New Zealand Moves Beyond Middle Earth

A decade after "The Lord of the Rings" franchise transformed the region into a hot shooting destination, NZ's diverse range of incentives and rebates quietly has become a model for how to build an industry from scratch.

Peter Jackson gets plenty of well-earned credit for putting New Zealand on the global filmmaking map with The Lord of the Rings franchise (and now The Hobbit films), but the Kiwi film sector probably wouldn't exist without the aggressive behind-the-scenes efforts of state-run bodies like the New Zealand Film Commission and Film New Zealand. By combining government funds with a raft of incentives, New Zealand has become a model for how to quietly build an indigenous film industry while simultaneously courting big-budget Hollywood location shoots. "We have the room, and we have the talent base," says NZFC CEO Graeme Mason. "We are lucky that we have a good continuous flow of work." Three recent productions illustrate the role incentives and rebates have played in expanding New Zealand's global profile during the 11 years since the first Rings installment.

Mister Pip

Mister Pip is proof that the NZ film sector is intent on fostering content with a strong Kiwi accent. As a co-investor alongside local broadcasters NZ on Air and TV3 Network, the NZFC was keen to support local helmer Andrew Adamson's (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) efforts to make a feature tied closely to the local culture. Based on the book by New Zealand author Lloyd Jones, the film features Hugh Laurie as a teacher in Papua New Guinea during the country's civil war in the 1990s. "We were delighted to help a great New Zealand author, writer and director pull it all together," says Mason. That support came in the form of helping the producers tap myriad financing options, including development and equity funding and access to tax incentives. Says Mason, "We just want to put New Zealand on screen."

The Weight of Elephants

The low-budget feature demonstrates how the creative use of co-productions is benefiting local filmmakers. Although the film is based on the Australian novel Of a Boy, director Daniel Joseph Borgman wanted to make the coming-of-age story in his hometown of Dunedin, New Zealand. Thanks to the success of five shorts he made in Denmark, the Danish Film Institute teamed with the NZFC to provide financing. This occurred despite the lack of a formal Denmark-NZ co-production treaty that would have allowed for a 40 percent rebate under the Screen Production Incentive Fund. The NZFC's commitment to Borgman convinced other investors to chip in. Says NZ producer Leanne Saunders, "[NZFC provided] a comfort level for this as an investment in a co-production and, more importantly, in Daniel as a director."

Emperor

Unlike The Weight of Elephants and Mister Pip, Emperor is a pure offshore production that Film New Zealand, a national locations marketing agency, helped by accessing shooting incentives. Financed independently by American and Japanese coin,  the Japan-based story about Gen. Douglas MacArthur's decision regarding Emperor Hirohito's fate after World War II might seem an unlikely candidate for a Kiwi shoot. But when Japanese locations proved too costly, the producers turned to NZ, where they qualified for the Large Budget Screen Production Grant and its 15 percent rebate on projects whose NZ expenditure exceeds $12 million. "I love shooting in the Southern Hemisphere," says producer Gary Foster, who shot Ghost Rider in Australia. "There are very committed people working on some great films."

5 KIWI INCENTIVES YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT

  • 15%: The Large Budget Screen Production Grant's rebate when expenditure in New Zealand is NZ$15 million ($12 million) or more.
  • 40%: The Screen Production Incentive Fund's rebate for total qualifying expenditure in New Zealand. Productions must have significant New Zealand content by satisfying a points test or being certified as an official co-production. They also must have commercial distribution within New Zealand.
  • 15%: A post, digital and visual effects rebate when expenditure in New Zealand is $2.4 million or more.
  • $7,200-$32,000: The range of financing available for project development from the New Zealand Film Commission.
  • $1.6 million: NZFC production and post-production financing for feature films that contain significant New Zealand content and local distribution.
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