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Hollywood To Taranaki

Hollywood To Taranaki: Culmination Of 12-Month Campaign

The announcement of the filming of part of the Hollywood feature film The Last Samurai in Taranaki is the culmination of 12 months' activity by Film New Zealand, Investment New Zealand, and regional film promotion organisations.

Taranaki will be representing Japan in the 1870s in the big-budget Warner Bros. Pictures film, with Tom Cruise in the lead role.

Film New Zealand, New Zealand's national film location promotion organisation, made its first contact with the film's producers a year ago. Since then it has been working with regional film promotion organisations to persuade the American producers to shoot in New Zealand and then to help them find the most relevant locations.

After hearing more about the needs of the film, Film New Zealand introduced the project to Taranaki, where the vegetation, the characteristic landscapes and the mountain were all what the film-makers were looking for.

"I spent some time living in Taranaki," says Jane Gilbert, Film New Zealand’s executive director, "and so I am aware of its wide range of fabulous locations."

At the time of the first visit by Warner Brothers, Taranaki's regional film promotion office did not exist. It was formed last November, little expecting a major international production so early in its life. When a second representative of the production visited New Zealand in January, he was able to work with Peter Avery who had just been hired to establish Film Venture Taranaki

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"The production team had searched all over Canada, Australia, Japan and New Zealand, but in Taranaki they found the best locations for their vision of 19th century Japan," says Peter Avery, who has spent four months helping the production with location searching and logistical support.

"Everybody assumes they are here because of the similarities of Mt Taranaki and Mt Fujiyama, but that was only one part of the mix. Other locations without a view of the mountain provide stunning backdrops with easy access and a range of options."

The Mayor of New Plymouth, Peter Tennent, says: "We have promised the people at Warner Bros that they'll get the most film-friendly environment to work in ever. I know that the people of Taranaki will get behind this project. We want to help them make an epic film of outstanding quality, and to make most of it in Taranaki."

Stuart Trundle, chief executive of Venture Taranaki, says: "Taranaki had largely been ignored as a film location because nobody had gone out and sold it as such. Then we identified film as one of our potential Sunrise Industries. To attract such a prestigious project in these early days is a big boost for our strategy of growing creative businesses within our region.

"To have moved this project from an initial location search, where people were buzzing round in helicopters, through to today's situation where most of this epic movie will be made in our backyard, has required a lot of effort and skill."

Film New Zealand's Jane Gilbert says that in pursuit of its policy of promoting New Zealand talent as well as locations, Film New Zealand has also introduced the producers to film-related New Zealand businesses.

At the same time, Paul Voigt of Investment New Zealand, with colleagues in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has been working closely with the studio in Los Angeles to ensure a positive result for New Zealand.

“This is a significant film with influential key personnel and an outstanding lead in Tom Cruise. It is also likely to have positive spin-offs for our relationship with Japan, with our landscapes standing in for those of 19th century Imperial Japan,” he said.

Paul Voigt noted that Warner Bros. Pictures’ parent company, AOL Time Warner, has made a significant commitment to the New Zealand screen production industry not only with The Last Samurai but also with The Lord of the Rings trilogy which is being made for New Line Cinema which it also owns.

“We will be exploring ways to ensure that this relationship can be further enhanced.”

"There has been a strong level of co-operation and partnership between all the various organisations,” said Film New Zealand’s Jane Gilbert. "This collaboration is always necessary to persuade an international film project of the benefits of coming to New Zealand.

"And now the benefits to Taranaki, in particular, and to New Zealand in general will be enormous."

Film New Zealand is a non-profit organisation supported by the Ministry for Economic Development/Industry New Zealand, Investment New Zealand and the New Zealand Film Commission.


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