A major US television series with $10m in Australian government incentive funding has been hobbled by content platform and production behemoth Netflix, with only half of the series finished shooting.
Produced and starring the husband and wife duo Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone, God’s Favorite Idiot began filming in and around Byron Bay and Ballina in northern New South Wales in March.
An estimated 300 Australian cast and crew members are believed to have been affected by the sudden decision to wrap up the project early, with only eight of the planned 16 episodes now having any chance of seeing the light of day.
A statement sent to Guardian Australia from Netflix said the decision had been a “mutual creative decision” made with McCarthy and Falcone.
“At Netflix our series can be any length and we and the producers felt an eight-episode limited series best served the story,” the statement said.
“The show has wrapped and pick-ups are slated to be completed in both Australia and Los Angeles.”
The Guardian understands that while the production’s cast were paid out for the full 16-week shoot, the mostly Australian crew – operating on different contracts – were only paid for work already done.
A crew member who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity said many of the crew had turned down other work opportunities for 2021, and were now without employment for the foreseeable future.
“There are a lot of very upset film crew out here right now who have been told to just suck it up,” the source said.
The Guardian is seeking comment from Netflix and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance on the issue of severance pay for the production’s Australian crew.
The series was enticed to Australia through the federal government’s $540m location incentive program, which allows overseas productions to recoup up to 13.5% of production expenses incurred in Australia.
An additional and unspecified financial incentive was also pledged by the state government’s Made in NSW fund.
Netflix said no Australian government incentives had been paid up front.
“The location offset is based on what the actual qualifying spend is in Australia, and the additional location incentive is based on an estimate of the qualifying spend,” the statement said.
“These incentives are not paid until the qualifying production expenditure is assessed and audited.”
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Australia’s communications and arts minister, Paul Fletcher, confirmed no funding had yet been paid to Netflix for God’s Favorite Idiot.
“A final report on the production … has yet to be provided to the Office for the Arts which administers the location incentive on behalf of the government,” the spokesperson said.
“Under standard practice of the location incentive funding, final payment is only made once final Australian expenditure is incurred on the production.”
Announcing the $10m grant to Netflix in February, Fletcher said that God’s Favorite Idiot, which was to have continued production in Australia until November, was expected to inject more than $74m into the Australian economy.
“These global productions continue to provide opportunities for the Australian screen industry,” Fletcher said at the time.
“With the excellent reputation of our cast and crew, complemented by Australia’s careful management of Covid-19, the location incentive is generating return business that is growing and enhancing our sector.”
The head of Screen NSW, Grainne Brunsdon, told the Guardian that the circumstances surrounding the Made in NSW contract with Netflix were commercial-in-confidence, but added that no money had changed hands.
“It’s a rebate, so unless they meet certain performance criteria in the contract, there is no…