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‘The Shannara Chronicles’ and More Take Advantage of New Zealand’s Tax Incentives

The big winners of a recent change to New Zealand production incentives will be local physical effects companies, as specialist props and models become qualifying spend for the first time.

“For international, the key change was dropping the PDV (post, digital and visual effects) threshold down to $500,000” from $1 million, says Catherine Bates, head of incentives at Film New Zealand. The Kiwis revamped the New Zealand Screen Production Grant — a 20% straight cash rebate — in April 2014, with a planned review to follow this year.

“For us, the incentive and the exchange rate — which improved since we began production — obviously made NZ very attractive,” says Al Gough, exec producer of MTV’s “The Shannara Chronicles.”

But a recent surge in the New Zealand dollar, which bounced back from a six-month low in August to rise nearly 6% in the past month, has made the incentive less attractive.

“For us, the incentive and the exchange rate obviously made NZ very attractive.”
Al Gough

Currency fluctuations are not the only cloud over the coin in recent years. Papers released to the Cabinet in 2013 suggested that Hollywood productions actually cost the country money.

That same year opposition parties tried to use Hollywood’s perceived sway over the John Key government for political gain. But Key was comfortably returned to power in 2014.

“Shannara’s” showrunners, Gough and Miles Millar, found compromise in an initial lack of flexibility over labor hours, a cultural difference where New Zealand has shorter working days than the U.S.

“We ended up adding a week to our schedule,” Miller says. “But that was the one drawback (to working in New Zealand). We got everything we needed.”

Bates also points to the 5% uplift. In addition to the 20% rebate, the extra coin from the uplift is for companies that are willing to go beyond just shooting in the country.

“The screen industry can have impacts in other areas, for example tourism, education and innovation,” Bates says.

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