Think of some of the classic movie locations of all time and you might immediately recall the mean streets of New York City, the boulevards of Paris or the historic precincts of Rome. All have been the urban film sets of some of cinema’s greatest classics. Sydney, on the other hand, can’t quite match its northern hemisphere counterparts as an iconic location but things are starting to change.
The city, of course, has been featured in numerous homegrown movies and over the years as a set for a number of foreign-funded productions. Back in the late 50s, Fort Denison in Sydney Harbour was the focus of the British thriller, The Siege Of Pinchgut, notably the last film ever made by the acclaimed Ealing Studios. The story involved a couple of German POWs who escaped during World War II and commandeered the Fort, holding the city to ransom by threatening to blow up a munitions ship. A box office flop at the time it was more recently resurrected by Australian movie aficionado Quentin Tarantino for a screening at one of his film festivals.
In June of 2004, Japan’s famous Toho studios arrived in Sydney to shoot what was the 28th in their series of Godzilla movies. Not surprisingly Godzilla got to trample the Sydney Opera House and trash the Harbour Bridge, although these scenes were either shot in miniature or using CGI. Toho did, however, recruit hundreds of local extras to run through Darling Harbour in a mass panic, with their hysterical screams no doubt later enhanced in the dubbing booth.
A few years earlier Sydney was a more expansive location for the shooting of Mission Impossible II, starring Tom Cruise. Shot in and around the CBD as well as Bare Island at La Perouse, the production poured millions of dollars into the local economy and set a precedent for many imported ventures to follow.
With the facilities of Fox Studios, highly skilled local film crews, financial incentives from the State Government and a very favourable exchange rate with the weak Australian dollar, Sydney is now a desirable location for many of the big American film companies. Universal Studios are currently filming a remake of The Invisible Man in Sydney however the city itself is being disguised to resemble somewhere in Canada.
That’s not an unfamiliar scenario in recent years with overseas film companies either reinventing Sydney as a US location or as an anonymous metropolis as in The Matrix. Sure we get a “shot on location in Sydney, Australia” in the final credits but where’s the real international exposure that we so often seek?
Some years ago I made my own personal protest regarding these foreign studios coming here and using Sydney purely as an unnamed backdrop for some crummy American movie franchise. It was a Sunday afternoon, Bridge Street in the city had been cordoned off by a huge film crew and there were American police cars lined up for some kind of action shoot.
I actually lived on Bridge Street at the time and was returning from shopping in a nearby supermarket. The northern end of the city was abuzz with film trucks, camera crews and security personnel keeping sightseers at bay. The front door to my apartment building was right in the middle of the closed-off street, my tub of ice cream was melting and there was no way I was waiting until the filming was completed.
Slipping through the security I hastily headed for my front door, just as the director called ‘action’. As four or five police cars charged down Bridge Street I walked defiantly straight through the shot, quickly pursued by a screaming security thug. Luckily I reached my front door just before he could apprehend me and with great gusto, I closed it in his face.
I never did find out what movie they were actually shooting although I am sure I would have been cut from the scene. If the State Government continues to offer large financial inducements to US movie studios, maybe they should insist that Sydney is the true location shown in the final cut, not Toronto, Canada or Long Island, New York.