A popular joke here is that the Gold Coast’s most famous offenders are Johnny Depp, Pistol and Boo. Three years ago, Depp was accused of smuggling in his two Yorkshire terriers without authorisation for the shooting of the fifth installment of his Pirates of the Caribbean series. Overnight, ‘Jack Sparrow’ Depp, Pistol and Boo became Gold Coast’s most-wanted trio, and the actor was forced to hire a private jet and fly the dogs out.
The beaches might be its biggest attractions, but this Australian glitter strip’s better kept secret is that it one of Hollywood’s biggest go-to destinations outside the US — from ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’ to ‘Thor Ragnarok’, and the evergreen ‘Scooby Doo’. And now, Gold Coast’s thriving movie industry has been seamlessly integrated with the Commonwealth Games — the reel blending with real at studios converted into stadiums.
The Village Roadshow Studios, where Scooby Doo was filmed, is hosting the boxing, squash and table tennis events apart from acting as a training venue for badminton. Also known as the Oxenford Studios, it’s a mammoth facility off the Queensland highway, surrounding by rolling mountains on one side and green plains on the other.
With nine soundstages, three water tanks and 10 production areas, it is a magnet for Hollywood. The Sound Stage 9, built at a cost of Au$15.5 million, is the biggest in the southern hemisphere whereas the water tanks are largest in Australia.
But for the 11 days of the Games, movie shoots have been halted and the studios have been partially shut. Call it a studio effect, but Oxenford makes for a rivetting venue. The smart use of light and sound give the matches a dramatic effect while for the spectators who’ve turned up in thousands, it’s an opportunity to look at the locations where some of the blockbusters have been shot.
After the Games, the temporary stands at the three makeshift venues, which have a capacity of around 2,500 each, will be razed and shootings will resume. The organisers are not creating an illusion that the studios will be used for sport in the future. Instead, as a legacy of the Games, they hope the Village Roadshow Studios will attract more production houses.
“To ensure the studios successfully adapt to the Games and leave a legacy for film and television production, Village Roadshow and the Queensland Government entered into a partnership that simultaneously delivers a Games venue and provides a major drawcard for film productions,” the organisers said.
It’s easy to understand why the Games are being used as a platform to show that the Gold Coast isn’t just a surfer’s paradise, but it is a movie maker’s paradise as well. It is one of the biggest revenue and employment generating industry for the coastal city — Thor’s lead Chris Hemsworth is a Coaster himself and routinely spotted at its beaches and cafes.
According to reports in the Australian media, the makers of Kong: Skull Island spent more than $15 million in Queensland — it is a minimum amount that is needed to be spent to get 16.5 per cent location offset from the Australian government. The fifth Pirates film generated revenue of $100 million for the local economy.
Anna Mariane-Lee, a restaurant owner at Broadbeach in the city centre, says the star tantrums are a small bargain to pay. “We don’t mind it. It helps so many businesses and gives us jobs,” she says. And jokes and gossip, like the one about Depp and his dogs.