John Key thinks small screen

By Cherie Howie, Jack Tame

Many of the technicians working on Power Rangers in Auckland are American. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey
Many of the technicians working on Power Rangers in Auckland are American. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey

Prime Minister John Key is pinning his hopes on wooing big budget American TV shows to New Zealand, after the postponement of a locally-made sequel to the Avatar blockbuster.

Avatar's producer James Cameron has spent the past few days introducing the Prime Minister to the bosses of Hollywood's biggest studios, yet Cameron's own Avatar 2 movie has been pushed back to a 2015 release date.

With Key forced to wait until after the next election for another film production approaching the scale of Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, he is falling back on television.

The Government could "tweak" the Large Budget Screen Production Grant to make it easier for foreign television shows to qualify for the subsidy, said Screen Production and Development Association chief executive Penelope Borland. Already, she was aware of major studios who were interested in shooting long-form drama series in New Zealand.

In an interview with the New York Times, Key said the next round of New Zealand production might not be making feature films. "We're under-served in television," he said.

And yesterday, speaking on a set at the Sony studios in Los Angeles, he said studio bosses had "pushed really hard" for subsidies to help them make TV shows in New Zealand.

The Government changed employment law and provided a 15 per cent rebate to get Warner Brothers to make The Hobbit in New Zealand. Key had previously said he would not be offering any more sweeteners, but yesterday his language was more conciliatory.

Asked the American studios' key demands, he said: "I think it would either fit around the television subsidies or it would be some infrastructure around sound studios in New Zealand. They're really the two bits that are slightly missing from their perspective."

The attempt to poach Hollywood-based TV shows to go with his Hollywood-based movies might buy the Prime Minister a fight with the tough and stroppy Californian unions, who have been trying to prevent work going off-shore, warned New York Times media blogger Michael Cieply.

But New Zealand unions are similarly equivocal about the international productions coming here. A new series of Power Rangers began filming in West Auckland this week, amid complaints that more technical crew were Americans, not Kiwis.

Alun Bollinger from the New Zealand Film and Video Technicians' Guild said John Key's schmoozing with Hollywood hot shots had left talented New Zealanders out of work, sidelined from projects filmed in their own country.

Key flew to Los Angeles this week on a three-day trip to promote New Zealand's film industry. He visited several major studios and attended a private dinner party for film studio bosses hosted by Oscar winning director and producer James Cameron, who owns land in the Wairarapa.

After the visit to Sony's studios, the company's New Zealand general manager Andrew Cornwell said Key was playing the "long game".

"It's more about putting New Zealand production on the minds of all these different studios."

New Zealand Actors' Equity vice-president Phil Darkins said the most obvious big Kiwi-based project that could be locked in as a result of Key's visit would be the two Avatar sequels.

- additional reporting John Weekes

- Herald on Sunday

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