Production of Avatar still on hold as NZ film industry gives green light to local filming

Production of Avatar still on hold as NZ film industry gives green light to local filming
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

The New Zealand screen industry is geared up to call 'action' on several local productions when the country moves to COVID-19 alert level 2, but the future of international projects such as the Avatar sequels and Amazon's Lord Of The Rings series is still unclear.

As a result of the closing of non-essential services under the level 3 lockdown rules, production on 47 films and television shows was suspended, along with 27 short films, affecting close to 2000 industry professionals. 

Today, the New Zealand Film Commission released their new Covid-19 health and safety protocols, opening the doors for the industry to begin rolling cameras again after a costly and worrying hiatus. 

While the level 2 guidelines are good news for local productions, New Zealand borders will remain closed. CEO of the NZ Film Commission Annabelle Sheehan says international productions are "assessing when they may resume”, pending any change to the current border restrictions, which only grant New Zealand citizens entry. 

The Lord of the Rings television show and blockbuster Avatar sequels are two of the biggest international productions shooting in New Zealand this year. Avatar producer Jon Landau, speaking to Newshub from his Los Angeles home, told Newshub the crew is "excited that alert level 2 may clear the way further for film productions to go back to work". 

“Once protocols for international productions have been established, we will be prepared to travel to New Zealand and participate in whatever quarantine rules and conditions are required, and we look forward to coming back to New Zealand," Landau said. 

Despite the devastating impact of coronavirus on film and television globally, Sheehan told Newshub that New Zealand's management of the COVID-19 'curve' meant there was "huge potential" for the country's film industry to flourish as a safe haven for filming. 

"From numerous conversations with key film, TV and streaming partners in the US, Europe and Asia in recent weeks, it’s very clear that New Zealand is in the frame as a preferred destination and partner of choice," she said.