Movie stars

Movie stars

Total Property - Issue 5 2019

Across Auckland and Wellington more than 60 hectares of property is occupied by film and production studios, but experts say more is needed if the cities are not to miss out on productions.

New Zealand is one of the world’s most film-friendly countries, with diverse landscapes, world-class crew, production talent, locations and subsidies. Some of the biggest films of the past two decades result from international collaboration with New Zealanders.

For 2018-19, eight local feature films have gone into production and 20 international features, drama and factual series were committed.

Even with a new studio opening a year ago on 27 hectares of former industrial land at Kumeu, Auckland is short of space to meet increasing enquiries.

The city's two biggest studios – Auckland Film Studios (AFS), in Henderson, and Kumeu Film Studios (KFS) – occupy 37.5 hectares between them.

They are leased and operated by ATEED, the council-controlled economic development agency, from another council organization, Panuku, which holds the property.

AFS has been a mainstay of Auckland’s screen production for 25 years. Known as “the coolies”, it occupies former apple and pear cool stores. Waitakere City Council bought the property in 2002 for $3.8 million and spent more on sound-proofing it, while becoming the champion for a flourishing west Auckland film industry.

AFS has three sound stages, the largest occupying 1,924 square metres, plus nine associated buildings and a back lot.

“The quality of the main sound stage means the studios remain in strong demand, with major international productions in place throughout last year, two international TV series in production now, and bookings until the middle of 2022,” says Pam Ford, ATEED's economic development general manager. AFS is also a base for filming James Cameron's Avatar 2 and 3 sequels.

ATEED has a five-year lease running until October 2022. If filming is ongoing the lease will be extended, says Ford.

The agency’s lease over KFS runs until 2029, while development on that site in collaboration with the Korean family owner has been ongoing.

KFS features two 2,300-square metre state-of-the-art sound stages; an indoor dive tank; an outdoor ocean horizon tank, with an 864-square metre green screen wall; 4,000 square metres of stage area; 6,000 square metres of workshop space and production offices; plus a forest, stream and yard which form sought-after back lots.

KFS took shape on former timber processing land under a partnership between Warner Bros and China's Gravity Pictures, the New Zealand Film Commission, the private land owner and ATEED.

Auckland’s smaller studios include South Pacific Pictures in Henderson, Studio West in Glen Eden, Kelly Park Film Studios near Silverdale and central Auckland’s Beop Studios. AR/VR Garage is home to augmented and virtual reality start-ups.

Meanwhile, Wellington has become an internationally-recognised film production and screen technology hotspot over the past two decades.

Director Sir Peter Jackson, special-effects guru Sir Richard Taylor and editor and producer Jamie Selkirk have created a highly-successful empire with Stone Street Studios, Weta Digital, Weta Workshop, Park Road Post and equipment rental firm Portsmouth. The multi-million dollar studios, sound stages and pre- and post-production facilities are based on an eight-hectare site in Miramar.

The complex has four purpose-built stages, including the world-class 2,238-square metre ‘Kong’ soundproofed stage. There is a further 6,670 square metres across three other studios, 6,177 square metres of workshop, 1,795 square metres of offices plus a large back lot.

Wellington's other main studio, Avalon, has five stages covering 1,462 square metres on a 2.45-hectare site in Lower Hutt, with a back lot, production offices and helicopter pad. It was the early centre of nationwide television-broadcasting production.

It also became the focus of film production – building on the National Film Unit, which Jackson bought in the late 1990s and incorporated into Park Road Post. In April 2012 a consortium, Avalon Holdings, bought the Avalon Studios.

With a big stream of work over the past five years, film has become a big contributor to national GDP, hitting $2.2 billion in the year to June 2018. That was a drop from a stellar 2017 when revenue hit $3 billion, with fewer big-budget films and a decline in television activity.

A rebound is expected this year with demand still coming from major US-based studios, plus other countries such as China, and streaming.

ATEED's Ford and David Perks, general manager venues, marketing and destination development at Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency, say both agencies are exploring further development.

Perks points to a need for more studio space to avoid missing opportunities.

Not only is traditional film-making attracting the big production companies, but there is increasing demand for studio space from global streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon.

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