NZ lands the Avatar sequels and hikes location incentives

James Cameron has confirmed he will shoot the three Avatar sequels in New Zealand, taking advantage of increased rebates from the Kiwi government.

The government said the combined production spend, including most of the live action shooting and visual effects, would be at least $NZ500 million.

The trilogy will qualify for a rebate of 25% assuming it complies with the guidelines set out in an MoU with Cameron and Jon Landau’s Lightstorm Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

The government announced it is raising the baseline rebate for overseas and New Zealand productions from 15% to 20%. In addition, qualifying productions will get points for specific benefits to New Zealand.

The higher rebate may put pressure on the Australian government to lift the location offset from an uncompetitive 16.5%. Ausfilm has called for the rebate to be raised to 30%.

New Zealand productions will continue to access the 40% rebate but that will be extended to television and productions with larger budgets. The two tiered system will take the form of a rebate on productions up to $NZ15 million qualifying New Zealand production expenditure (QNZPE) and equity on productions between $NZ15 million and $NZ50 million QNZPE.

Also, the Screen Production Incentive Fund and Large Budget Screen Production Grant are being combined to form the New Zealand Screen Production Grant, an uncapped fund.

The New Zealand Film Commission and Film New Zealand will begin a process of engagement with the local industry early next year to finalise the points test that will apply to New Zealand productions.

“These changes will enable larger scale New Zealand productions to be made as well as encouraging more New Zealand stories to be seen on screen,” says NZFC chair Patsy Reddy. “The growth in New Zealand’s screen sector will lead to the development of more screen businesses, successful careers and employment.”

The local industry welcomes  the changes. "It looks like a terrific package which will lead to a lot of activity and it's now up to local producers to step up and work with it,"  South Pacific Pictures chairman John Barnett tells IF.

The Avatar deals were announced by Prime Minister John Key, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce and Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Christopher Finlayson with Cameron, producer Landau and Fox Film co-president of worldwide theatrical marketing and distribution Paul Hanneman.

Cameron told local media that work on the films is already underway at Peter Jackson’s Weta Studios. He said he expect the films to be released in Christmas 2016, 2017 and 2018.

The director has hired as co-writers Josh Friedman ( War Of The Worlds, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) ; Rise Of Planet Of The Apes‘ Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver; and Shane Salerno, who wrote and directed the documentary Salinger and worked with Cameron on a remake of Fantastic Voyage.

“This is excellent news for the New Zealand screen industry. The Avatar sequels will provide hundreds of jobs and thousands of hours of work directly in the screen sector as well as jobs right across the economy,” Joyce said.  “They will be a very big boost to the screen industry while we look to develop more New Zealand-sourced productions.”

The MoU provides:

 A commitment by both parties to grow the screen sector in New Zealand and to building a long term and productive relationship between the Crown and Lightstorm/Twentieth Century Fox.

Spending of at least NZ$500 million on production activity in New Zealand, including most of the live action shooting and visual effects.

 Employment and skills opportunities for New Zealanders, including in Head of Department roles. Around 90%t of live action crew are expected to be New Zealanders. Alongside this, an internship programme will be supported.

 New Zealand hosting at least one official red carpet premiere, and a featurette on New Zealand being included in DVDs and Blu-rays.