MELBOURNE ON SHOW IN PREACHER
The creative team behind US hit TV series Preacher found everything they needed in Victoria ... and more
After three seasons of searching for god in the US, the creative team behind AMC’s Preacher decided to bring the action to Australia. In the first episode of the fourth and final season of the hit show, Dominic Cooper’s character Jesse falls out of a plane and crashes to the ground in the red desert of the Australian outback. In reality, he ‘lands’ just 45 minutes west of Melbourne.
“When someone mentions ‘outback Australia’ and ‘red dirt’, your thoughts go to towns like Alice Springs, or anywhere in the Northern Territory, or Broken Hill perhaps. But we couldn’t ship the entire main shooting crew anywhere that far from our base in Melbourne,” said Location Manager Natalie Zibung.
“So the Locations team went out west of Melbourne to scout around Bacchus Marsh. It didn’t take us long to find an owner of a property in the Parwan Valley with over 5,000 hectares of red dirt, where we could simulate the Australian outback without having to travel too far from the city. We ended up filming for more than two weeks all over the property that was big enough to have its own postcode!”
The site of Victoria’s oldest volcanic activity, the landscape of the Parwan Valley changes dramatically with the seasons: in summer it’s a dry rural area which reveals its red earth, and in the winter it turns to lush green.
The valley is an example of why the state of Victoria is known as Australia’s most versatile and accessible destination for filming. Deserts, beaches, mountains, forests, wineries, small towns and more are all within an easy drive of Melbourne.
For the scenes that were set in outback USA, Preacher also made the most of Victoria’s flexibility to double for almost any country in the world. “We were able to shoot roads duplicating for Texas, Dakota, Pennsylvania and New Orleans all within an hour of Melbourne,” said Zibung.
The storyline jumps to Australia in episode six and although Showrunner Sam Catlin (Breaking Bad) was new to Melbourne – in fact Preacher was the American’s first time working outside the US – he quickly got the feel of the city and incorporated many iconic Melbourne scenes into the series.
“Melbourne has a lot of different looks. It was a very versatile city in terms of all the different things that we needed for Preacher. We didn’t know all the story parts before we got here, but pretty much everything we could think of Melbourne provided,” said Catlin.
“There’s one section [in episode six] where two of the characters arrive in Melbourne and were doing a sort of greatest hits of the city like Luna Park or Flinders Street Station. It turned out to be great.”
When the script for the episode came in, the Locations team knew it wouldn’t be easy but were up for the challenge. Even Zibung, a highly respected former traffic supervisor who has extensive experience in roads and traffic management, wasn’t 100% sure they could pull it off.
“When we read the script about the main characters arriving into Melbourne in a ‘tearing up the streets’ fashion in the tone of the 1970’s TV show, The Streets of San Francisco, and it included locations like Princes Bridge, Luna Park, North Wharf and Flinders Street Station, I thought it was a huge task and knew that the extensive permitting process ahead of us was going to be intricate. But we did it!,” said Zibung.
“The Locations team worked very closely with the City of Melbourne, City of Port Phillip, Victoria Police, Film Victoria and our local Melbourne traffic management companies to make it happen. VicRoads, Public Transport Victoria, Parks Victoria, Development Victoria and Yarra Trams were all also extremely supportive through the permitting process.”
Zibung says the biggest challenge for the team was completely closing down the intersection of Flinders Street, St Kilda Road and Swanston Street, arguably the busiest intersection in Victoria for vehicle, public transport and foot traffic, for filming.
“We had to shoot very early on a Sunday morning and be done by a certain time before the road and footpath traffic became too much to manage, as there were football games and nearby local events happening that day,” she said.
“Again with the support of local government and state agencies, we were able to achieve some incredible shots outside of Flinders Street Station and on St Kilda Road that have never been done before.”
Over five months of filming, Preacher filmed at over 50 different locations across Melbourne and regional Victoria.
Scenes featuring ‘Masada’, the fictional command center of a secret religious military organisation, and the Middle Eastern desert surrounding it, were filmed across three Victorian locations: the Avalon Salt Pans and quarries in Little River and Guildford. The main build was in the Guildford quarry, where the production constructed the enormous entryway to the fictional organisation’s heavily fortified headquarters.
Their hard-working construction team and art department, predominantly made up of talented Victorians, also built a Texan roadside diner at the Werribee Treatment Plant, turned a Carlton café into a New York deli, and transformed Ferguson Street in Williamstown into Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
Backdrops that featured heavily in the series, such as the Holy Bar & Grail, were constructed on the sound stages at Docklands Studios Melbourne, where the production was based for the duration of its time in Australia.
Preacher has a cult following around the world. “It’s an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ kind of show: it’s very silly, it’s incredibly violent, it’s dramatic, it has a lot of different worlds under one universe,” said Catlin.
Zibung herself can’t wait to see her home state on screen.
“Local audiences will recognise an Aussie beach, Victorian country roads and a handful of Melbourne city streets and landscapes. There’s also some beautiful shots captured of the Great Ocean Road which always makes us Victorians proud,” said Zibung.
Images: © 2019 AMC Networks Entertainment LLC. and Sony Pictures Television Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Lachlan Moore/AMC/Sony Pictures Television