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World-class infrastructure complements New Zealand’s landscapes – and filmmakers world-wide are catching on to its star billing.
New Zealand: land of long white sands, majestic mountain ranges, lush green fields, sparkling lakes, and clapper boards. A country of spectacular and versatile beauty – but that’s not all that is catching the eye and imagination of filmmakers worldwide.
Mix New Zealand’s incredibly diverse range of scenery with the country’s growing reputation for excellence in filmmaking and post-production, add in cost competitiveness, and you will see why the country is at the top of the film industry’s shortlist.
New Zealand has made an indelible mark on audiences around the globe through the first two movies of The Lord of the Rings trilogy – and a mushrooming list of New Zealanders’ talents are about to be showcased again in the final instalment, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
But this is no flash in the pan – New Zealand’s film industry continues to go from strength to strength, evident in the string of big movies that have been filmed or post-produced here this year alone.
Coming to a screen near you soon are made-in-New Zealand productions The Last Samurai, a Warner Bros movie starring Tom Cruise; King Kong the next major project for The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson’s Without a Paddle, a Paramount comedy starring Warren Beattie; Boogeyman, a horror movie from Spiderman director Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert (of Xena and Hercules fame); and action thriller Maiden Voyage.
New Zealand-made feature films have also been drawing acclaim from audiences and critics around the world. The poignant Whale Rider, based on the story of a young Maori girls struggle to lead her tribe and set on the stunning east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, has a cache of awards including People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival.
“New Zealand has the ability to produce something special," says Paul Voigt, Investment Manager for Screen Production for Investment New Zealand.
“The main attraction for filmmakers has been the variety of locations and their proximity. But what we can now add to this is the depth of New Zealand’s filmmaking infrastructure such as our world-class, equipment, telecommunications, post production facilities and film crews.
“Throw in the innate creativity of New Zealanders and you have something that no other single country can come close to offering."
TLOTR acts as New Zealand's premiere attention-grabbing showcase
No movies have illuminated New Zealand’s talents better than The Lord of the Rings collection.
"Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings have clearly put New Zealand and filming in New Zealand on the global map," says Louise Baker, CEO of Film New Zealand.
“The films have showcased the scenery of the country and the capability and talent of the local film crew. They also show the wonderful talent of the New Zealand crafts people - from the glassblowers and saddle-makers, to the blacksmiths and armourers."
Peter Jackson, who has always remained loyal to his home country, says the trilogy could only have been made in New Zealand.
He scouted the 1660km (995 mile) length of New Zealand to find more than 150 ideal locations to film Middle-earth and did not have to go far to find the perfect people to create the fantasy world. New Zealand artisans and craftsmen made nearly all of the 48,000 props for the epic trilogy – from 10,000 prosthetic faces, 1800 pairs of hobbit feet, 1200 suits of armour, steel fighting swords, woollen capes, huge wooden wheels and intricately stitched flags.
Around 2000 people, virtually all of them New Zealanders were employed to make the The Lord of the Rings movies – from prop builders and set creators, to make-up artists and costume designers. New Zealanders are famous for their creativity and ingenuity – and that reputation is making their filmmakers and technicians among the most sought-after in the world.
Rest of the world cottons on
It hasn’t taken long for the rest of the film world to see – and take advantage of – the myriad of benefits of filming in New Zealand, with its experts in digital and special effects, experienced and versatile crew and, of course, arguably the most spectacular and diverse range of scenery on earth.
The results are already being painted clearly on the big screen – in movies like Vertical Limit, The Piano, Whale Rider, Rain and Perfect Strangers.
It’s not just Hollywood that’s caught on - Indian movie producers have shot more than 70 Bollywood feature movies in New Zealand in the past few years.
While people and places make New Zealand attractive to filmmakers, saving money also makes New Zealand a very viable proposition. Hollywood heavyweight director Ed Zwick chose Taranaki – a lush farming region in the North Island – to film the 1870s Japanese epic The Last Samurai not only because Mt Taranaki bore a striking resemblance to Mt Fuji, but because the US dollar went so much further here.
The producers of The Water Giant – set for release in the US summer 2004 - were forced to relocate filming from Canada after pre-production had begun, but still managed to save US$3 million on a total production budget of $US18.5 million by moving the shoot to the magical Lake Wakatipu in Zealand. New Zealand production costs are estimated to be 20% more cost effective than in Australia, and more than 30% better than in Canada.
The New Zealand Government has helped convince many film companies to bring their projects here. “New Zealand" films are tax deductible, and earlier this year (2003) the Government announced a new scheme offering expenditure grants to high-end film and television productions – both local and overseas – made in New Zealand. If production costs exceed $NZ50 million, or if at least 70% of the production’s budget (between $NZ15 – 50 million) is spent in the country, it will qualify for a 12.5% grant.
As the film industry grows here, so do the skills and experience of the people who work in it. More than 30,000 New Zealanders are employed in film and television production in this country. There is no demarcation between crew roles – so a lighting person can help a grip and vice versa.
Filmmakers can now do everything in New Zealand – from development through to post production and printing. In one of the most wired nations in the world, high-speed secure broadband connections can zoom an hour of footage shot in Queenstown to editors in Los Angeles in just six minutes.
There is now a stream of world-class post-production and visual effects houses in New Zealand. The Film Unit in Wellington, a Peter Jackson company, is the most comprehensive post-production facility in Australasia. It mixed the lauded soundtrack for The Lord of the Rings and also worked on Castaway, Contact and Vertical Limit. Kiwi companies like Oktobor, Right Hemisphere and The Posthouse have won international awards for their effects which have transformed movies and television commercials.
And there is the renowned Weta group of companies, which have revolutionised the way special effects are made and stored. During The Lord of the Rings, Weta Digital developed world-first software for creating computer-generated characters, like the incredible creature Gollum. Developer Stephen Regelous also invented a revolutionary programme called Massive, giving thousands of computer-created warriors in battle scenes their own “brains" to move independently of one another.
In fact, nearly all the 148 people working for Weta Workshop on The Lord of the Rings were New Zealanders. New Zealanders also dominated in the costume area of the film. Ngila Dickson, nominated for an Oscar for her costume design in The Lord of the Rings, has since worked on The Last Samurai, which meant regularly hopping from her home in Auckland to Tokyo, Los Angeles and the film set in Taranaki. Fashion and textile designers like Miranda Brown and Annie Tatton worked on costumes for The Lord of the Rings but are now stamping their mark in the international fashion world.
Long before New Zealand was transformed into Middle-earth, the country could hold its own in international movie making. Jackson already had a list of films to his name – the likes of Bad Taste, Heavenly Creatures, and The Frighteners. Other directors were internationally recognised - Vincent Ward (Vigil, The Navigator, What Dreams May Come), Roger Donaldson (Thirteen Days, Dante’s Peak), Jane Campion (Portrait of a Lady, The Piano), Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day, Once Were Warriors), Martin Campbell (Beyond Borders, Vertical Limit, The Mask of Zorro, Golden Eye), Geoff Murphy (Never Say Die, Young Guns II), Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, The Truman Show) and Andrew Adamson (Shrek).
New Zealand has also contributed its share to Hollywood’s pool of top acting talent – Russell Crowe, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin, Temuera Morrison, Martin Henderson, Cliff Curtis and Lucy Lawless. And you can be sure there are many more clever New Zealanders – actors, directors, designers and special FX wizards – about to steal the spotlight.
To find out more about New Zealand’s filmmaking talent and infrastructure, see: