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Australia is a place of reel magic for U.S. filmmakers

SYDNEY, Australia -- In the heart of this city's downtown is a building that was Douglas MacArthur's headquarters in WWII: the corner from which the defeated general regrouped and directed the southern arm of the great American advance that crushed the Japanese Empire. But today this hallowed ground, recently converted into a trendy hotel, is suddenly emblematic of a second exiled American presence: its lobby is in the process of being converted into the Daily Planet for the Warner Bros. film "Superman Returns." "This one film is expected to pump $80 million into the Australian economy," my guide tells me as she walks me through the premises, pointing out the various decorative embellishments that make the place such a unique '20s masterpiece and irresistible movie set. When I comment that the hotel staff seems awfully blas about the honor, she says, "Ten years ago, it would have been a big deal, but we've become so used to seeing Hollywood movie companies in our streets that it barely rates a second glance anymore." Indeed, at this moment three other U.S. films are in production Down Under: Fox's mermaid fantasy, "Aquamarine;" Sony's comic-book adaptation, "Ghost Rider," starring Nicolas Cage; and Paramount's live-action version of "Charlotte's Web," with Dakota Fanning. And the list of other recent filmed-in-Australia Hollywood movies is long and lustrous, including episodes 2 and 3 of "Star Wars," "The Matrix" trilogy, "Mission: Impossible II," "Moulin Rouge" and "Stealth." When you consider that both Warner Bros. and Fox now have permanent facilities here -- and new studio space is under construction all over the country -- you have an impressive argument that Hollywood Down Under may be less a temporary trend than a permanent paradigm shift. What's behind this phenomenon? As always with Hollywood, the bottom line is financial. Australia is expensive -- especially now, when the dollar is weak -- but it offers big-budget movies a 12.5 percent tax rebate that usually returns to producers 10 percent of their production costs. Other reasons frequently given are the expertise and work ethic of Australian film crews, the infinite variety of locations available, the plethora of new production facilities and the go-getting helpfulness of the Australian Film Commission. By WILLIAM ARNOLD SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER MOVIE CRITIC Complete article: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/movies/243187_aussiewood04.html
2005-10-24 13:36:07