NZ PM Jacinda Ardern. (Photo: Michael Bradley) 

All New Zealand-based production will enter hiatus after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today that the country will be placed into lockdown from Wednesday in order to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The almost complete societal lockdown – expected to last four weeks – will see people instructed to stay at home and self-isolate, and only essential services and businesses remain open.

Some productions, such as James Cameron’s Avatar sequels and Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings series, had already suspending filming.

As a result of the lockdown, NZ’s cinemas will also close.

Following the announcement of the lockdown, the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) released a statement from CEO Annabelle Sheehan expressing concern over the serious nature of the pandemic and its impact on cast, crew and businesses. The commission’s staff are working remotely and funding opportunities remain open – with the exception of the International Travel Grants Program.

With regards to productions that have been suspended, Sheehan said: “This is obviously distressing for everyone involved. We are committed to working alongside producers to understand the changing environment and how we can best take advantage of opportunities to commence production again when conditions are favourable to do so.

“The NZFC is reviewing films and working with producers in post-production and assessing how we can best support delivery, if delayed, and other milestones related to this activity.

“We will continue to process post-production deliverables, review contractual edits and provide feedback, and process invoices as applicable, however all test screenings are now paused.”

NZFC will continue to accept applications for productions that have not formally closed finance or have a viable finance plans, and will process closing documentation so that productions are poised to start as soon as possible.

“We are systematically working through potential variations to our Terms of Trade that can support new approaches to production advances and cash-flowing for productions that have a letter of offer and are working through the closing process,” said Sheehan.

“We are also currently reviewing how we can expand our project development, talent development and company support programmes.”

Earlier today a pan-sector New Zealand action group, comprising government ministries, screen agencies, industry guilds and organisations, was announced in response to COVID-19, with an accompanying screen-specific online information hub.

Among the group’s aims is ensuring productions can gear back up as soon as possible, to explore ways to ensure the domestic industry can be supported to continue working safely, and looking at funding mechanisms and networks to facilitate training and development opportunities for affected businesses as well as individual practitioners.

“These unprecedented times call for calm and proactive decision-making in order to protect the local screen sector and to ensure that when recovery happens – and it will – the industry is ready to operate at maximum capacity again for our domestic productions and so that international line productions can return as soon as it is viable,” the group said.

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