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Behind the scenes of Alien: Covenant and Hacksaw Ridge

by Ausfilm

Warner Bros.’ Bill Draper and Wayne Borg at Ausfilm Week in Los Angeles

What is a typical workday for you?

Wayne Borg: The day starts very early. Normally up at 5.30 and walking the dog by 6. I think that’s where the routine ends. Leading the Fox Studios Australia team is a varied and dynamic role. It’s a large and complex business with many moving parts and facets that span a wide variety of areas. We have over 3,000 people based at the studio and 85 businesses that expands by a further 1,000 to 1,500 people when productions are on the lot.

No two days are ever routine. Every day will be different, whether it’s speaking with clients on the west coast of the US or in China, or liaising with colleagues at the studio in LA, meeting with clients and prospective clients locally, speaking with Government representatives Federally and at a State level, or managing through group corporate Twentieth Century Fox issues locally, or my duties as an Ausfilm Board member and Screen Producers Australia Council member. It’s diverse, stimulating and rewarding.

Tell us about the size of the production on Hacksaw Ridge? How many sound stages did they use?

We had been working with Bill Mechanic on a plan that utilised the studio, Sydney and the State to cover all their shooting and location needs. We were excited when along with Create NSW (the newly amalgamated agency incorporating Arts NSW and Screen NSW), we secured the production for the Studio and the State.

The film generated around 720 direct jobs and over AUD$26 million in production expenditure across central Sydney, Western Sydney and regional NSW.

At Fox Studios Australia, where the production was based, Hacksaw Ridge, occupied four sound stages and production support areas including back of house, production offices, art/costume craft shops and construction workshops. In addition, the film utilised backlot areas and accessed the services of the screen production support businesses based on the lot including equipment hire and post production.

The production required large set builds at the studios and on location in Bringelly where WWII battlegrounds and barracks were recreated. Other locations included the small town of Richmond which doubled for Lynchburg Virginia, Newington Armoury at Sydney Olympic Park which doubled for Fort Jackson in South Carolina and parts of Goulburn, which doubled for the treacherous 400-foot cliff known as ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ in the WWII Battle of Okinawa.

Hacksaw Ridge© Icon Films Distribution

Did they shoot on your quasi-backlot of Centennial Park just round the corner from the studios?

Parts of the Studio Lot were used as a back lot (for some of the Virginian scenes) in addition to the vast parklands we have adjacent to the Studio here in Central Sydney. The cemetery that Desmond Doss’s family visits in the movie was filmed at Centennial Park.

Centennial Park, located adjacent to Fox Studios Australia, is a film friendly 189 hectare / 467 acre grand park in the Victorian period tradition featuring formal gardens, ponds, lakes, grand avenues, statues and historic buildings. Feature films and television series filmed there, along with Hacksaw Ridge include, Peter Rabbit,
Top of the Lake, Gods of Egypt, The Great Gatsby, Australia, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Superman Returns, Star Wars: Episode I, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revisited, The Quiet American, Danny Deckchair, The Amazing Race (China), X-Factor and The Voice.

That’s the beauty of New South Wales and Sydney. We can stand in for contemporary and period New York, LA, period Tokyo, West Virginia, Okinawa, parts of Europe, modern Japan, futuristic cities, Martian landscapes and lush exotic jungles.

Were there any challenges on Hacksaw Ridge and if so how did you resolve them?

Hacksaw Ridge involved large-scale action to recreate the WWII Battle of Okinawa where an estimated 200,000 people were killed. To authentically recreate this moment in history, a large number of actors and extras were required to film the battlefield sequences, which featured actors in foxholes and underground tunnels that were built at Fox, with the sets dressed in tonnes of dirt.

It also involved the seamless coordination of hair, make-up and wardrobe requirements and coordinating the specific direction required from each actor and extra in each scene. Most challenging was the need to store and fire live firearms and detonate explosives which was meticulously managed to ensure the necessary risk management initiatives and regulatory approvals were in place.

You must be pretty pleased that Hacksaw Ridge won two Oscars® and a BAFTA? What was it like working with Mel Gibson and Bill Mechanic?

It was a privilege to work with Mel Gibson and Bill Mechanic. They are great supporters of the Australian film industry so we were thrilled that Hacksaw Ridge won Academy Awards® for Best Achievement in Film Editing and Best Achievement in Sound Mixing and a BAFTA Award for Best Editing. Overall, the film has received another 40 wins and 76 nominations.

The success of Hacksaw Ridge is a testament to the highly skilled film and television industry practitioners we have here in Sydney, who are considered globally as industry leading. One of the main reasons major Hollywood film studios continually return to Australia for their feature productions is to work with this phenomenal talent pool.

It’s been reported that Sir Ridley Scott really enjoyed his time in Sydney filming Alien: Covenant. Can you tell us about your involvement on this production?

Alien: Covenant occupied seven sound stages and production support areas including back of house, production offices, art/costume craft shops and construction workshops within the studio complex.

The film also accessed the services of the screen production support businesses based on the Fox lot including equipment hire and post production. The production required large set builds both at the studios and on location at a former Sydney Water reservoir, which Sir Ridley Scott called “one of the best movie backlots in the world.” Much of the massive construction work for the backlot set was undertaken at the studio utilising our construction areas.

Alien: Covenant employed more than 600 local cast and crew directly and many more indirectly. It was an incredible opportunity to work with such an experienced and talented director like Sir Ridley, for our crews. Plus the film contributed more than AUD$60 million to the New South Wales economy.

Did they create big set builds? What was the length of time they shot at Fox Studios?

Alien: Covenant occupied the studios from early November 2015 to mid-September 2016. Creating the Alien universe required intricate production design and large set builds at Fox Studios Australia, where the colony ship Covenant and eerily dangerous new worlds from the original Alien and Prometheus were created. Potts Hill also featured a series of giant sets including dozens of writhing bodies frozen in anguished positions on a massive staircase, 20 metre high monuments, stone walls with alien hieroglyphics, desolate alien landscapes, the base of a forest and a space ship.

What’s the toughest thing about working on a production as big as Alien: Covenant?

Scale and the demands that come with the complexity of a production of this nature. Alien: Covenant is probably the largest “in camera” production the studio has ever hosted.

What was it like working with one of the greatest directors in the world?

Sir Ridley Scott is a prolific filmmaker. It was a great privilege to work with one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. His energy and creativity are electrifying.

This is an edited version of a story published by Ausfilm. See the original article here.