A Regional Film Office has been established in Whanganui to stimulate economic growth, support local film industry talent and potentially help grow Whanganui as a regional screen production hub.
The Regional Film Office has been set up by the Whanganui District Council's economic development agency Whanganui and Partners and is part of the Regional Film Offices of New Zealand network which facilitates shooting across New Zealand.
Film offices work with the New Zealand Film Commission, which is responsible for marketing and promoting New Zealand as a destination for filming and production.
Whanganui and Partners Strategic Lead for the Creative Industries and Arts, Emma Bugden, says Whanganui has just won its status as a Regional Film Office after a year of working with film, music video production and television documentary crews.
"We registered to become a regional film office in August last year and became an interim office," Bugden said.
"Not long after, we were really fortunate to get a Los Angeles film company A24 come and make a feature film here. It was like Regional Film Office 101 - we got to learn all the theory and practice, which was great. We worked with A24 and they ended up staying and doing two films here.
"It's really just supporting production and connecting them to local protocols, local rules and regulations, local locations, talent and crew. Having done that, the week before lockdown we officially became a Regional Film Office."
Bugden says screen production companies provide a big boost to the local economy when they come to town by hiring local services and workers and spending locally.
As an example, A24 was in Whanganui for six months to film a horror movie and a thriller. One hundred production crew members stayed in in the city for six months and the productions supported more than 120 local accommodation, catering and service providers. They hired locations for filming, local crew, plumbers, electricians, construction companies and suppliers, bought props locally and hired extras – including Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall and his daughter.
"It's not just attracting out-of-town productions, it's about supporting local productions and local talent. We have so many talented people living here. A lot of people work regularly in Wellington, for Weta or other places, or commute between here and Auckland, or here and elsewhere.
"We're a highly skilled, highly active community of screen workers. The more visible that is, the more younger people can see that as a viable career and think 'I could be a film-maker or a content creator'.
"It's possible to have a sustainable career here as a film-maker or somebody who works on screen productions, and we can start sharing more of our own stories."
One example is costume technician Lee Williams, who runs Paetuia which produces costuming and textiles for film, television and theatre. Williams got her start on Vincent Ward's epic The River Queen, which was filmed in Whanganui and on the Whanganui River as she was finishing a fashion design course at Wanganui Polytechnic.
She went on to work for Weta Workshops, creating costumes for Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy and King Kong, and as a costume technician for World of Wearable Art and the Royal New Zealand Ballet. She returned to Whanganui five years ago.
The Regional Film Office will launch a film directory to help production companies find local crew, technicians and locations.
Bugden says locations listed so far include the Royal Whanganui Opera House, Bushy Park and some private historic houses but are mostly Whanganui District Council properties, and she is encouraging more people to consider listing their unique locations, including farms and rural properties.
"We're interested in hearing from private owners who might want to list their property. Film companies might be looking for a very specific location and even that derelict old shack might be exactly what they're after."
The Whanganui Regional Film Office will also run workshops for locals who want to upskill in film-making and screenwork.
Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the News Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.