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New Zealand Diversifies Production

Int’l TV shoots and local indies, boosted by gov’t funds, help ignite country’s biz

New Zealand may be one of the top territories successfully luring big-budget productions, but the rest of its film and TV sector is firing on all cylinders as well.

For the first time, the industry’s earnings have broken the NZ$3 billion ($2.34 billion) barrier, rising by 10% in 2012. This was driven by a 47% increase in feature film revenue and the post-production biz saw a 31% boost year-on-year. James Cameron, with his “Avatar” pics, is reportedly relocating to the outskirts of Wellington, while Jane Campion’s miniseries “Top of the Lake” shot in New Zealand.

Those numbers speak to the depth of crew in the country.

Outgoing New Zealand Film Commission CEO Graeme Mason (who leaves to head up Screen Australia in November) notes that while Peter Jackson’s success has helped create a world-class infrastructure — including Weta Digital and Workshop, which have worked on many of the top blockbusters over the past few years including “Iron Man” and “The Avengers” — there’s more to the country’s production sector.

Rob Tapert has been an incredible force, making ‘Hercules,’ ‘Xena’ and ‘Spartacus’ fixtures here for years,” says Mason.

The country’s Toronto-bound pics also point to the broad range of projects coming out of New Zealand.

“Beyond the Edge” is a 3D pic about Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s 1953 ascent of Mt. Everest. Pic was filmed on location in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, the Himalayas and Mt. Everest, and post-production was undertaken in Auckland by Digital Post. Altitude Film Entertainment reps international sales.

Then there’s local medicine-woman drama “White Lies,” produced by “Whale Rider’s” John Barnett and penned and helmed by Dana Rotberg, as well as performance pic “Giselle,” toplining Gillian Murphy, the prima ballerina with the American Theatre Ballet.

With an annual budget of around $15.5 million — a mix of government and lottery funding — the New Zealand Film Commission is responsible for plowing coin into feature pics, developing local talent and administering the Large Budget Screen Production Grant (a 15% grant on qualifying expenditure), the Post Digital and Visual Effects Grant (15% cash award) and the Screen Production Incentive Fund (40% cash grant of qualifying expenditure).

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