The big film industry news in Australia last week was that the federal government had signed a deal with Disney to have the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean film shot in Queensland. Disney will receive a $21.6 million incentive to use the picturesque white sands, blue oceans and green rainforests of the sunshine state as the backdrop for Johnny Depp’s latest turn as the eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow. In return, the film will apparently bring $100 million of investment back into Queensland and provide jobs for locals.

At the same time, filming started in Tasmania on The Kettering Incident, an upcoming eight-part crime mystery drama that will air on Foxtel in Australia and BBC Worldwide. The series, which stars Elizabeth Debicki and Matthew Le Nevez, is set in the misty, coastal town of Kettering, which is about half an hour south of Hobart, and has a population of 1000 or so. For a town like Kettering, it’s big news — the Tasmanian government has invested $1 million in the project, but it’s expected to return $5 million into the local economy and create 300 local jobs.

When the series airs around the world in 2015, the producers will no doubt be watching the ratings closely. So should the good people of Kettering. If things go to plan, the sleepy township might become just a little less sleepy.

While Queensland will reap immediate financial rewards, the long-term potential of a project like The Kettering Incident is even greater. Why? Because while there might be recognisable Queensland locations in Pirates of the Caribbean 5, The Kettering Incident will clearly have a huge connection to its setting — it’s even in the title.

So why are the local economic benefits potentially so great in a project like this? Because just as often as we fall in love with characters on film and TV, we fall in love with places. And in many instances, the locations become their own characters.

Melbourne has been lucky recently, with series like Offspring and Jack Irish drawing on the city’s natural character to inform the show’s tone. Offspring is packed full of shots of Nina and Billie walking through Edinburgh Gardens and down Melbourne’s laneways, past hipster cafes. The impact has been so great, and North Melbourne was shown in such a romantic light, that people even began moving to North Melbourne just to be more like Nina.

In 2007, on a trip to New York, I did the obligatory TV and film locations tour.

Soon enough, the bus rolled down to Greenwich Village, where we all jumped out and enthusiastically walked down a few smaller streets to what is perhaps the most famous apartment building in the world — the Friends building where Monica, Rachel, Joey and Chandler all lived. Never mind that there was never a single scene filmed inside the building or even outside the building — it was only ever used in establishing shots for a few short seconds, and clearly doesn’t match the sound stage set, which includes a large balcony, completely missing from the exterior shot — this was the undoubted highlight of the tour.

Just as the tour group was excitedly taking photos on the sidewalk just across the road, a busy New York mother pushed past the group with her pram, rushing off to some appointment. As she thundered past, she turned and yelled “People live here, you know!”

I don’t think she was talking about Monica and Chandler …

While over a decade of infamy and tourism had clearly become a major annoyance to my New York friend and her neighbourhood, the potential of a starring role in a successful TV show for a town like Kettering is one that shouldn’t be underestimated.

New Zealanders in Matamata are still capitalising on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, with an entire tourism industry built around set tours of “Hobbiton” and themed restaurants, cafes and accommodation where visitors can discover the “real Middle Earth”. Downton Abbey attracts as many as 1200 visitors a day to Highclere Castle, turning it into a major tourism attraction and easing the financial burden on its owners Lord and Lady Carnarvon (if only Lord and Lady Grantham could tap into the same market). Closer to The Kettering Incident, the ITV mystery drama Broadchurch, set in a similar sleepy coastal town, has seen a sharp increase in tourists visiting West Bay in Dorset, where the series was filmed.

And then there’s the matter of the pride that you feel when you see your local hangouts on the screen. It’s that indescribable, completely unjustifiable thrill — like you’re seeing a small part of yourself on the screen, and that’s somehow validating. I experienced it most recently watching the 2013 movie musical Goddess. The movie was average, at best, but seeing the Opera House and Harbour Bridge looking glorious as all hell put a spring in my step as I walked past them the next day. I spend much of my working life around these landmarks, and yet they somehow look 10 times more glorious in a cinema.

The screen has this romanticising quality that works on both people already familiar with a certain location and those who have yet to visit. It’s that model that Disneyland, Universal Studios and Movie World work on — that you can pull that screen down and step inside of these worlds.

The Kettering Incident might be a dark mystery about lost children, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to include plenty of sweeping shots of the surrounding countryside looking idyllic. It doesn’t mean that people won’t be desperate to step into that world. Get ready for the influx, Tassie.

*This article was originally published at Daily Review

Peter Fray

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