Lawrence in step with NYC

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"Music and Lyrics," the romantic comedy that Warner Bros. Pictures releases Wednesday, was filmed almost entirely in New York City -- save for one scene in Long Island. That's partially because screenwriter-director Marc Lawrence insisted on shooting in the Big Apple.

"He doesn't like to go anywhere out of New York except Long Island," "Music" exec producer Nancy Juvonen said.

Lawrence shot his "Two Weeks Notice" in the city as well.

"I'm from New York, it's my favorite place, my family is there, and I know it well so I think I'm a better filmmaker because of it," he said.

"For me, it's mostly about specificity," Lawrence said. "It's walking down the streets, meeting in restaurants, the feeling of living in New York. There aren't a lot of 'touristy' shots, not a lot of landmarks. I wanted it to feel, after watching it for an hour and a half, like you were in New York for an hour and a half."

New York has rebounded from losing business to runaway production earlier this decade with aggressive tax incentives that last year saw the city playing host to its highest number of shoots ever.

"I really hope that tax picture doesn't change because I would hate to see the city lose business to Toronto or Vancouver again," Lawrence said. "It really makes shooting in New York a very doable proposition financially."

In land of Kiwis, Weta bears fruit

New Zealand is home to a thriving film industry, one that has produced movies like the internationally acclaimed "Whale Rider." It was an early adopter of incentives that attract outside productions. It's also the home of Peter Jackson's effects companies, Weta Digital and Weta Workshop, and their impact on New Zealand's film industry cannot be underestimated.

Weta has grown from a boutique effects house serving only Jackson's projects to one that services production the world over. And that has provided New Zealand with an edge that is as sharp as Aragorn's sword.

Walt Disney and Walden Media's "Bridge to Terabithia," which opens Friday, revolves around two kids who use their imagination to create a fantastical land names Terabithia. It was shot in New Zealand not only for the tax benefits but to also to be close to the company that provided the visual effects necessary to create the imaginary world.

"Avatar," James Cameron's latest extravaganza, also is prepping a shoot in New Zealand. The producers had chosen Weta as their primary effects company before selecting a filming location. And after looking at Los Angeles, Vancouver and Mexico, they settled on New Zealand.

"One of the key factors for us choosing New Zealand was being close to Weta Digital," said Jon Landau, Cameron's partner at Lightstorm Entertainment. "We are going to be in a very critical time in terms of our visual effects work, and being able to be in a direct one-on-one collaboration (is highly important)."

As part of the shoot, budgeted at about $190 million, Cameron will film for 31 days on soundstages in New Zealand -- spending about a quarter of his budget on that segment of the production. (Motion-capture work will be done in the U.S.)

Landau declined comment on the film's effects budget -- it could add up to more than half the total budget. And in this case, one large-scale Hollywood production, attracted by Weta's expertise, easily could eclipse the production budgets of New Zeland's entire homegrown industry.

Nevertheless, New Zealand film officials do not want to overplay the importance of Weta. They point to such other effects houses as Park Road Post in Wellington and Oktober in Auckland that also have contributed to a healthy homegrown industry and a nation of dedicated moviegoers. Last year, 1.3 million New Zealanders out of a population base of 4 million went to see New Zealand movies.

Weta, too, would rather not think about how it impacts the scene.

"It would be terrible to think that (the industry) is dependent on a single company, ours or any other," said Richard Taylor, the multiple Oscar winner who co-heads Weta Workshop. "The New Zealand film industry existed for a long time before we ever came along, and it will exist for a long time after, if ever we sadly finished up. And it will exist, as all places do, due to its competitiveness, its incredibly skilled and talented crews and its unique location opportunities."
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