16 Dec 2013

Movie deal comes too late for next year

10:12 pm on 16 December 2013

A Government deal to encourage more major movies to be made in New Zealand has come too late to salvage possible international work for next year, a post-production film company says.

Avatar director James Cameron delivers a speech at a digital forum in Seoul in May.

Avatar director James Cameron delivers a speech at a digital forum in Seoul in May. Photo: AFP

The Government has reached a deal with Hollywood film studios to have the next three Avatar movies made in New Zealand.

It has also announced it will increase the baseline rebate for big screen productions from 15% to 20% in an effort to help the film industry in this country.

Film productions which get points for special benefits to New Zealand will be eligible for an extra 5% rebate so it is possible the three Avatar films, if they meet the criteria, could get a 25% rebate.

Prime Minister John Key said the deal would result in at least $500 million being spent in New Zealand during the production of the movies.

"The Government has made adjustments in the incentive regime. They're important if New Zealand's going to compete with the world," Mr Key said.

Confirmation the Avatar movies would be made here would be met with excitement and relief for the New Zealand movie industry and it would be a "day of great celebration", he said.

But Digipost managing director Garry Little said there had been little to no international work this year for firms such as his.

Most international projects would have next year's plans already in place, meaning 2014 would be another tough year for the industry.

"The lead times on feature film and television series are at least three to six months," Mr Little said.

"Our clients that have been here in the past that we would expect to return, or show interest in the increase incentive, I'm told by and large already have their production slates filled for next year."

The Auckland firm did most of the post production on the TV series Spartacus but had since laid off dozens of staff, he said.

No flip-flop

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said in October a large increase in the rebate was unlikely. Despite that, he said today's announcement was not a flip-flop, describing it instead as a practical decision.

"We certainly weren't prepared to do what has been suggested, that we have to match some of these other countries around the world that have gone, frankly, right over the top," Mr Joyce said.

"But we've put it up a bit to both attract the Avatar productions and we've also shifted on, probably more importantly for the longer-term health of the industry, the domestic production incentives."

Labour MP Jacinda Ardern said the Government had finally realised New Zealand's film industry had been in crisis, and that the announcement was a significant first step.

However, the real test would be to make the country's screen industry truly sustainable.

"Having Avatar made in New Zealand absolutely will have positive spin-offs but we've got to make sure our regime isn't built movie by movie but will have a impact for the sector as a whole," Ms Ardern said.

Director James Cameron said the increase in the rebate meant he had not had to consider making the movies offshore.

"Wise heads prevailed on this and it never came to a point that we had to make that decision or even stare down the gun barrel of that decision. But we would have gotten there had we not taken this pre-emptive path."

The deal with Lightstorm Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Film Corporation includes the companies spending at least $500 million in New Zealand and providing employment and skills opportunities for locals.

Mr Cameron would not disclose the budget for the three Avatar movies but said he hoped it would be significantly under $US1 billion.

Rebate needed

Auckland film studio owner Dave Rowell said increased rebates were just what was needed to kick-start New Zealand's film industry, and the higher rebates would help New Zealand compete for international productions.

"There's groups that would like to be coming here, and now they'll have something to make it more exciting to come here," said Mr Rowell, who co-owns Studio West.

"The numbers didn't work before and I'd say that there's a good chance that they will now."

Mr Cameron and film maker John Landau have offered to serve as founding members of a new screen advisory board which will provide advice and guidance to New Zealand film makers attempting to succeed internationally.

Meanwhile, Mr Cameron said he was looking forward to spending more time in New Zealand; he and his family were about to become residents of New Zealand and it was a special pleasure to know he would have so much work in this country.