Wellington Scoop

NZ film industry ‘buoyant,’ but Avatar sequels delayed till scripts completed

BusinessDesk report by Pattrick Smellie
The first of the three sequels to the blockbuster movie Avatar has been set back a year because of delays in completing the scripts, the films’ director James Cameron, told a media conference in Wellington yesterday following the first meeting of the New Zealand Screen Advisory Board.

The decision to push the release back to late 2017 rather than late 2016 reflected the desire for release at that time of the year with the timetable for such movies shifting in “one year increments,” said Cameron, who hopes to have script-writing completed by the end of this month.

“We’re hoping for the scripts to be done this month,” Cameron said. “I’m writing parts of it. I’ve got a writing team that’s supposed to be submitting the other portions of it.”

The three sequels were being written simultaneously. The creatures and environments to be depicted were progressing to schedule.

“We’re well on track. We’re a bit behind time-wise what we had hoped” but there were advantages in delay because the New Zealand film industry, where the film will be shot and partially produced, was so buoyant. “I’m going to be struggling to find stage space, which is a good thing for New Zealand, so it’s probably a good thing we’ve moved out a few months.”

Sir Peter is watched by James Cameron (left) Steven Joyce and Jon Landau (right). Twitter photo by Isaac Davison.

At the same media conference, the director of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, Sir Peter Jackson, said the New Zealand film industry was in danger of “closing down” before the government agreed to expand incentives to make it competitive with the trend for other countries to attract productions with subsidies.

Members of the Screen Advisory Board are Jackson, Fran Walsh, Cameron, Jane Campion, Andrew Adamson, and Jon Landau, Cameron’s producer on two of the highest grossing films in history: Avatar and Titanic. It was established as part of the deal that saw the incentives scheme expanded in exchange for a commitment to “give back” to New Zealand.

The inaugural meeting, attended by the Minister of Business, Innovation and Employment Steven Joyce, made no concrete decisions but was the first step in trying to solve a “puzzle,” said Jackson.

“The particular puzzle that I’m interested in most and the group are interested in is how we bridge the gap between low budget New Zealand stories, which is where is where they sit, and the big budget international films which are not anything to do with this country.

“The puzzle, and it’s going to take some thinking and some time to work out is how we get New Zealand stories told that have more production value, that have larger budgets, because that’s what they need.”

The local industry could be a small budget “cottage industry”, but if it wanted access to world-leading production facilities, such as the Park Road Post facility built by Jackson where today’s Wellington meeting occurred, “then they’re paid for from the international films.”

“There’s a balance,”

Landau said the challenge was not to make New Zealand stories relevant to American film-goers but to the global film-going audience.

“It’s not just about bringing in international films,” said Landau. “It’s not just about nurturing young film-makers. It’s about do we use what we do … to have an influence also on other industries? Some of the industries that we create, how does it spawn other businesses down here? That’s what we’re excited about.”

Campion expressed a personal ambition that the board’s activities would promote more women film-makers. It was “completely disgusting and teeth-clenchingly irritating” that such a small proportion of movies were directed by women, both in New Zealand and globally, she said.

Also discussed was the potential for the industry to link more closely with New Zealand film schools, said Joyce.