/News 31.01.24

South Australia Location Spotlight: Adelaide Hills

Drive just 20 minutes out of the bustling CBD of South Australia’s capital Adelaide and you could think you were in Europe, Greece, Japan or even Hong Kong, with a range of stunning and endlessly flexible locations to be found in the picturesque Adelaide Hills.

Boasting dramatic pine forests, pretty vineyards, and rolling hills dotted with quaint, European-style villages and ultra-modern luxury residential architecture, “The Hills”, as the locals call the area, is a popular filming destination for the versatility and convenience it offers, and for its range of diverse and distinctive settings.

Plus, it’s home to a world-famous wine region, some of South Australia’s best food, and has a cooler climate than the city, making it the perfect destination for both work and play.

Indie sci-fi thriller Monolith, in US cinemas now, only features one location – so it was essential to make that location count. The South Australian made film starring Lily Sullivan (Evil Dead Rise) made a splash following its international premiere at SXSW 2023, made all the more memorable for its one-actor premise and carefully contained setting – an imposing and beautiful architectural Adelaide Hills house which became a character all in itself.

Monolith house, Balhannah, South Australia. Designed by Atelier Bond. Photo supplied

South Australian producer Bettina Hamilton knew that location manager Scott McCarten had “struck location gold” when they found the Monolith house in the Adelaide Hills town of Balhannah, 30km (18 mi) from Adelaide. The multi-million-dollar home was designed in 2021 by renowned South Australian architectural firm Atelier Bond and is exemplar of the luxury homes that can be found throughout the Adelaide Hills region.

“Without doubt, that house helped make the film, and gave the story much higher production values than the film’s microbudget really allowed! We are fortunate to have so many people supportive and open to film production in the state, it makes sourcing locations that much easier.”

Bettina Hamilton, Producer, Monolith
Monolith house, Balhannah, South Australia. Photo by Ian Routledge

“It’s incredible that we could find a location that could feel beautiful, haunting and isolated all at once so close to the city. Monolith needs to feel like it exists in a hidden pocket universe, and we could do that within 30 minutes of the CBD and in such a convenient way that made production a very simple logistical equation.”

Matt Vesely, Director, Monolith

On the other end of the scale, 2021 action blockbuster Mortal Kombat made use of locations all over South Australia, including Mount Crawford – just 53km (33mi) or a one-hour drive from Adelaide – as a stand-in for the lush green woods of feudal Japan. Producer Todd Garner told GQ that “the pine forest they have up here [near Mount Crawford], it’s really lended itself to being able to give this movie a lot of different looks.”

“A lot of times we’re scouting all the time, and there is a lot of time lost in transportation – you don’t get that in Adelaide, because it just doesn’t have the congestion and it’s a lot easier to move around. The Adelaide Hills are right here, which has great locations.”

E. Bennett Walsh, Executive Producer, Mortal Kombat
Behind the scenes of Mortal Kombat in Mount Crawford, South Australia. Image supplied.
“Hashashi House” in Mortal Kombat, Mount Crawford, South Australia. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Acclaimed Australian producer Helen Leake (Wolf Creek 2, Swerve) is no stranger to the benefits of filming in South Australia, praising “the enormous variety of looks that can be found within an hour’s drive from the city centre.”

That’s why it was a no-brainer for her and producer Gena Ashwell to shoot their eco-thriller Carnifex, directed by Sean Lahiff, in the Adelaide Hills. When the film made its world premiere at the 2022 Sitges Film Festival, it was a true showcase of what the Hills have to offer.

The creature feature maximised the natural settings across the region, filming around the historic town of Lobethal, and in the forests of Gorge Wildlife Park and Belair National Park, one of the oldest national parks in the world that Ashwell described as feeling like it was “in the middle of nowhere”. Offering abundant, dense greenery just a 25-minute drive from the city, the Adelaide Hills parks allowed the creative team to achieve a look of remote bushland without the travel time.

Carnifex, Adelaide Hills, South Australia. Photo supplied

Director Lahiff said Belair National Park was “key” in creating the wilderness setting of Carnifex: “When making a film about a thought-to-be-extinct megafauna species set deep in a forest that time forgot, I never realised we would find such easily accessible locations so close to the city.”

Leake also said that the convenience kept production costs down, as the locations allowed the production to evoke “a sense of travelling long distances, yet it was all achieved with normal shooting hours and no need to put crew up overnight.”

“The Adelaide Hills are beautiful, haunting and so cinematic. South Australia is blessed to have such cinematic locations within 30 minutes driving from the city.”

Sean Lahiff, Director, Carnifex
Carnifex, Adelaide Hills, South Australia. Photo supplied

Belair National Park also doubled as the French countryside in critically acclaimed ABC World War I miniseries ANZAC Girls. Producer Lisa Scott said that “whether you are seeking lush green forest or arid desert landscapes, the Hills have so much to offer.”

ANZAC Girls, Belair National Park, South Australia. Photo supplied

Lisa Scott also produced season one of hit Stan, HBO Max and BBC One Jamie Dornan series The Tourist, the BBC’s most-watched series of 2022.

Filmed entirely in South Australia, much of the action was set in the dusty Outback deserts of the Flinders Ranges, but locations also included the imposing trees of Kuitpo Forest (50 minutes from Adelaide), which made a convincing double for a Hong Kong game reserve, an architecturally designed house in Heathfield as a character’s extravagant Hong Kong home, and a farm in Hartley (45-minutes from Adelaide) which served as a farmhouse in rural Greece.

The Tourist, Kuitpo Forest, South Australia

“The diversity of landscapes in the Adelaide Hills enabled us to shoot multiple locations all in close proximity to Adelaide.”

Lisa Scott, Producer, The Tourist, ANZAC Girls, A Sunburnt Christmas

Scott was also behind Stan family holiday film A Sunburnt Christmas, produced in association with Every Cloud Productions. Starring Daniel Henshall (The Royal Hotel, The Babadook), the film was shot predominantly on a homestead in Callington (a 55km or 34mi drive from Adelaide). The rustic charm of the property and surrounding fields perfectly set the scene of a drought-stricken Outback farm – or what The Guardian called a “quintessentially Australian setting.”

Behind the scenes of A Sunburnt Christmas in Callington, South Australia. Photo courtesy of Every Cloud Productions.

Filmed and set in the Adelaide Hills, Closer Productions’ ABC dramedy series Aftertaste used locations all over the region. Producer Rebecca Summerton (Animals, 52 Tuesdays) said that shooting in the Hills was amazing not just for the ease of moving about, but for the “openness” of the community, saying that the crew was “embraced by the local communities and found filming in the region a delight.”

Behind the scenes of Aftertaste in front of the Uraidla Hotel, South Australia. Photo by Ian Routledge

With a focus on the world of food, local restaurants and wineries were the key ingredient for success, with scenes in season one and two filming in hospitality venues in Stirling, Uraidla and Littlehampton.

The production found their key location at a residential property in Kangarilla, filming in the house, shed, garden and the expansive fields, while a commercial vineyard in Summertown worked well on screen as a small independent winery that also offered the capacity to host the full crew.

“From Eucalypt groves to pine forests, Tuscan-style vineyards and rolling pastures, the region delivers lush greens in the cooler months and a tapestry of yellows, reds and oranges in autumn. The region can be distinctly Australian or double for European countryside.”

Rebecca Summerton, Producer, Aftertaste
The leafy heritage-lined streets of Hahndorf become a “tapestry of yellows, reds and oranges” in the fall. Photo by Michael Waterhouse Photography

The Adelaide Hills are just one of the many stunning and diverse filming locations on offer in South Australia, all easily accessible from capital city Adelaide.

Combined with outstanding production incentives, flexible facilities at the South Australian Film Corporation’s (SAFC) Adelaide Studios and an array of award-winning world-class post-production and VFX companies, South Australia is the perfect location for screen productions of any size.

To find out more about filming in South Australia visit the SAFC’s Locations Gallery online at safilm.com.au/locations or contact SAFC Production Executive, Elyse Lawson at [email protected]