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On Film Magazine

1 May 2006

Rob Excerpt

Another horror movie, 30 Days of Night, starts shooting at the end of July.

Most of the 14-week shoot for the Columbia Pictures-Ghost House Pictures production will be in Auckland, with some exteriors in Queenstown.

30 Days of Night takes its title from the fate of a remote Alaskan town that's plunged into darkness for a month each year when the sun sinks below the horizon.

Cue a bloodthirsty gang of vampires bent on an uninterrupted orgy, of destruction, with only the small town's husband-and-wile sheriff team standing in their path.

The script by Stuart Beattie (Collateral Derailed) is adapted from Steve Niles' comic of the same name; Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi are the producers, and David Slade (Hard Candy) the director.

All of the film's postproduction will be done here.

"Everyone other than the director, production designer, DP and editor will be New Zealand crew," says co-producer Chloe Smith, who worked with Tapert on his last New Zealand-based feature, Boogeyman, and television series Xena: Warrior Princess prior to that.

But it's not just Tapert's warmth and respect for New Zealand and its crews that's brought 30 Days here.

New Zealand was chosen as the location because of the Large Budget Screen Production Grant scheme, an exchange rate that's become more favourable over the course of development, and the time of year being right climatically for 30 Days' sub-zero world.

"There are some exteriors that need to be done in the snow; for which we'll use the Snow Farm on Queenstown's Crown range."
 

Full Article:

Screen sector enjoying solid slate: Philip Wakefield provides an update on how the New Zealand screen industry's production schedule is shaping up

"Here's the train--get on board." That's the message Film Commission chief executive Ruth Harley will espouse at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

The 'train' is the New Zealand film industry and, according to Harley, it's full steam ahead.

Her confidence springs from two international features shooting this month in Queenstown (with a third poised at presstime) and a fourth about to start principal photography in Auckland, where a fifth also seems likely this year.

As well as the prospect of the Peter Jackson-Fran Walsh executive-produced Halo, two other international features look promising for the second half of 2006 and, although nothing was confirmed at press time, at least part of Prince Caspian--the second instalment of The Chronicles of Narnia--is likely to be filmed here.

On the New Zealand feature front, Eagle vs Shark and Robert Sarkies' Aramoana project are in post-production, Black Sheep and the low-budget digi-feature The Devil Dared Me Tohave just wrapped, and The Ferryman docked this month "after a 35-day shoot.

Moreover, New Zealand movies have just capped a record-breaking six-month run at the box office, starting with The World's Fastest Indian in October, continuing with River Queen and No. 2, and culminating with Sione's Wedding.

Also out in force were international movies made with Kiwi talent: King Kong, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, North Country, and The Legend of Zorro.

At the same time, TV commercial production is booming and four TV drama series are shooting in Auckland and Wellington.

"It is one of the more active periods for the industry," Film New Zealand chief executive Judith McCann says.

"But what we'd really like to see is this level continuing, as opposed to the industry, going through peaks and troughs."

Others echo her sentiment, agreeing the industry is buoyant but not flat out. They say it feels exceptionally busy because last year was so quiet.

"Things are ticking over quite nicely," Film NZ chair Dave Madigan, who's also on the NZ Film and Video Technicians Guild executive, says. "This year is more consistent than last."

But he's nervous about the TV production sector. "There's a level of uncertainty about TV drama commissioning. We don't know what's going to happen after Outrageous Fortune, Orange Roughies, Rude Awakenings, and Ducks and Geese.

"We had the same problem last year: come July/August, Auckland shut down because drama shoots evaporated." There are also still questions over how the previously standalone Film Fund will operate under the auspices of the Film Commission.

Last month the commisson met with senior producers and industry' guilds to discuss setting up Film Fund 2 as a sub-committee of the NZFC--it's intended the new structure will function as closely as possible to the original fund, with an independent chair and a mix of independent members and NZFC appointees.

The commission's also pledged to investigate generating new sources of investment for the "more internationally and industrially focussed" projects that some producers are developing.

While New Zealand's heightened profile post-Lord Of The Rings makes it easier for Kiwi producers to get their projects noticed, closing the deals is just as hard.

Producer Matthew Metcalfe says raising the British finance for his second movie, the official NZ/UK co-production The Ferryman, was incredibly difficult.

"We went to the Film Commission first and were referred to the Film Fund. It took tour months to get the UK money. It was really, really hard ...

"We had to be shooting by March 31 to take advantage of the British tax rules--and that wasn't easily accomplished at all."

The deal with UK-based Prescience Film Finance and Lip Synch Productions means The Ferryman has UK-leads (John Rhys-Davies, ex-pat Kerry Fox, Tamer Hassan), postproduction and music, but a Kiwi crew and location, and New Zealand actors Craig Hall, Julian Arahanga, Amber Sainsbury, Sally Stockwell and Lawrence Makoare in the key secondary, roles.

"We wanted real dramatic actors to distinguish this film with truly frighten ing performances," Metcalfe says.

"We knew if we didn't make something special, this film would end up in the video bin.

"This isn't a film about people going 'Boo!' It's a film about gut-wrenching terror."

Another horror movie, 30 Days of Night, starts shooting at the end of July.

Most of the 14-week shoot for the Columbia Pictures-Ghost House Pictures production will be in Auckland, with some exteriors in Queenstown.

30 Days of Night takes its title from the fate of a remote Alaskan town that's plunged into darkness for a month each year when the sun sinks below the horizon.

Cue a bloodthirsty gang of vampires bent on an uninterrupted orgy, of destruction, with only the small town's husband-and-wile sheriff team standing in their path.

The script by Stuart Beattie (Collateral Derailed) is adapted from Steve Niles' comic of the same name; Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi are the producers, and David Slade (Hard Candy) the director.

All of the film's postproduction will be done here.

"Everyone other than the director, production designer, DP and editor will be New Zealand crew," says co-producer Chloe Smith, who worked with Tapert on his last New Zealand-based feature, Boogeyman, and television series Xena: Warrior Princess prior to that.

But it's not just Tapert's warmth and respect for New Zealand and its crews that's brought 30 Days here.

New Zealand was chosen as the location because of the Large Budget Screen Production Grant scheme, an exchange rate that's become more favourable over the course of development, and the time of year being right climatically for 30 Days' sub-zero world.

"There are some exteriors that need to be done in the snow; for which we'll use the Snow Farm on Queenstown's Crown range."

Queenstown also is where two other big-budget studio pictures are shooting this month: 10,000BC and The Water Horse.

The former is a Warner Bros production that's described as "a prehistoric epic that follows a young mammoth hunter's journey through uncharted territory to secure the future of his tribe".

It's being directed by Roland Emmerich and has Bill Draper (here previously with The Last Samurai) as the executive in charge of production.

Originally 10,000BC was going to shoot for just five days in Queenstown but while here on a recce, Emmerich flew over the Cardrona range and the Snow Farm.

"The Snow Farm location offered exactly what he had envisaged for the movie," Sandra Clark of Film Queenstown says.

"To the great astonishment of the South Africans, the crew came here to shoot for five weeks."

Clark says Queenstown's key appeal for offshore film and TVC shoots is "location, location, location ... Our lakes and mountains are attractive to international productions, but we also have country roads, rolling pasture and architecture--and the infrastructure to back it up because Queenstown is a resort town with hotels and restaurants to cater for big crews."

Nonetheless, accommodating 10,000BC at such short notice was a challenge for the region.

"We had to put it together very quickly," Clark says. "There were six to-seven weeks from the official nod to shooting. That's a very short [lead] time for a project of this size."

Meanwhile, The Water Horse--a co-production between Walden Media, Beacon Pictures and Revolution Studios--is an adaptation of the Dick King Smith novel about Scotland's mythical sea monster.

Jay Russell is directing a cast that includes Emily Watson, David Morrissey, Ben Chaplin, Billy Boyd, and Alex Etel.

At press time another feature, Hard Drive, had also started shooting in the Queenstown area. It's being produced by Don Reynolds and directed by Australian Bill Bennett.

"The great thing about Hard Drive is it's a Queenstown story," Clark says. "It's not trying to make Queenstown look like another location."

She says while it's fantastic that three big feature films are shooting simultaneously in Queenstown, using local crews and services, "the downside is it puts a lot of stress on the film infrastructure of the region.

"A lot of outside crew and gear are being brought in to cope with the TVCs and features."

However, most of the Barrie Osborne-produced Water Horse is being filmed in Wellington, where Weta Digital and Weta Workshop will undertake the visual effects (Walden Media worked with Weta Workshop to develop the fantastical creatures in The Chronicles of Narnia) .

It will also use Peter Jackson's Stone Street Studios complex, where King Kong was filmed, along with Black Sheep and effects elements shooting for XMen: The Last Stand.

The 24,500 square foot, 40-foot high studio space is said to rival the biggest and best soundstages in Hollywood or London.

"For me, the proof of the studio's success is in the size of bookings we have had, and the quality of productions that have been and are being made here," facility manager Jamie Selkirk says.

"The stage has been in great demand since its opening a year ago, and we are now booked through until the end of the year."

Its success underlines the need for more soundstages in a country renowned internationally for its 'tin shed' infrastructure.

Stone Street Studios is the only purpose-built soundstage in the country. The $10 million facility was largely funded by Selkirk's Camperdown partnership with Jackson and Richard Taylor.

But regional economic development agency Positively Wellington Business (PWB) contributed $2 million through New Zealand Trade and Enterprise's regional partnership programme.

That was based on the likely economic impact of Stone Street attracting an additional mid-range production every 24 months, or an additional high-end production every 24 months, which over a 10-year period has been estimated as between $250 million and $650 million.

The projected impact for the rest of New Zealand over the same period would be $450 million-$1.2 billion.

Chloe Smith wonders if a similar model could apply to Auckland, which is desperately short of soundstages, purpose-built or converted.

Most of 30 Days' Auckland shoot will be at Henderson Valley Studios, with some at Kelly Park.

"We will make these facilities work but none of the options for a studio picture of this size are ideal," Smith says.

"Talk continues about the need to provide more studios. I can only add my voice to that."

A recent voice has been that of Walden Media chief executive Cary Granat. He's raised the possibility of Walden having a permanent studio in New Zealand,just as Warner Bros and Fox have in Australia.

The Water Horse is the third New Zealand-based feature Walden's been involved in. Narnia was first, the recently wrapped Bridge to Terabithia was second, and as well as there being a fourth in the pipeline for this year, there's the likelihood of Prince Caspian in some form (as well as potentially five more adaptations in the CS Lewis series).

Moreover, wherever Prince Caspian is filmed, it will have a strong Kiwi contingent, starting with its director, Andrew Adamson.

"Walden wants to make a commitment to New Zealand--and to New Zealanders," Madigan says. "They've made excellent relationships here."

Smith says the same of 30 Days producer Rob Tapert.

"Professionally, some of Rob's most enduring creative collaborations and friendships have happened here."

Smith says these have carried more weight with him than New Zealand's 'tin shed' infrastructure weaknesses. "Rob adores the camaraderie and passion that New Zealanders have for filmmaking and TV."

And it doesn't stop there. The popularity of Kiwi technicians in particular is spreading.

Legend of Zorro producer Lloyd Phillips and director Marlin Campbell recruited about 20 New Zealanders across the main unit and the 2nd or miniatures unit for the bulk of the movie's 11-month shoot in Mexico.

A couple of the senior Kiwi crew on 10,000BC will be going back to South Africa with the production and New Zealand stunt people are in demand abroad after working on The Last Samurai.

"They're regarded as safe and good," Madigan says. "From now on, we're going to see more New Zealand crew go overseas."

Even Aussies are developing a sneaking regard for Kiwi expertise after working here.

"They' re taking the odd Kiwi back to Australia because they like what they've seen," Madigan says.

He describes this development as a sign of a "maturing trans-Tasman relationship" and says with the increasing internationalisation of crews, "if we run out of crew, we'll have to tap into Australia".