Wellington Scoop

Hollywood in Upper Hutt?

Many questions are raised by today’s curious report that there are dreams of creating a Hollywood-style film production studio in Upper Hutt.

Not the least is the experience of the man behind the project, Michael Garlick, who is described as a television and film producer though it’s hard to find any film projects which he has produced. The authoritative Internet Movie Data Base does not list any credits for him. His experience seems to be limited to producing telecasts of American motor-racing events. The website of the Bruce McLaren Movie, a New Zealand project which he has been developing since the mid 1990s, confirms this:

He has produced and directed over 350 television broadcasts for international broadcasters including Cox Cable in the United States. Motorsport television coverage became Garlick’s forte, and he produced numerous motor racing and sports coverage broadcasts.

Which doesn’t seem to offer any obvious link with creating a large film production facility, though the website names Barrie Osborne (a former colleague of Peter Jackson) as sharing the film’s production responsibilities with him.

Today’s DomPost report says that the Upper Hutt project has a United States partner – Raleigh Studios. According to the Raleigh Studios website, it operates – but does not own – six studios in the United States and another in Budapest. The website reports that its Manhattan Beach studios, which have 15 soundstages, are to be the venue for the next two Avatar productions (weren’t they expected to come to Miramar?), and the reasons for this decision are explained in an undated report sourced from the Los Angeles Times:

[The Avatar producers] had considered … moving to Canada or New Zealand to take advantage of lucrative tax breaks. Instead, they opted to remain in Los Angeles – a boost for a region that has lost many major film productions to other locales – because of the range of services at the sprawling Manhattan Beach complex near Los Angeles International Airport.

“We had a choice…We could have been anywhere. When it came down to it, we looked at what they had to offer and it was almost the perfect production paradigm, with big soundstages, adjacent office space and dressing rooms and state-of-the-art infrastructure.”

A cautionary message for anyone thinking of spending money to compete with Hollywood. Unless of course they’re Sir Peter Jackson.

The Los Angeles Times says the Manhattan Beach studios are owned by a private international investment firm which paid $US150m for them in 2007 and has since spent $US20m in improvements. Big money for Upper Hutt to aspire to, though its plan includes only two soundstages rather than 15, and though it won’t be able to claim that it’s near an airport.

Today’s DomPost report says the two new Upper Hutt soundstages would be bigger than the biggest at the Avalon Television Centre – an uncomfortable reminder that Avalon’s substantial studios have been unused for years.

All which indicates that Upper Hutt shouldn’t be getting too excited about Hollywood stars arriving in its midst. Even Michael Garlick sounds cautious. There hasn’t yet been a feasibility study. “We don’t want unrealistic public expectations.”


  1. Bobby, 23. August 2011, 21:20

    1. Avatar’s real sets & live action elements were not filmed in Wellington, only its CGI effects and motion capture elements were produced here.
    2. Studios are normally not run by film directors/producers (Peter Jackson is the exception, not the norm), they are run by business people, more like facilities managers.
    3. Avalon Studios are built for television production, they are in no way comparable to film sound stages.
    4. The prospect of a brand new high quality film production facility should be ecstatically embraced by everyone in the Wellington region as a significant job generator and a big boost to the local film industry currently reliant on just one big player.

  2. insider, 23. August 2011, 22:31

    Isn’t there a bankrupt empty large film studio in Auckland? Not sure if the small ratepayer base in UH should be exposing itself to such risks. Leave that to commercial operators