Founder, Bazmark Films
Born in: Sydney
Home Town: Sydney
Depending on who you talk to, filmmaker Baz Luhrmann is either a saviour or a sponge on the Australian film industry.
A master at dealing with governments behind the scenes, the platinum-haired prodigy is filming his latest project The Great Gatsby in Australia – and receiving around $50 million in tax rebates and funding to do it.
"Baz's ability to bring these large productions here is great for our industry," Screen Producers Association of Australia executive director Geoff Brown tells The Power Index.
"What Gatsby's done is maintain a lot of people in work at a very competitive time ... to have Baz leveraging the producer offset to get them here is a very smart move."
Luhrmann is currently putting the finishing touches on his big budget studio 3D adaption of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 masterpiece at Fox Studios in Sydney, with industry figures like Brown saying the $120 million production already has delivered a badly-needed shot in the arm to the ailing film industry.
They reckon Bazmark (Lurhmann's production company) doing Gatsby in Australia has helped reverse the trend caused by the rising dollar, which has slashed the number of offshore productions being made on our shores. The last big budget film to shoot on the Fox lot was Wolverine three years ago.
Brown says the film will also pay the bills for production houses as they fit-out the latest technology, allowing them to be competitive in the future.
And it's not just the film industry that's celebrating. The NSW government recently credited Gatsby with having injected $340 million into the local economy, which includes around 1000 jobs.
Those figures would be especially heartening for the NSW government, given the Keneally government chipped in around $12 million last year from its Film Fund to get Warner Bros to shoot it here in the first place.
Controversially, the film also qualified for Screen Australia's 'producer offset', meaning Gatsby has access to 40% tax rebates worth another $40 million or so in funding. Films that qualify for the offset must meet a "significant Australian content" requirement.
That decision has angered some critics who say propping up big budget films with questionable Australian content like The Great Gatsby is becoming more of a priority for Screen Australia than other lesser-known local productions.
"With Gatsby, it is set in New York in the 1920s. So how could you argue it has significant Australian content?" production company Beyond International CEO Michael Borglund said last year.
"We just think that the same assessment tests and criteria should be applied by Screen Australia to our projects as those films that are produced with Warner Bros, Universal or Fox."
Still, there are plenty of filmmakers also relying on the offset who are willing to praise Luhrmann for helping keep the local film industry ticking, even if it has taken millions of taxpayer dollars to do it.
"Baz is a genius that should be supported and embraced the same way New Zealand has done with Peter Jackson," Gary Hamilton from Arclight Films tells The Power Index, with the A Few Best Men producer adding that he supports The Great Gatsby getting the rebate "100%".
Other filmmakers also praise Luhrmann and contemporaries like Happy Feet creator George Miller for getting Hollywood studios filming in Australia.
"Anytime a film like Gatsby is shot in Australia, it's a terrific result for the local industry," Red Dog producer Nelson Woss tells The Power Index.
"Baz should be applauded for consistently getting his films made here. It's not an easy feat to pull off."
Julie Ryan, who produced the Australiana-drenched box office smash Red Dog alongside Woss, adds: "It's important our film crews keep working otherwise we lose them to other industries ... so I only think it's positive that The Great Gatsby is shooting."
Unfortunately, The Power Index couldn't ask Luhrmann what he thought of the offset and whether it should be set aside for films like Gatsby as he declined to take part in an interview.
But regardless of where the debate goes from here, both state and federal governments, as well organisations like Screen Australia, will be hoping Gatsby scores a hit at the box office when it opens on Christmas Day this year.
Perhaps it might even convince other Hollywood studios to also shoot their equally big budget films in Australia.
And if it does, we're tipping the debate over whether government funding could be better used to help local filmmakers tell Australian stories to remain a hot-button issue.
But, as SPAA boss Geoff Brown puts it, maybe it doesn't matter.
"I don't think Baz has ever made anything that doesn't look like a Baz film," Brown says. "You could say Baz brings an Australian sensibility to The Great Gatsby."