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Last Updated:[27-01-2010 22:56:40 EDT] Zoom in Zoom out Back to Tradenews

New Zealand Basks in the Success of Avatar

tradenews Avatar, the most expensive and the largest grosser movie ever made has given a big boost to the New Zealand (NZ) film industry and the economy as a whole. The 3D mega visual has delivered USD$218mn to the NZ economy while it was made in the country as against the politically criticized grant of about $32mn.

Penelope Borland, CEO of the Screen Production and Development Association of NZ (SPADA) said the success of Avatar would resonate around the world and alongside NZ's huge advances in intellectual property in the film industry. She added Criticism of Avatar's box office success relative to the NZ Large Budget Screen Production Grant (LBSPG) it received was short sighted.

Since the inception of the LBSPG in 2003, overseas movie and television productions have spent more than $1bn in NZ, which has resulted in grant payments of $134mn. The industry has received total revenues of $384mn from overseas film companies in 2008, and makes NZ number 3 in the world for foreign exchange revenues behind Canada and the UK.

Under the LBSPG scheme, a 15 percent rebate on total qualifying production expenditure is allowed for movies crossing $10.6mn on expenditure in NZ. The Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee says "Attracting large budget film productions here offers wider benefits to the economy, including increased opportunities for citizens as well as tourism benefits from having NZ locations shown to an international audience."

The NZ industry is agog with particularly Avatar’s success as many such projects will now move to the country not only for its locales but also to seek technical talents. NZ’s acclaimed visual effects company Weta Digital (WD) is behind the technology that has created the new generation 3D special effects for the movie which, according to the global film fraternity, is the biggest event in the history of film-making since colour film.

WD is already popular with their works in Hollywood blockbusters such as Lord of the Rings and King Kong. WD’s senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri claimed that Avatar was the first major international film came to NZ purely for the technological filmmaking knowledge built up there, rather than primarily because of country's advantages as a location for shooting.

WD's general manager Tom Greally said around 60 percent of the $218mn spent on Avatar in NZ would have gone on crew costs, with the rest going towards “technical infrastructure”. While Film NZ acting CEO Sue Thompson said for the Kiwi industry to continue growing it had to keep marketing itself as a destination for high quality filmmaking.

The success of Avatar and several other movies shot in NZ is expected to give a fillip to the country’s tourism industry too as its tourist destinations are showcased to the global audience in a very tempting manner. However, the NZ film industry feels that any attempt to withdraw grants will discourage overseas film projects coming to the country, and may go elsewhere as some countries offer 30 percent grant upfront whereas NZ paid after the project completion.

Brownlee feels “NZ's connection to the success of Avatar will continue to deliver huge benefits to the country and will help to attract larger budget productions here in the future.” He adds “it is unlikely these productions would have decided to film in NZ if this grant had not been available as most locations offered an incentive to film in their territory or country”.

Recent PriceWaterhouseCoopers research: Economic Impact of the Film and Television Industry (2009) in NZ found that the film and television industry contributes $2.5bn to the New Zealand economy and contributes additional financial benefits to the country by enhancing international awareness and equity in the NZ brand.

By Jose Roy

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