Coronavirus: 'Avatar' Sequels Shut Down Production in New Zealand

20th Century Fox/Photofest
'Avatar'

Producer Jon Landau confirmed the executive team will remain in Los Angeles after canceling a flight to Wellington on Friday, with VFX work to continue.

Filming on James Cameron’s Avatar sequels in New Zealand has been halted due to the country's attempts to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

Producer Jon Landau confirmed to the New Zealand Herald that there would be a delay to a block of filming that was due to take place in Wellington's Stone Street Studios in April.

Wellington-based Weta Digital will continue to work on visual effects on the films, reportedly budgeted at $1 billion (NZ$1.65 billion).

The long-delayed sequels to 2009's Avatar were due to be completed by the end of 2020, with work on a total of four films being done simultaneously. Currently, Avatar 2, has a release date of Dec.17, 2021, with the following three sequels to be released in December 2023, December 2025 and December 2027.

"We've delayed it. We had plans to come down Friday night with a group of people and start back up, and we made the decision to hold off and continue working here [Los Angeles] and come down there a little bit later than we'd planned,” Landau told the Herald. 

"We're in the midst of a global crisis, and this is not about the film industry. I think everybody needs to do now whatever we can do, as we say here, to flatten the [coronavirus] curve."

Landau told the Herald that he couldn’t give an answer as to when production in New Zealand would resume but was reassessing the production schedule "every day, because that's how quickly things change."

He added it was now the production’s priority to get “as many minutes” as possible of VFX work to Weta Digital to complete.

"We try and monitor all this and look at things and think about what is in the best interest of our crew. I call it our Avatar family. That is really paramount to us above anything," Landau said.

A crew member contacted by the Herald said they were waiting for confirmation of the delays. "At the moment it's still all up in the air. We'll find out in the next couple of days via email. It's not panic stations yet, but I'm sure something will come through. The production is very supportive of us. We're not being laid off, it's on hold, so they're still committed to shooting it here, as far as I know." 

The Avatar sequels are the latest international shoot to call a halt to production over the global spread of the virus. Yesterday, Amazon's $1 billion TV adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, also being shot in New Zealand, was put on hold. In Australia, positive tests and concerns over coronavirus have seen production stop on Baz Luhrmann’s untitled Elvis biopic and Marvel’s Shang-Chi film. Netflix's breakout fantasy series The Witcher paused its U.K. production, and Bollywood put a stop to filming until the end of March. 

As of Tuesday, New Zealand had a total of 12 confirmed coronavirus infections. The country's government has acted aggressively to contain the outbreak. On Monday, New Zealand began requiring travelers from everywhere in the world except neighboring Pacific Island nations to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in the country. The government in Wellington unveiled a NZ$12.1 billion ($7.3 billion) support package for the New Zealand economy, with nearly half of the stimulus going to wage subsidy packages for coronavirus-impacted businesses and workers.