New Zealand is a member of the AFCI.
Thursday 5th December
The American Film Institute has called the New Zealand film industry "one of the wonders of the world... an unparalleled success story". Certainly the number of New Zealand filmmakers who have gained the world's attention is well beyond what the country's small population and distance from major metropolitan cultural centres might be expected to have delivered.
Their successes have been founded on the tradition of versatility and innovation which has shaped the industry from its earliest days. Those industry values have been maintained, not merely out of necessity, but because of the strong value New Zealanders place on working that way.
The first films were shown in New Zealand as early as 1896, but the industry’s first phase began in 1913 when three films based on Maori stories, and directed by Gaston Melies, appeared – Loved by a Maori Chieftainess, Hinemoa and How Chief Te Ponga Won His Bride. In the following 30 years some 28 films were produced, including The Birth of New Zealand (1922), Rewi’s Last Stand (1925) and Down on the Farm (1935).
The end of the silent period saw a fall-off in feature production, and the industry’s next phase was launched with the establishment of the National Film Unit in 1941. The government-founded unit specialised in documentaries about New Zealand. Perhaps more importantly, as a location of training and experiment, the unit became a significant factor in the technical advancement of New Zealand filmmaking. Though the next 30 years would see only three local features made, the unit would spawn a number of independent production companies and, as a major training ground for new filmmakers, it set and maintained high-quality production standards.
The resurgence of New Zealand filmmaking began in the late 1970s, with Roger Donaldson’s Sleeping Dogs (1977) as one of a group of features which helped revitalize the industry. After the success of his second movie Smash Palace (1982), Donaldson was the first New Zealand director to begin making features in Hollywood. He made one more New Zealand feature, The World’s Fastest Indian, which was released in 2005.
Geoff Murphy made three early New Zealand features which earned substantial popularity with local audiences and critics - Goodbye Pork Pie (1980), Utu (1983), and The Quiet Earth (1984).
Vincent Ward became the first New Zealand director to win selection for competition at the Cannes Film Festival with Vigil (1984) and then The Navigator (1988). His most recent features River Queen (2005) and Rain of the Children (2008) are unique depictions of New Zealand’s past.
After her first New Zealand feature An Angel at My Table (1990). Jane Campion went on to direct The Piano which shared the 1993 Palme d’Or at Cannes and won three Academy Awards™ – the first New Zealand film to be so honoured.
Lee Tamahori’s Once Were Warriors (1994) became a local record-breaker and a world-wide success, introducing the world to the grittier life of urban New Zealand and launching his career as an international director which included the James Bond Die Another Day (2002). Warriors also launched international careers for its three stars Rena Owen, Temuera Morrison and Cliff Curtis.
The first New Zealand actor to achieve international acclaim was Sam Neill, whose career was launched with Sleeping Dogs. For her performance in The Piano, Anna Paquin was the first New Zealand actor to win an Oscar™; later Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated for Whale Rider. More recently Melanie Lynskey (whose first feature was Heavenly Creatures), Martin Henderson, Daniel Gillies, Karl Urban, Lucy Lawless and Marton Csokas are among New Zealand actors working internationally.
New Zealand continues to produce directors who earn international reputations including Christine Jeffs with Rain (2001) which she followed with Sylvia (2003), and Sunshine Cleaning (2008); and Niki Caro who directed the box office hit Whale Rider (2002), followed by North Country (2005) and The Vintner’s Luck (2009).
The biggest reputation of all is that of Sir Peter Jackson, whose first features were Bad Taste (1988), Meet the Feebles (1990) and Brain Dead (1992) and whose international recognition started to climb with his fourth feature Heavenly Creatures (1994.)
The highpoint for New Zealand production came with his The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) which he produced and directed. Those three films, with state-of-the-art digital effects technology realised at his state of the art facilities in Wellington, are proof of New Zealand film’s technical and production capacity at every level.
His facilities were more recently used for The Adventures of Tin Tin feature, released in 2011 – it was produced by Jackson and Steven Spielberg and directed by Spielberg, with post production in Wellington at Jackson’s Park Road Post. Jackson is due to direct a second Tin Tin movie in New Zealand, but not till he has followed up his Lord of the Rings success with two features based on The Hobbit story. The two films have been in production in New Zealand since March 2011, and the first – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - is due for release in December 2012.
In the new century, more young New Zealand filmmakers are establishing reputations, and pursuing a broad range of themes and genres.
Outstanding in the list of newcomers is actor-director Taika Waititi (nominated for a best short film Oscar™ in 2005 for Two Cars, One Night) whose delight in a unique Kiwi quirkiness was evident in his first feature the darkly charming Eagle vs Shark (2007). His second feature Boy (2010) became the highest grossing local film ever released in New Zealand.
Toa Fraser and Chris Graham, with No. 2 (2006) and Sione’s Wedding (also 2006) respectively, explored Pacific themes in New Zealand settings with a real passion. Six years later, debut Wellington director Tusi Tamasese delivered The Orator, (2011) using Samoan locations for a story of traditional conflicts.
Chris Graham moved into the horror genre with The Ferryman (2007). This genre was also followed by Jonathan King with Black Sheep (2007) and Peter Burger with The Tattooist (2007) . Science fiction and horror were combined in Glenn Standring's Perfect Creature (2007), an original retelling of the vampire myth set in an alternate version of the 1960s.
Robert Sarkies explored a tragic episode in New Zealand's history with Out of the Blue (2006); his new feature Two Little Boys is due for release in 2012 with Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords in a leading role.
Among many low-budget features, the standout so far is Second Hand Wedding (2008) a comedy directed by Paul Murphy, the second generation of his family to make New Zealand feature films. He completed his second feature, Love Birds, in 2011.
The people who created the dynamic New Zealand industry have also introduced world filmmakers to one of the country's most persistent characters – New Zealand's land and scenery.
Ron Howard was one of the first Hollywood directors since the silent period to discover New Zealand as a location when he shot Willow (1988) in the Southern Alps. Expatriate New Zealanders Lloyd Phillips and Martin Campbell, also shot their spectacular mountaineering film Vertical Limit in 1999 in the Southern Alps.
New Zealand proved to be the perfect Middle-Earth in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In The Last Samurai (2004) Ed Zwick found the North Island provided scenery ideal for his vision of 19th century Japan. Three years later, in Akihiko Shiota's Dororo (2007), the setting was a fantasy land that culturally resembles old Japan but is in fact the wilder parts of New Zealand's South Island.
In 2003 Without a Paddle filmed throughout the lower North Island; and in 2004–05 LA-based expatriate Andrew Adamson returned to New Zealand with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, using the spectacular backdrop of the Southern Alps to bring the film alive. Soon afterwards, Peter Jackson created spectacular jungles and 1930s New York in his Wellington studios for his remake of King Kong (2005).
In 2006 Roland Emmerich filmed part of the epic tale 10,000 BC (2008) in Wanaka; and New Zealand doubled as Alaska in the vampire saga 30 Days of Night (2007), directed by David Slade. Increasingly, fable, fantasy and fabulous effects have entered the filmmaking landscape in New Zealand, and the children's fantasies Bridge to Terabithia (Gabor Csupo) and The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep (Jay Russell) were both made here for release in 2007.
The high point peak of New Zealand involvement came with James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), which was largely created at Weta Digital in Wellington. Weta Digital used a new camera system for the film and shot on a virtual stage - involvement which won it an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. It also developed new technologies for supporting software and a new production pipeline in order to reach a new level of creative and technological excellence, delivering the film in 3D.
Weta Digital has provided digital effects for many other international box office hits including The Avengers, Prometheus, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Return of the Planet of the Apes, I, Robot, X-Men: First Class, Gulliver’s Travels, Enchanted, Jumper, The Day the Earth Stood Still, District 9 and The Lovely Bones.
As well as The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, and The Adventures of Tintin, US features which have been based at Park Road Post in Wellington have included Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (Gran Via, Miramax Films, Tequila Gang); The Lovely Bones (Wingnut Productions/ Dreamworks/ Paramount) ; District 9 (Sony) ; Knowing (Summit Entertainment) ; 30 Days of Night (Ghost House Pictures / Columbia Pictures) and 10,000 BC (Warner Bros. Pictures). International features have included The Warrior’s Way (Korea), Red Cliff (China) and Lucky Miles (Australia) .
Other international productions benefiting from the talent of New Zealand visual and physical effects teams have included Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Kingdom of Heaven, Van Helsing, Peter Pan, I Robot, The Legend of Zorro, and An Inconvenient Truth.
Most television production companies in New Zealand have their own team of producers, writers, directors and production managers, and their experience covers a wide range of programme genres including drama and factual series, comedy, light entertainment and documentaries. New Zealand has experienced line producers, UPMs, supervising producers, service producers and production managers who have illustrious careers in servicing domestic and international drama and non-drama (film and television) projects.
New Zealand's first television production companies were set up in the late 1970s, and today production facilities include suites offering fully digital multi-media, computer animation and film/video post production. New Zealand television programmes sell in over 100 countries worldwide, and the country's television production companies have exported entertainment, lifestyle and sport series and formats abroad. A number of production companies have also co-produced major television drama series with partners based in Canada, Britain, Australia and Sweden, to name but a few.
Currently with Film Australia, December Films and Ferns TV, New Zealand production company South Pacific Pictures is producing Cook, a major documentary series based on Vanessa Collingridge's book Cook – Obsession and Betrayal in the New World. The international co-production, which has been shot in the UK, Canada, Tahiti, Australia and New Zealand, will open up the world of 18th-century sea travel for viewers through state-of-the-art CGI and dramatic reconstruction.
A standout star in documentary production is Natural History New Zealand (NHNZ), which has filmed above and below every ocean and every continent. With offices in Dunedin, Beijing and Washington DC, NHNZ works closely alongside Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Discovery Health, TLC, National Geographic Channel, PBS (US), NHK (Japan), France 5 and NDR (Germany). A special area of expertise is Antarctica, where NHNZ has been making documentaries for more than 20 years.
Great animation to tell great stories has been one of the most significant aspects in the history of New Zealand film and television in the past decade. A huge level of investment combined with extraordinary creativity has resulted in the development, production and distribution of quality animated content.
New Zealand's primetime animated show, bro'Town (Firehorse Films), first appeared on television screens in September 2004. Irreverent, and capturing the energy, humour and enthusiasm inherent in the best portrayals of New Zealand's multi-cultural society, it was an instant success, wowing thousands of local and international fans, winning multiple awards and receiving impressive critical acclaim.
Auckland-based Flux Animation Studio worked on the feature film An Inconvenient Truth, a box-office favourite and winner of best documentary at the 2007 Academy Awards™. Flux Animation Studio directed two animated sequences in the 90-minute film, sequences which have screened as a backdrop to environmental campaigner Al Gore on stages throughout the world. At home Flux Animation also produced several television series for Television New Zealand, including Tamatoa, Artoonz, Puzzle Inc and The Adventures of Massey Ferguson.
2006 saw Weta Productions' first foray into children's television production with Jane and the Dragon. The Weta Productions team brought the same creativity and eye for detail to the world of Jane that was used in the creation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Their work combined with the latest digital effects technology to deliver a beautiful and stunning new aesthetic for animated television.
Auckland-based Huhu Studios created The Ten Commandments, released by Promenade Pictures in October 2007 and starring Sir Ben Kingsley as the narrator, Christian Slater as Moses, Alfred Molina as Ramses and Elliott Gould as God. The Flood would follow.
New Zealand has a robust and healthy television and cinema commercial industry that has a long and distinguished history of working with many different overseas production companies and advertising agencies.
The same qualities that have appealed to feature filmmakers have also attracted makers of television commercials. Productions from countries as diverse as Poland, Japan, Korea, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States have been shot in New Zealand.
The varied landscape and climate enable the country to stand in for a large range of locations in close proximity to each other, and the Southern Hemisphere advantage of reverse seasons to the Northern Hemisphere is valuable for production timelines.
Equally, international companies are also choosing New Zealand to post-produce their television commercials. The expectations of even the most demanding clients are being fulfilled by large and smaller boutique facilities, whose expertise in editing and leading-edge digital innovation is second to none.
Every region in New Zealand has a distinct character. There are literally hundreds of locations with their own special magic, and none is overexposed. New Zealand is a photographer's paradise.
A small but elite group of companies and individuals offer line-production services for international advertising photography or stills shoots. They know the country's locations and resources. They appreciate issues around accessibility, staging areas, lighting angles and any length of red tape to be unravelled. They know about eliminating 'surprise' additional costs by considering projects from all angles at cost-estimating stage. They work to systems guaranteed to eliminate risk and deliver results. And, like their colleagues in film and television, they have worked extensively with some of the best in the business worldwide.
Production services also include casting and engaging crew, including photographic assistants, stylists, prop makers, set builders and safety. Flash, lighting equipment, digital cameras and operators are all available. New Zealand stills crews are highly trained, flexible and cost competitive. Specialist crew such as helicopter pilots, underwater crew, and equipment and extreme sports guides are also available.
Over the past decade New Zealand has witnessed the rise of the new media companies. These are backed by a collection of New Zealand-based new media research laboratories, and fed in part by graduates from media design schools who have trained in 3D animation, visualisation, game development, visual effects and digital media. The schools attract students from more than 35 countries, drawn to New Zealand by our reputation in high-end computer graphics and technical innovation.
These new media companies are home to creators of visually compelling interactive digital content delivered across a range of channels and devices, including mobile phones, PSP, internet and kiosks, game consoles and other portable devices.
On offer are tactile tabletops, interactive wallpaper and floor-based sports games. Writers, designers and producers are installing original and intelligent exhibitions and experiences for museums and tourist sites in New Zealand and overseas. Two-minute television dramas are being produced for viewing on G3 mobiles. Increasingly it's interactive marketing of entertainment and games that young audiences are finding so compelling.
These new media companies work across a broad range of technologies and media – frequently with a ‘pick and mix’ approach to media options that results in exceptionally innovative and exciting solutions in entertainment and education, and for business.
Register your production
Back to top.