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A proposed massive studio development on Wanaka’s doorstep brings the prospect of large-scale movie and TV production in the region tantalisingly close. Yet the Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes districts have always featured on the silver – and small – screen.  The News looks at the region’s film legacy in close-up.

Some of the major film and television productions filmed recently in the Central Otago region.

The cameras have always loved Central Otago, the Upper Clutha and nearby Queenstown, but when the credits roll on a production made here, those cameras have long gone.

A studio would change that.

The proposed Silverlight Studios.
PHOTO: Silverlight Studios

The Silverlight Studios team of Weta Digital veteran Mike Wallis, double Oscar nominee Ra Vincent (The Hobbit and Jojo Rabbit) and film accountant Jonathan Harding was given approval by the Government to apply for a fast-tracked consent application under special Covid-19 legislation earlier this year.

The company’s $280million development plans for the site, 3.5km from the edge of Wanaka, were published by the Environmental Protection Authority after it determined the application was complete.

The decision on whether to approve it now lies with an expert consenting panel.

Even without a studio, Central Otago and the Queenstown Lakes district has featured as location in its own right or, like an actor, played the role of a location elsewhere Kashmir.

Still from Illustrious Energy, film shot in Central Otago,

In the past few years larger-scale film and TV series production Film Otago Southland has tracked as being filmed in both districts traverse multiple genres (excluding TV commercials, documentaries and online content).

They include; Mulan (2020 international feature), Only Cloud Knows (2019 international [Chinese] feature), Black Christmas (2019 One Lane Bridge (2020-2021 TV series that sold overseas), The Power of the Dog (2021 forthcoming international feature), Sweet Tooth (2021 international TV series), Under the Vines (forthcoming Australia/NZ TV series), Mission: Impossible (2018 The Letter for the King (2020 international TV series).

Film Otago Southland operates as a not-for-profit trust and co-ordinator Kahli Scott said it worked to support screen production in the region in collaboration with council film offices.

“We do this by being a central point of contact for initial inquiries, facilitating permits and permissions, promoting our region’s locations and screen capabilities, and supporting the development of our local sector.”

The work was often in collaboration with the national film agency, the New Zealand Film Commission.

The advent of Covid-19 had potentially slowed the number of productions made in the district.

But the numbers still averaged about five per year, Ms Scott said.

In the international film and TV space, the Central Otago and Wanaka areas were often chosen for their cinematic locations.

“Wanaka’s mountains and lakes have backdropped fantasy films, while Central Otago landscapes work well for Westerns and period dramas.”

The region was well placed to serve production demands.

“Our diverse landscapes and experienced resident crew mean the creative possibilities are vast and we welcome productions of all kinds,” Ms Scott said.

There was a limit and a studio could make all the difference.

“We are currently reliant on location filming only, a studio would make us better placed to attract a broader range and higher volume of production. Studio infrastructure could also present opportunities around film technology and film education, which would be a great benefit to the local industry.”

A still from Jane Campion’s ‘Power of the dog’ shot in Central Otago.

Other notable productions made in Central Lakes and Queenstown

A Wrinkle in Time (2018- international feature)

Wanted Australian/New Zealand TV series)

The Hobbit trilogy (2012-2014 Man vs Wild (2011 international TV series)

Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003 feature)

In My Father’s Den (New Zealand feature)

Illustrious Energy (1988 Zealand film)

Central Otago District Council economic development manager Nick Lanham echoed that sentiment and said there were no purpose-built film studio facilities in the South Island so studio work was not currently done in the region.

“While we are a popular location choice for filming and support this through our film-friendly policy, the addition of a studio would attract more film activity to the region because of a more diverse offering. An increase in film activity and a permanent studio in the region would support employment growth and opportunities in the industry.”

The CODC had a film-friendly policy, which meant it did not require production companies to apply for a film permits, resource consent, traffic management plans and/or any structures being created as “sets” were processed as and when received within the legislative requirements, he said.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan said the district was a very popular location choice for filming and the council’s film-friendly policy supported that.

“The addition of a studio nearby in Wanaka would attract more film activity to the region and an increase in film activity and a permanent studio in the region would support employment growth and opportunities in the industry as well as showcasing our incredible landscape to the world.”

Queenstown Lakes District deputy Mayor and Cinema Paradiso owner Calum MacLeod agreed. (See his full take here)

“Yes, I am also a cinema owner and passionate supporter of the arts.

“I often get asked what my favourite movies are or who is my favourite actor. It is impossible to answer. How can you possibly compare Apocalypse Now to Cinema Paradiso? The Shawshank Redemption to Zombieland? Robert Downey jun to Sir Anthony Hopkins or Dame Judy Dench to Margot Robbie? I just love movies.”