The cinematic home of Middle-earth is alive with the hustle and ambition of Hollywood film crews, as Kiwi studios enjoy their busiest period since the heady days of Peter Jackson's Tolkien epics.

After a lull in the post-Lord Of The Rings heyday of the noughties, New Zealand film studios are beset by American streaming platforms and silver screen production companies.

The broad theme of the projects are fantasy and sci-fi, and in Auckland all the major film studios are booked into 2019.

"We're really, really busy, 100 per cent," said South Pacific Pictures chief executive Kelly Martin.


"We've just confirmed another project in January so there's more work around than space, our studios are chocka. People are desperate for space."

Located in West Auckland, South Pacific is renting out one of their studios for filming of Amazon Studios US TV series The Wilds, and another for a Netflix adaptation of 2014 Kiwi film The Dead Lands.

"It's the international stuff that's causing the glut and making it so busy. I mean god, if we were all reliant just on local stuff it would be dire," Martin said.

"It's a really positive thing because it's money coming in from overseas and it's keeping the industry afloat."

Ateed Screen Auckland manager, Michael Brook, agreed the industry was thriving and forecast "a lot more activity would be taking place" in 2019.

Brook said permits issued to film on location doubled in Auckland last week, and while US film companies predominate, he described a diversification of clients from China and the UK.

One of major reasons was the emergence of online streaming platforms.

"I think globally those new platforms and ways of distributing content have meant the opportunities for production and creation have increased exponentially," Brook said.


An example was the Netflix production of The Letter For The King, being filmed at Auckland Film Studios, and Amazon Studios TV version of Lord of the Rings - tipped to be shot somewhere in Aotearoa.

Auckland Film Studios is also a base for the mammoth task of filming James Cameron's Avatar 2 and 3 sequels. This multi-year project is also being shared with Wellington's Stone Street Studios.

Kumeu Film Studios in West Auckland is shooting the live-action remake of the 1998 animated Disney film Mulan.

Studio West in Auckland is fully booked until July 2019, filming the modern incarnation of US kids TV show Power Rangers.

Avalon Studios in Lower Hutt has a string of Kiwi films being shot during the remainder of 2018 including Savage by first-time feature film writer/director Sam Kelly.

A BBC comissioned film adaptation of the Kiwi Man Booker Prize winning novel The Luminaries will also have its cast announced in the coming weeks, and is set to be shot throughout New Zealand.

The gross revenue from Auckland film production in the last few years has also reflected the US studio companiy surge - growing from $900 million in 2015 to $1.1 billion in 2017.

Studio execs and producers all agreed a number of factors come together to make New Zealand an appealing destination for international film companies:

Large variation in the landscape and locations within a small area, alternate seasons from the Northern Hemisphere, professional English speaking crews, that aren't unionised, and which provide value-for-money in high-end production.

There are also recent increases to multimillion-dollar Government subsidies for international film companies working here - placing New Zealand on parity with the industry standard.

But there has also been a broadening of horizons in the programming strategy of the film industry itself.

Chief executive for Auckland production company Screentime NZ, Philly De Lacey, said US networks are now far more open minded about what their audiences are willing to consume.

"Ten years ago if I went into the US and pitched a drama series, they'd ask 'what's the American story, why are Americans going to like this if it's not about America?'" De Lacey said.

"Whereas now you go in, and if it's a good idea, they don't mind it's got a NZ feel. In fact, there's some US networks that don't want US content, they want foreign content."

Testament to this are two Screentime NZ/Lippy productions just wrapped: the joint German-NZ funded drama series The Gulf and the joint Danish-NZ drama series Straightforward.

"The German network wants a show that looks and feels exotic, so it's set in New Zealand and all the cast are New Zealand. That's really appealing to them, but a decade ago that just wouldn't have been thought of," De Lacey said.

"I think the world's idea of storytelling has changed, people have got an appetite for stuff that feels different, and that's really opened up the doors for New Zealand producers."