It is no small irony that while New Zealand competes with Canada, the U.K. and Australia for foreign productions, those three English-language territories have historically also been the country’s most frequent partners for co-productions. But the tide is turning.
New Zealand has reached out more within the Asian region, and as it has strengthened its case as a partner through a growing web of bilateral co-production treaties. In the past three years, China, Australia and Germany have been the busiest partners.
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In other industries, notably dairy, wine and tourism, New Zealand’s relationship with China is already substantial, but still growing. The entertainment business relationship is accelerating thanks to a WeChat presence, a “China Club” that organizes regular visits and outreach events with that country and entrepreneurial individual producers: Pukeko Pictures with TV shows “Kiddets” and “Book Hungry Bears”; NHNZ in the factual and TV space; and Huhu Studios in animation.
New Zealand has two treaties with China for film (signed in 2008) and for TV (signed in 2014). Structuring a film as an official co-production offers access to the 40% grant scheme that is only available to locals, and the ability to avoid the culture points test. For a New Zealand producer, co-production offers a vastly higher chance of obtaining a theatrical release in China than would otherwise as the country’s quotas on film imports allow.
Huhu’s “Mosley” (previously known as “Beast of Burden”) was released recently in New Zealand theaters,and is expecting an early 2020 outing in China. Another is “Colours of China,” a film and TV project that includes a giant-screen documentary set for a 2020 release, with an accompanying TV series.
For Chinese producers, New Zealand’s attractions include growing cultural connections, unspoiled landscapes and high-quality VFX and post-production services.
Many Chinese movies come to New Zealand for a package of technical facilities and finance. Hit films “Animal World” and “Wolf Warrior II” both used New Zealand post facilities and tapped into the country’s post-production grant program.
Still others have come for a combination of locations and incentives. Paramount’ s “Ghost in the Shell” shot in Wellington’s Stone Street and Avalon Studios with Shanghai Film Group and Huahua Media as the Chinese partners.
But the biggest to date is “The Meg,” which is ironically sometimes posited as the most successful example to date of a Chinese-American co-production. Starring Jason Statham, Li Bingbing and New Zealand’s Cliff Curtis, the film was a $530 million-grossing global smash. Produced with China’s CMC Holdings and Gravity Pictures, it received both the New Zealand Screen Production Grant, and a 5% bonus or “uplift,” having made the contractual commitment to kit out and use the new Kumeu Film Studios near Auckland. The oceanic creature feature has become a showcase for the studio’s twin water tanks.
Other Chinese productions have followed, without accessing the subsidy programs. Legendary Pictures’ “The Great Wall” used Weta Workshop for concept and creature design, and for weapons. Chinese sci-fi smash “The Wandering Earth” used Weta Workshop to design and manufacture costumes including space suits, exoskeletons and weapons.
And earlier this year, top Chinese director Feng Xiaogang escaped the cauldron of scrutiny and financial setbacks back home, shooting wistful romantic drama “Only Cloud Knows” in New Zealand. “Cloud” is headed for a theatrical release in December.
New Zealand claims the world’s only official co-production treaty with Taiwan. To date no films have used it, but several drama series are in development, including those focused on the connections between New Zealand’s Maori and Taiwan’s indigenous people, sometimes referred to as Aboriginals.