A fight scene for Jason Momoa’s new series Chief of War was set to be filmed at Kauri Mountain (Nukurārangi) this month, but the plug has been pulled, much to the dismay of many in the Whangārei Heads community.
The Northern Advocate understands confusion around consultation between local iwi and hapū groups resulted in the eventual cancellation of filming at the location.
Canning the shoot is understood to have taken away tens of thousands of dollars from the economy, denying hundreds of Northland extras the chance to appear in a major production and curbing international exposure the district would have received.
A Northland Regional Council spokesman said the producers did apply to the council for consent to construct part of the set on Kauri Mountain Beach, which was approved in January.
Structures had been erected on-site. However, they were promptly removed.
According to reports, around 300 extras from the Māori and Pasifika communities, many from the Whangārei area, were to feature.
Hollywood superstar Jason Momoa, best known for his roles as the titular character in Aquaman and Khal Drogo on HBO series Game of Thrones, was set to film a fight scene - expected to take around two weeks - at the pristine location for Apple TV + series Chief of War: Yenedakine.
Momoa is co-producing, co-writing and starring in the show as the main character, Ka’iana, who was known as the “Prince of Kaua’i” and the “most famous Hawaiian in the world”.
The show is set in 18th-century Hawaii at the height of its colonisation - a nod to Hawaiian-born Momoa’s own ancestry. Scenes at Kauri Mountain would have included simulated cannon fire to create a scene showing a village under attack by a coloniser ship.
Since the cancellation of filming and subsequent accommodation occurred around two weeks ago, the local community is reeling after the loss of significant revenue and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
One accommodation provider who did not want to be named was well-set to host members of the cast and crew, but the booking was cancelled around two weeks ago.
“It’s a significant thing,” they said. “A huge loss to the community, and it needs to be talked about.”
They described it as a loss of the positive exposure for the Whangārei District that would have resulted from the filming, also referencing the 300 extras who were set to participate in the filming, many of whom were from the area and would be paid up to $300.
They also said a myriad of hospitality industries will have missed out, including local restaurants and cafes.
Award-winning producer and New Zealand Order of Merit recipient for Services to New Zealand in Technology for Film and Television, Rhonda Kite, (Te Aupōuri, Ngai Tākoto, Ngāti Kuri) said the presence of an international film shoot is a huge economic and social opportunity.
For the last 30 years, Kite has been campaigning hard to get large-scale productions filmed in Te Tai Tokerau.
Such productions have happened, most recently in Ahipara for a meth-bust drama series called Far North, from which interns have gone on to work in the industry.
“We had 10 interns on that production,” she said, “and three have gone on to work in the industry.”
Last year, Kite established a film office, Toi Te Hiku, in a bid to create a screen hub in Kaitāia to open pathways for locals, particularly Māori, to the creative screen industry.
“It’s important that we can attract this kind of thing to the North,” she said, “but we need to be organised.”
“We have enough obstacles in the way in terms of accessibility,” she said, “but there is no one place to go to where they can get help for this [filming consultation], you’ve got to have local help.”
She said productions such as this often bring in “above the line” people such as cast, crew and directors, but often those “below the line” are sourced locally, which she said “is where the win is in Northland”.
Some sources are unable to comment about the filming cancellation due to non-disclosure statements in place.
The Northern Advocate has also reached out to Te Waiariki, Ngāti Kororā, Ngāti Takapari Hapū Trust, Ngātiwai Trust Board, as well as The Department of Conservation (DoC) for comment.
DoC is due to provide a response under the Official Information Act near the end of next month, and the Advocate has so far received no response from Te Waiariki, Ngāti Kororā, Ngāti Takapari Hapū Trust or Ngātiwai Trust Board.
The casting call for Chief of War was out in February and March across community Facebook pages, with people working for a casting company swamped with applications.
“Casting call for the exciting new TV series starring Jason Momoa,” said the advertisements.
“Seeking background actors of all ages to portray roles of Hawaiian & Pacific Islander descent. Local Whangārei-based talent wanted for filming mid-later April.”
Momoa has spent the last few months being spotted around Aotearoa. In October last year, he attended a pōwhiri at Te Rāwhiti Marae, where he planted a kōwhai tree and shared a hākari [feast].
More recently, social media was abuzz with the news of Momoa drinking vodka with former All Blacks, who were speculated to be starring as extras in the series.
Other locations for the filming of Chief of War include Auckland and Hawaii, with other scenes taking place in the Bay of Islands.
Other cast members include Aotearoa New Zealand talent such as actress Luciane Buchanan, who is set to play Ka’ahumanu, actor Temuera Morrison as King Kahekili (the king of Maui), and Cliff Kurtis will play Keōua.
The current release date for the eight-episode series is unknown.
The Advocate is seeking comments from people who were due to be extras at Kauri Mountain or accommodation providers who had bookings for cast and crew members. You can email email@example.com.