Of all the filming locations in Australia – the cities, rainforests, outback, beaches, bush and mountains – Broken Hill is one of the most iconic.
It has been famously used as the setting for Mad Max 2, The Adventures Of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, Razorback, A Town Like Alice and the classic version of Wake In Fright.
“The whole community actually loves movies”: director Heath Davis (rear) with director of photography Chris Bland and focus puller Jeffrey Truong on the set of the film Locusts at Broken Hill.
Had not heavy rain turned the desert into a flourishing garden, George Miller would have shot Mad Max: Fury Road there instead of shipping the cast, crew and scores of vehicles to Namibia. More recently, hopes that he would film two new instalments in the outback city have been blocked by a legal battle with Hollywood studio Warner Bros over payment for Fury Road.
But such is the appeal of the area – the desert, mines and what one local calls "a whole town that's like a movie set" – that Broken Hill has attracted shooting for the films Last Cab To Darwin and Strangerland, the US television series The Leftovers, the Ten Network's remake of Wake In Fright and the Foxtel mini-series Fighting Season since Fury Road was forced to leave.
And now Locusts has landed.
Directed by Heath Davis, best known for the 2016 rugby league film Broke, it sounds like a horror film about a grasshopper plague.
Not so much serenity in Serenity Crossing: Jessica McNamee and Ben Geurens shoot Locusts in Broken Hill.
But it is a dark drama about a tech entrepreneur who gets caught in an extortion racket when he returns home for his father's funeral. It stars Ben Geurens, Nathaniel Dean and Jessica McNamee.
Davis says the title is a metaphor for how a once flourishing mining town has been stripped.
Broken Hill is doubling for Serenity Crossing, which has struggled with unemployment, crime and an ice epidemic since the boom ended.
"The whole community actually loves movies, which is strange," Davis said between shots. "You go to a lot of towns – sometimes bigger cities like Sydney – and you say 'I need your house' or 'we want to film here' and nobody's interested.
"But they're all behind us. They understand the area is synonymous with filmmaking because they've done so many things."
Self-financed with a budget of $1.5 million, Locusts has a two-a-half-week shoot in Broken Hill, then two weeks in Sydney. It is Davis' second film this year after shooting the low budget school comedy Book Week in the Blue Mountains in January.
"We're using some of the roads they actually shot Mad Max 2 on, which is pretty cool," he said.
Screen Broken Hill chair Jason King, who is associate producer on Locusts, said that despite losing out on recent Mad Max instalments, the unique landscape has continued to be popular with filmmakers.
"There's pretty much been a feature film or a major television series every year or two consistently over time," he said. ''What we find is when it's a drought, there's a little bit more action …
"But regardless of whether it's dry or green, there's something about the outback that brings something to a film. Certain locations become a character in a film and that's especially true of Broken Hill."
Screen Broken Hill was formed this year to foster local filmmaking as well as assist visiting crews.
Ben Guerens and Nathaniel Dean head into the outback.
"We want to develop a local film industry here that can do our own stuff and not wait for the Mad Maxs to come along," King said. "It's always been a popular place for television commercials and magazine shoots but the goal is to step it up. I don't think it's reached its potential."
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