The Film Commission is pushing film-makers to use a co-production treaty with China as way to improve access to the burgeoning Chinese box office.

Commission chief executive Dave Gibson was in China last week and says that after a slow start, things are starting to take off.

The co-production deal has been around for two years, but it has been underused, in part because of the challenges facing small film companies in dealing with the Chinese film industry.

New Zealand has a reputation for cost-efficient production and the Chinese are seeking partnerships with local film and TV producers. The treaty gives producers access to NZ taxpayer incentives for money spent here.

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For NZ producers, the benefits are more nuanced. NZ-China co-productions are counted as local in China. That means they escape tough rules that restrict the amount of foreign content that can be screened in China.

Gibson says the Government allowed just 27 foreign films a year - all Hollywood blockbusters. The Chinese industry does not have cash incentives or tax breaks. Dunedin based NHNZ - which began as TVNZ's natural history unit, but is now Australian-owned - has been a pioneer in China.