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Greenlit film studio expansion reflects ongoing commitment

Greenlit film studio expansion reflects ongoing commitment to region’s screen industry

$35m project to transform historic studios poised to start at Alert Level 3

A planned $35 million expansion for Auckland Film Studios will go ahead as soon as COVID-19 alert levels allow, after Auckland Unlimited re-confirmed its commitment to both the project and the region’s economically important screen industry.

Auckland Unlimited, the region’s economic and cultural agency, is partnering the Government on the major expansion on behalf of the studio’s owners – Auckland Council.

The year-long project, which will see two new sound stages added to a facility that has long been the backbone of the region’s screen production industry, was due to start at the end of August.

However, Amazon Studios’ decision to move production of its TV series based on The Lord of the Rings from Auckland to the United Kingdom following the first season means studio space it was expected to require for season two in Auckland will instead be freed up.

Auckland Unlimited Chief Executive Nick Hill says: “We are responsible for Auckland Council’s $5 million project co-funding, so it was prudent to go back to the fundamentals and consider whether a lack of future demand from Amazon affected our region’s long-term need for new sound stages.

“But after pausing to review the plan, it is very clear the reasons for developing new stages in Auckland stack up as strongly as ever. Auckland has long experienced a shortage of quality studio space and we have a key role in ensuring our region’s billion-dollar screen sector has the level of studio space it needs to keep growing, create skilled jobs and support businesses.

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“The expansion plan for AFS was never about any single production. It has a long-term horizon. So on Council’s behalf, we are pleased to reassure the industry with certainty over the future of one of our region’s premier studios.”

The project is part of Auckland Unlimited’s support for the screen production industry, which delivered about $600 million in GDP in the year to March 2020 (Infometrics).

“Crucially, the new stages and support buildings will mean more than one production can use a major Auckland studio at the same time, which is something our industry has been crying out for – particularly domestic producers,” says Nick Hill.

AFS is a focal point for the west Auckland screen heartland where many of the region’s 4000 screen industry workers and 1800 supplier companies are based.

Nick Hill says Amazon Studios’ decision to keep its post-production work for season one in the city until June next year is a reflection of the global regard for the capability of Auckland’s post-production sector.

While Auckland benefitted from a large share of the Amazon production’s $650+million New Zealand spend for season one, Nick Hill says its departure will allow a more diverse production pipeline to return to Auckland over the next year.

“Our Screen Auckland team has continued to attract other productions since Amazon’s came here, and it has already fielded numerous international and domestic inquiries for space since Amazon’s departure was announced,” says Nick Hill.

Screen Auckland’s public film location permitting on behalf of Auckland Council is also at record levels, with more than 1000 permits issued in the 2020/21 financial year (previous record was 635).

“Auckland’s current pipeline of international and domestic projects has total space requirement well in excess of current supply, even without Amazon.

“That will help some of the crew whose contracts finished with the wrap of season one to return to work sooner than the timeframe they had been facing, which was likely to be mid-next year at the earliest,” says Nick Hill.

Auckland Unlimited is working with industry and the NZ Film Commission to advocate for a clear path forward in relation to managed isolation border issues which remain a significant impediment for production attraction.

“The places are needed so the very small number of overseas cast and crew that are required to unlock significant local employment and revenues can get into the country,” says Nick Hill.

International data points to ongoing strong demand for content and therefore studio space for years to come. While a number of cities around the world are building new sound stages, Nick Hill says independent projections are that any new studio supply globally won’t keep up with demand growth.

He says that in parallel with its screen attraction priority, work to increase the ease of filming on location, and studio infrastructure development focus alongside the private sector, Auckland Unlimited is working with agency and industry partners on creative industry specific skills programmes to help the industry overcome a current shortage of skilled workers.

“We strongly believe in the long-term prospects of our screen industry to sustain pre-COVID-19 activity levels once we are through the immediate challenges. These may take two years to overcome, but the expansion of AFS is perfectly timed to be a significant factor in our region’s success when normality starts to return.”

Filmed at Auckland Film Studios

A diverse range of productions – from feature films to commercials – have been filmed at AFS. Some of those significant titles are: Falling Inn Love; The Shannara Chronicles; Adrift; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny; The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Emperor; and Xena: Warrior Princess.

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