14 Sep 2020

Avatar's producer on why he's made NZ home for now

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 14 September 2020
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The glamour film industry has attracted a lot of flak for getting special treatment to let overseas crew across our border when others have been shut out. 

They are the workers considered essential to kickstarting the $3 billion industry, but to get here they've had to sacrifice months away from their families.  

Today award winning producer of Avatar and Titanic Jon Landau talks to The Detail's Sharon Brettkelly about what it takes to make a blockbuster in a pandemic.

"These are the people that will unlock the door to millions of dollars flowing into the economy," Landau says.

He was one of more than 30 Avatar crew who arrived in New Zealand in May after gaining border exemptions for foreigners deemed essential to a project of significant economic value.

They've taken over Stone Street Studios in Miramar to shoot the four long-awaited, much-delayed Avatar sequels, "using all the stages and every nook and cranny".

"The plan was always to do the live-action work here in New Zealand. We were here last year for about six months....and the plan was to return in March. Lo and behold the week we were supposed to be travelling the pandemic arose and we made the decision not to come even before your borders were restricted."

Landau says the "first choice" was to work back in New Zealand with familiar crew.

"We love the passion, the discipline and everything that they bring to the table."

But they needed a plan before they left the US.

He explains to Brettkelly that health experts were called in to draw up rules for working on set  and the impact of Covid restrictions on making the epic films, including strict cast and crew bubbles.

He also describes the widespread benefits of an international film project.

"A company that just makes widgets, it’s very narrow," Landau says. "Where a movie spends its money - we do it on food services, we do it at lumber, we do it at the car rental, we do it in labour, we do it at the local stationery store."

Landau also talks about what he thinks the film industry will be like in a year and why he thinks New Zealand will continue to thrive post-Covid.