What's Going On Down Under
Steven Marolho, Hotspring
July 16, 2021

What's Going On Down Under

How Australia’s film production scene has changed over time.
The media and entertainment industries have a rich history of change, which has been driven in part by the development of new technologies that facilitate and refine production. While Hollywood, London, New York, and the like have soaked up the limelight for decades as go-to hubs for production, Australia’s appeal to be included in this roster is growing.

Here we speak with Steven Marolho, industry vet, founder of Relator, and current APAC Business Development Lead at Hotspring. With 20 years of experience in the entertainment and advertising arena in Asia Pacific, spearheading business for Smoke & Mirrors, Digital Domain, MPC and now, Hotspring, we get his insight on the past, present and future of Australia’s film and TV production scene.

What was it that attracted you to production and advertising?

Watching TV as a kid, I was never given the impression that it actually took an entire industry to make that work. I started in 1995 when cable television came to Australia and Foxtel and Optus were vying to be the first major cable television network. I was looking for work right out of high school and landed a job at Global Television Studios on the HQ build-out for Optus Vision, and that was how my career began! It's now been over 20 years; albeit much bigger roles and further afield.

Is there a particular moment or memory in your work history that really stands out, a pivot moment?

The moment you could get your content from somewhere other than a movie or TV screen. The conversation started to change. Content was containerized into “online” and “for the web,” which created confusion around the standard for quality. Was online content inferior? Online certainly didn’t have the same budget, but the same expectation was still there from clients. It was a hugely pivotal moment in production – the value of a product shifting depending on what the client was going to do with it without the product being any different.

The other major turning point was the introduction of digital cameras. I remember Knowing directed by Alex Proyas, which was one of the first RED camera films. I was part of those tests with Park Road Post in New Zealand, shot on the roof of the Lab Sydney where I used to work. We were now using digital camera footage to be printed back onto film, DI was a totally new process! From a technology point of view, the arrival of digital cameras shifted everything – the way people started making content changed overnight.

And these two overarching shifts happened at roughly the same time?

The internet content requests came earlier – the idea of online/web. Then there was also the upgrade from standard definition and HD, too. So that's: higher definition, online content and the usage of digital cameras all in a small window. After that, the pace of change continued. Rendering speed, technical ability, new software, the works.

How has the industry changed in Australia?

The biggest industry changes have been the speed of production and patience for the process. There’s been a global shift in the sheer amount of content that's produced and the access consumers have to it. The content we made took time; we labored over it and then they were showcased and presented on the TV for a long while. Now, we're very much into a disposable media game because nothing has much of a shelf-life.

Another aspect to consider is quality – it's hard to find a bad studio. When I started, it was easy to point at the “great” studios, which everybody else then emulated, particularly in Australia. That’s gone now. The talent, the access to the tools, and the understanding of how to create content has been democratized; you have many more options in the market delivering amazing visual effects.

Can you tell me a bit about how the Australian market works?

Every market has its own business culture and operates with different rules on different terms, despite doing very much the same thing. In Australia, the landscape is incredibly collaborative and connected, versus the U.S., which tends to be more silo’d.

As a market, we're not a very big population and we have very distinct lifestyle choices, so brands and entertainment very much wrap around those things. Despite being fewer in number, there’s still an abundance of talent. When you look at how Australia and New Zealand perform on the international award scene, we punch well above our weight. Walk into any leading industry town and you’ll find Kiwis and Aussies in top ranks in every discipline. The level of mentorship is strong and the bar is set quite high, not to mention the sharing of information in Australia is also very open and conducive to nurturing talent. With regards to advertising, it's still quite conservative. It's not a big enough market to get too risky. A lot of the work is great, the craft is top shelf, but it still plays pretty safe.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing production studios today?

I think the biggest challenge is talent – being able to assemble the very best people from project to project when there's a huge desire and need for content. Studios can buy equipment, they can buy gear and put it in a beautiful room, but people are the defining variable and by far the most important factor to your studios success. In Australia, to add value you have to be good at multiple things, as there are just fewer of us in the industry compared to your go-to hubs of LA, London, or New York. Especially now with the acceptance of remote working, the ability to know that you're going to get the result that you need from anyone, whoever it is, whether it's an artist or someone on the business or finance side is crucial. The good thing is, there are tools for that now. You can connect to the talent, faster and more efficiently than word of mouth.

Do you see the market’s role in global VFX production and production changing?

A lot of the Hollywood stars are down here now because this is a great place to shoot. I think that Australia always felt very remote, but as the world gets smaller that becomes less important.

The growth potential is exciting. Don’t get me wrong, New York, LA, London, and other capital cities are always going to have their merits but Australia is booming. On a global scale, Australia has real potential to keep growing as an industry, it's an increasingly desirable location to live. If the work was here, then talent would definitely follow.

What's the next big thing for Australia? Do you think there's maybe another pivotal moment just waiting to happen, like with the internet and digital camera shift?

Given the current state of the world, there's not much certainty. I think we've just got to take small steps and continue to remain reactive – there’s no way to prepare for, or control, these global impacts. Generally, the competition across the big studios and OTT networks means they need more content.

Australia is really well placed to service a growing chunk of that need.

Steven Marolho, Business Development APAC at Hotspring. Steven has over 20 years of experience in entertainment & advertising production working across the globe – having spearheaded business for Smoke & Mirrors, Digital Domain and 7 years at MPC across China & the US. Steven joins the team to lead Business Development in APAC.