoot in either Vancouver or San Francisco, but director Siddharth Anand had a last-minute change of plan while attending a film festival in Victoria, where he was won over by what Melbourne had to offer. The city’s architecture, the variety of potential filming locations and the multicultural and cosmopolitan make-up of Melbourne all played an important role.

The availability of advanced production facilities is also attractive for many filmmakers. Docklands Studios, one of the biggest Australian film and TV studios, is fully equipped with the latest technology and is located only a few minutes away from central Melbourne.

Melbourne is one of the most diverse and multicultural cities in the world, and that’s one of the reasons international filmmakers are flocking to the city | © Picture Partners / Alamy Stock Photo

Netflix series Clickbait (2019) is set in the USA, but Australian co-creators Tony Ayres and Christian White were confident they could find all the locations they needed in their home state. The streaming service’s eight-part series isn’t the first TV show that has transformed Melbourne into a different part of the world, either. Violent comic-book adaptation Preacher has moved to Melbourne after three seasons in New Mexico, and Hunters (2016), a globetrotting thriller, took viewers to Baltimore, Turkey and Colombia without ever leaving Victoria.

International movie producers have also found Melbourne to be the perfect stand-in for other cities. The San Jose of the 1900s was recreated for Helen Mirren’s supernatural drama Winchester (2018), and a perfect copy of 1970s New York featured in time-travel thriller Predestination (2014). Both movies were shot at Docklands studios, with the streets and buildings of the surrounding areas only highlighting how adaptable the region is.

‘Winchester’ (2018), starring Helen Mirren, was set in the USA but shot in Melbourne | © Ben Kingblacklab / Kobal / Shutterstock

Melbourne is renowned for the preservation of its Victorian-era buildings, streets and alleys. There are modern buildings too, of course, with several skyscrapers piercing the skyline, but these are located some distance away from the edifices with older facades. As a result, filmmakers find as much appeal in the layout of the city as tourists and architecture lovers do, and it’s no surprise that Melbourne has come to be known as the most European city in Australia.

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