/News 27.02.18


The doors to San Jose’s Winchester mystery house are unlocked. Filmed in Victoria, this year’s supernatural feature Winchester showcases the state’s great filmmaking talent.

Inspired by true events, Winchester is the story of millionaire heiress Sarah Winchester (played by Dame Helen Mirren) who is convinced that she and her family are being haunted by the souls killed at the barrel of the infamous rifle. Her obsession leads to the incessant construction of an enormous mansion, designed to keep these evil spirits at bay.

Following their successful partnership in 2014 for Predestination (also shot in Melbourne), Writer-directors Michael and Peter Spierig reunited with producer Tim McGahan to bring the story to screen.

The capital city of Melbourne played host to actors Dame Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke and Sarah Snook with physical production based at Docklands Studios Melbourne. Film Victoria’s Production Incentive and Screen Australia funding provided financial support for the film.

“It was quite a bold ambition to take a very well-known and distinctive American house and try to recreate it in Australia,” Blacklab Entertainment’s producer, Tim McGahan said.

“The Winchester house is so fundamentally important to our story, not just the look but to be able to recreate its feel. The locations were critical to Winchester so it was imperative that we were all comfortable in being able to emulate the feeling of this very distinctive house in Victoria.”

“We based our entire production out of the Docklands Studios including the production office, art department, costume, rehearsal spaces and shooting on stage.”

Production room at Docklands Studios (photo: Ben King)

“Having everything in the same place is a very efficient way to work. The facilities are world-class, easy to access and so close to the CBD (central) of Melbourne and many of our shooting locations.”

The six-week build at Docklands Studios housed two sound stages and saw over 180 crew carefully bring to life the vision from the script created by the Spierig brothers and writer Tom Vaughan.

One of Australia’s top production designers, Matthew Putland was tasked with the role of leading the precise recreation of the eccentric house, which included building a switchback staircase, stick for stick, and a second staircase … leading nowhere.

An exact replica of the switchback staircase constructed at Docklands Studios (still from trailer)

“We also built the main entry and corridor along with a séance room – a cone-shaped tower which, at the real house, has a strong presence and was something that Peter and Michael wanted to include,” Matthew said.

“This was an iconic room because it was here that Sarah spoke to the spirits to find out the layout of the room they died in, so she could appease the spirits by having that room reconstructed at her mansion.”

The séance room at the California mansion was recreated as a set at Docklands Studios (photo: Ben King)

While the exterior mansion maintained its historical colourings of dark grey trim and grey-greenfaçade, Matthew darkened the interior palette to intensify the atmosphere and align with the horror genre.

“We created a sense of luxury and opulence using designs and features from the actual house such as stained-glass windows,” Matthew said.

“The Victorian era had layers and layers of decoration and we sourced great props from all over the place including antique shops in Melbourne, which are some of the best. I had a great team, including Janie Parker (Art Director) and Vanessa Cerne (Set Decorator) who are both Melbourne locals and were key players in achieving the look of Winchester.”

Outside of the studio, Matthew and the team also made good use of multiple Victorian heritage buildings including Labassa Manor, Werribee Mansion for interiors and Ripponlea Estate’s conservatory and servants’ quarters.

Inner Melbourne heritage buildings used to recreate period San Jose (Ben King)

“It was great to be able to find all these locations that we could pass off as the house,” Matthew said.

“The spaces were more expansive than rooms at the real house. This helped us fit our film crew and we confined the spaces with furniture.”

Winchester completed all of its sound post-production in Melbourne with Cutting Edge, who collaborated with Boom Tracks’ Paul Pirola. The final mix was completed on stage at Soundfirm in South Melbourne.

Tim McGahan expressed his delight at the overall positive filming experience, saying:

“The Victorian crew were all first class. There is such a wealth of talented individuals working in Victoria, hard-working, and creatively generous.

Winchester crew (Photo: Ben King)

“I have also maintained a great relationship with Film Victoria and they have been incredibly supportive in their assistance with locations and production attraction incentives.They understand what is important to producers and balance flexibility and reliability when it comes to facilitating a production.”

Winchester is now screening in the US and released in Australia on the 22 February 2018.

For more information on Victoria’s production incentives and filming locations contact:

Joe Brinkmann
Manager – Incentives and Investments at Film Victoria
[email protected]

For more information about filming at Docklands Studios Melbourne contact:

Rod Allan
Chief Executive Officer
[email protected]