The filming of James Cameron's Avatar sequels in New Zealand has been delayed indefinitely due to coronavirus concerns, as Kiwi crew members reveal "there'll be a lot of people looking for work" as a result.
The US producer of the four scheduled Avatar sequels, Jon Landau, spoke to the Herald today confirming the executive team for the $1.65 billion (US$1b) production will remain in Los Angeles after cancelling a scheduled flight into Wellington this Friday night.
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The Herald had it confirmed by five separate Kiwi crew on the production based out of Wellington's Stone Street Studios that an indefinite delay was announced today.
When posed with the reality that the Wellington Avatar crew don't know when they'll be back working, Landau admitted "I think that is an honest truth".
"I can't give you an answer," Landau said.
"If I told you we are going to know something in two weeks I'd be lying. I might not be wrong - even a broken clock is right twice a day. But I would be lying because I don't know.
"We've delayed it. We had plans to come down Friday night with a group of people and start back up and we made the decision to hold off and continue working here [Los Angeles], and come down there a little bit later than we'd planned.
"We're in the midst of a global crisis and this is not about the film industry. I think everybody needs to do now whatever we can do, as we say here, to flatten the [coronavirus] curve."
The sequels to 2009's Avatar - which was the second highest grossing film of all time at $4.6 billion (US$2.79b) - has been in the works since production started in 2017.
Each one of the four scheduled sequels is reported to have a $413 million (US$249m) budget.
One Wellington-based crew member told the Herald they received an email today announcing an indefinite delay to production.
"We got an email today regarding what you're saying but we haven't had anything confirmed yet," the crew member who spoke anonymously, having signed a confidentiality agreement for the Avatar production.
"They've just sent us something saying there could be troubles ahead. But nothing concrete. This is from production.
"I think you can safely say a lot of people will be looking for work for a wee while."
The crew member said there was no word if a scheduled April filming block in Wellington with Cameron would still go ahead.
"At the moment it's still all up in the air. We'll find out in the next couple of days via email. It's not panic stations yet but I'm sure something will come through.
"The production is very supportive of us. We're not being laid off, it's on hold, so they're still committed to shooting it here as far as I know."
Several other crew the Herald spoke to confirmed the production delay email sent today.
One person said they had just left an Avatar set in Wellington and "no one knew what was going on".
Landau said they would reassess the production delay "every day, because that's how quickly things change".
"We try and monitor all this and look at things and think about what is in the best interest of our crew. I call it our Avatar family. That is really paramount to us above anything."
Cameron and Landau's production company Lightstorm Entertainment have been working on four Avatar sequels simultaneously, with both Avatar 2 and 3 set to be completed by the end of 2020.
In February, new release dates for the four Avatar sequels were announced: Avatar 2 December 17, 2021. Avatar 3 December 2023, Avatar 4 December 2025, and Avatar 5 December 2027.
Peter Jackson's Wellington-based Weta Digital is completing all the digital effects on the sequels.
Landau said in light of the delay, the priority was to get as many "more minutes" to Weta as possible to continue working on the digital effects for the film.