Two action films, the sci-fi disaster thriller Arctic Blast and 3D underwater drama Sanctum, are shooting in Australia, providing further evidence that the 40% producer offset for Australian films has begun to kick in.

Arctic Blast started filming yesterday in Tasmania and is about a maverick US meteorologist (Michael Shanks) who saves the world after a rip in the earth’s atmosphere over the South Pole creates a giant fog. It is director Brian Trenchard-Smith’s first film in Australia for a decade and is produced by Gina Black and Stefan Wodoslawsky for Imagination Worldwide.

Sanctum goes into production in November at Warner Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast and is about a father and teenage son on a cave-diving exploration that goes terribly wrong.

It has brought producer and co-writer Andrew Wight home to Australia to work for the first time in nearly a decade; will be the second film for director Alister Grierson (Kokoda), and has James Cameron as one of the executive producers.

Wight said he used the producer offset as leverage to raise Sanctum’s $25m (A$30m) budget in partnership with new entertainment and financing company Wayfare Entertainment and sales agent FilmNation, which has sold most territories but is holding back Australia and the US.

“This film could not have been made under any of the old systems … it is all new dollars coming into the country,” said Wight, who has worked with Cameron on documentaries for nearly a decade.

Sanctum was inspired by a caving incident 20 years ago in which he and 15 friends “stared death in the face for two days” while trapped under the desert in central Australia.

Wight acknowledged that Sanctum is very different in style to most Australian films: “We dwell too much on niche cultural issues …We have some of the greatest actors, producers and filmmakers on the planet but we have got stuck making parochial films. We have to mature into a business and make films that will appeal to audiences in other places.”

The film will be made using the Cameron/Pace Fusion Camera system that Cameron used to shoot Avatar.

Arctic Blast is an official co-production with Canada, so automatically qualifies as Australian for the purposes of claiming the 40% offset on Australian expenditure.

“The film is a commercial market-driven film,” said executive producer Antony Ginnane. He said it would not have been made in Australia without some sort of subsidy. It could have been made under 10BA, the tax-based system that existed in the 1980s, but he was not convinced it could have happened under a direct subsidy model.

“I’m not sure it would have got through the [now defunct] Film Finance Corporation marketplace door; the producer offset probably means a lot less aggravation,” said Ginnane, who would not reveal the budget.

Screen Tasmania has provided some production investment and logistical and other support to Arctic Blast, roughly matching the contribution from Quebec, which is where post-production will occur. Neither it nor Sanctum has investment from the country’s principal film agency Screen Australia.