Next time you walk through Melbourne’s Docklands precinct, take a hike in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges or go shopping at Essendon Fields, consider the state’s re-emerging film industry.
International sci-fi mystery series La Brea, set in Los Angeles in 10,000BC and described as Lost meets Jurassic Park, was filmed here during the COVID pandemic last year.
Who would have thought we could turn Melbourne into central LA?
The official storyline goes like this: “When a massive sinkhole opens in the middle of Los Angeles, pulling hundreds of people and buildings into its depths, those who fell in find themselves in a mysterious and dangerous primeval land, where they have no choice but to band together to survive.”
Using massive studios at Docklands and Clayton in the city’s south-east, the use of Mandalorian-style virtual production technology took the production to a whole new level.
With the support of state and federal government funding to bring the NBC project to Melbourne, the 10-part series injected an estimated $84 million into the Australian economy and created more than 475 jobs for local cast and crew.
And there’s more to come.
Off the back of the show receiving a nomination at the 2021 People’s Choice Awards, a second season of La Brea was announced on January 24, with the Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher expecting a $118 million return this time, with 390 jobs on offer and using 800 local businesses.
Melbourne actor Rohan Mirchandaney (The Newsreader, Hotel Mumbai, Mystery Road), scored the dream job of anthropology student Scott Israni in season one, and took The New Daily behind the scenes.
“The special effects were a big part of the project and really seamlessly blended Melbourne into LA,” said Mirchandaney, who is best known for his recurring role as Dr Rudi on House Husbands.
Having only ever shot a Bonds undies commercial at Docklands, he said “moving beyond green-screen backgrounds and working with LED screens allows actors to feel more connected to the world the audience sees as well”.
“It’s visually spectacular to work with.”
In announcing the second series and as a result of the success of the state-of-the-art technology, Mr Fletcher said “as part of this production, Universal Studio Group and Matchbox Pictures will partner with the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) on a training initiative dedicated to virtual production”.
He described it as “one of the most exciting areas of growth and innovation in the global screen industry”.
“Virtual production technology is absolutely going to be integral in quality, high-concept styled projects,” the minister said.
“After The Mandalorian utilised the new technology and screens with some groundbreaking results, the capabilities of revolutionising filmmaking are limitless,” Mirchandaney added.
Season one, watched by more than 45 million people worldwide, used up to 13 different locations across the state to pull the show together.
Online entertainment database IMDb names Mount Macedon, Coburg Hill, Kew, Coburg High School, University of Melbourne, Pascoe Vale and Mornington Peninsula hotspot Rye as filming locations.
“They built the interiors for several locations [at Docklands] including the history-defying fort,” Mirchandaney said.
“I was involved with a big choreographed fight that was shot in the Dockland studios.
“Another studio that was built just for the show was located in Clayton, which doubled for the clearing fall site out in Hesket (including the upside-down bus) as well as various jungle locations.
“To see the indoor jungle come to life over time was seriously out of this world,” adds the Lost fan, who plays the vaping, anxiety-ridden, misunderstood student of Indian descent who finds himself alone in LA without family.
While playing alongside big stars such as Judy Davis and Dev Patel, he says playing Israni was more relatable.
“Scott is also a fish out of water in many ways, which is often how I see myself in this industry.
“I’m the first member of my family to pursue a career in the performing arts,” he says.
Australian production company Matchbox Pictures’ chief operating officer Matt Vitins described La Brea as “flagship international television”.
“It is the type of project that proves and extends the capacity of the Australian screen industry,” he said.
Universal Television president Erin Underhill said Australia proved to be the ideal setting to bring La Brea to the small screen and was “looking forward to giving back to the community with our new training initiative”.
As for Mirchandaney coming back for season two, again being filmed across Victoria?
He won’t give too much away, just saying he’s “happy and excited”, and looking forward to seeing “where the story goes”.
La Brea premieres on Monday, February 7 at 9.10pm on the Nine Network and 9Now