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Mr Hollywood on the Gold Coast

Mr Hollywood on the Gold Coast

Meet Mr Hollywood of underwater filming, Simon Christidis of Bigboyfilms. He is internationally recognised for his undersea and surf cinematography in the movie industry, and has worked for big names, like James Cameron, Angelina Jolie, Disney, Paramount, and Universal Studios.

Simon says, “Action!”

Simon has been producing television commercials and corporate videos since 1988. His company’s clients include Tourism Queensland, BCF, Mt Franklin, Coke, Subway, Light and Easy, Instant Scratchies, and Stockland, among many others.

What sets Simon apart as a cinematographer is his love for the water while testing all the boundaries of innovation and fearless underwater effort. He manufactures his own underwater housing and surf filming equipment in his personal workshop. This allows him to build specific underwater custom rigs for movies, and makes his equipment very versatile.

“One of the biggest projects I worked on was a film with James Cameron, called Deep Challenge,” Simon recalls. “This involved James diving down into the Marianas Trench in a custom built submarine. I had to cover the deployment and recovery of the submarine, as well as operating a 100-kilogram-plus 3-D underwater camera system at night in the Coral Sea off New Guinea.”

The stunt was daring enough, but Simon further explains, “I did it on my own as the safety divers were too scared to dive with all the noise from the big ship turbines, and the sharks.” This was extremely challenging as he was working on his own while filming a submarine speeding towards him, from the deep and in the dark. Despite the danger involved, he calmly points out, “This required good timing and coordination to avoid getting hurt.”

One of the projects Simon is filming locally is the mermaids-inspired television series Mako Island of Secrets, produced by Jonathan M. Shiff Productions, with several locations for filming on the Broadwater and at Sea World. “Shooting underwater television is very challenging and has to be very efficient, with only a limited time prearranged for each scene. We film on location to build a story with actors holding their breath underwater for short stages, and rely on the expertise of both the Director and Director of Photography to film with no rehearsals.”

Simon says, “Wave Break Island is a favourite.”

Simon has filmed many projects on the Broadwater during his career as local studios attract Australian and international productions wanting to take advantage of the Gold Coast’s natural assets. One of his favourite underwater filming locations is the north eastern corner of Wave Break Island. “It offers protection from the offshore swells, and the clear water comes in very quickly on the tides. There is up to 10 metres in depth, and generally the water quality is clear to film on the incoming tide while the visibility drops away as tide flows out.”

Simon is attracted to this area as it creates a marvellous backdrop of fish varieties, squid and other sea creatures. On his most memorable project, “The most complex and gratifying location filming for a movie at Wave Break Island, the team purposely sunk a Cessna plane and the sequence involved the pilot dying while the recovery divers stumble across a fortune in gold inside the aircraft.” The crew managed the plane submerged for five days and captured very dramatic high energy film.

Simon says, “When on board…”

The endless days of filming on the Broadwater give Simon an opportunity to travel on an array of boats and watercraft. “The large oyster punts are ideal for the movie business with their storage areas, and ability to beach them on the sands, and game fishing boats for the actors as a green room with amenities on board. We utilised a fleet of local boats during filming of Flipper in the late 90’s and again filming the movie Ghost Ship. Another film Fatal Honeymoon with Harvey Keitel was filmed on the Broadwater and on the wreck of the Scottish Prince out the front of the Sheraton Mirage.”

In 2014, Screen Queensland and the State Government played key roles in luring Angelina Jolie’s big-budget production Unbroken to the Gold Coast. It was Simon’s technical abilities and equipment that were utilized. Simon says, “I worked on the movie as the main unit underwater camera operator. My role was to provide specialised underwater custom-built housings and operating skills.”

Simon says, “The future is exciting.”

Simon is always looking forward. “The next big improvement on the Gold Coast that excites me is the redevelopment of the Evandale Cultural Precinct. The lake is scheduled for a makeover, creating a great underwater film location.”

When asked about the future development of the Broadwater, Simon answers, “I am all for environmentally sound development. I think it is paramount to keep Gold Coast competitive. As Queensland’s biggest tourism stakeholder, the continuous well-planned development will ensure the city is an interesting place to visit and an even greater place to live.”

Simon is one of a growing number of boat owners calling out for better use of the cities waterfronts. “I would like to see more relaxation along the river for development of restaurants and cafes. The city needs many more jetties for boats with public access, especially along the Nerang River in Surfers Paradise. This stretch should be one big marina berthing for visitor parking.”

The Gold Coast film industry portfolio is growing with a mounting number of high profile feature films. And, Simon’s Hollywood connections ensure that under the sea, he is the man behind the camera.

On Location: The Gold Coast

The Gold Coast is a leading location for film-making in Australia, as the city offers filmmakers a wide-ranging landscape—from pristine coastlines and sub-tropical rainforests, to contemporary architecture of city skylines. These interesting and magnificent locations are all found within close proximity to world-class studios.

As Australia’s premier tourist destination, the Gold Coast is famous for its sub-tropical climate, 57 kilometres of coastline and 260 kilometres of beautiful waterways. This aquatic wonderland has become a popular backdrop to local and international movie and television scenes. To date, there is a growing portfolio of productions that have been filmed on the Gold Coast, with US productions alone having a combined production budget of AU$1.7 billion.

The Gold Coast is home to a large film industry crew base of recognised technicians and production experts. The local crew provide filmmakers a multi-skilled and versatile range of services. The city’s skills set covers a wide range of formats from television series and full-length feature films, to commercials and pilot shows and more. The Gold Coast caters across the film-making spectrum, from conservative budget television series to A-list actor big-budget feature films.

One of the largest film and television studios in the Southern Hemisphere is the Village Roadshow Studios in Oxenford. The area houses a set of studios of world-class film production facilities comprising eight sound stages, three water tanks, ten production offices, editing suites and support services.

Aside from the latest sequel of Pirates of the Caribbean being filmed on the Gold Coast, the city has been the location for many blockbuster films in recent years, such as Unbroken, The Chronicles of Narnia, Fool’s Gold, Nim’s Island, Aquamarine, Peter Pan, Ghost Ship, Scooby Doo, Terra Nova (television series), Bait 3D and Sanctum 3D.


By Andy Kancachian

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