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Action-thriller To Film In Rotorua

A new big-budget action-thriller is set to start filming in Rotorua later this year in a move that will upskill local talent and spotlight the benefits of basing a production in the regions.

Vegas is produced by Auckland-based Greenstone TV Ltd, in collaboration with the Rotorua-based Steambox Film Collective and award-winning writer, Michael Te Arawa Bennett and his 10,000 Company. The project, for TVNZ2, is made possible with support from NZ on Air.

Set in an imaginary world that closely resembles Aotearoa in 2020, Vegas is an action thriller about a young, untested leader who wants to free his people from the curse of methamphetamine, but finds he can’t do it on his own. The story is based on the novel, Inside the Black Horse by Ray Berard.

Greenstone TV CEO Rachel Antony says the six-part drama series, which plans to hire around 40 local crew and up to 100 extras, will inject several million dollars to the local economy.

“The series has been in development for two years, and we are thrilled to be able to bring it to Rotorua, especially at a time when the city is feeling the economic impact of COVID-19,” Antony says. “We’re also really grateful for the support from Film Bay of Plenty.”

Ms Antony says filming in Rotorua appealed for a number of reasons but that, “the opportunity to collaborate with the incredible, local team at Steambox really made the decision for us.”

With pre-production set to start next month and filming to run from October until Christmas, the producers of Vegas are currently working closely with Film BOP to recruit local people for an 18-week apprenticeship on set.

Producer and co-creator of Vegas, Harriet Crampton, says Greenstone could have made the decision to shoot in Auckland: “But so many of our stories are told in our few cities, ignoring our spectacular landscapes and the exciting and specific input of people within smaller societies,” she says.

“The screen industry is growing fast in New Zealand. It makes complete sense for our government funding agencies to provide employment opportunities and career paths for those outside the main centres. It's a fantastic, hard-working and multi-skilled industry, and many of our young tangata whenua have been missing out on getting involved in this growth because of lack of exposure to local opportunities.”

Lara Northcroft, Associate Producer of Vegas and a Trustee of the Steambox Film Collective, says the successful candidates will take on assistant roles in everything from lighting, camera, sound and costume, to coordinating cast members.

The team is currently interviewing people with varying levels of experience, from school leavers with a drama background, to people looking to transition to a new career in the film industry, and those who have had entry-level positions and are looking to grow their experience.

Ms Northcroft says a wide range of sectors will benefit from the series being filmed in Rotorua – from accommodation, to on-set food, beverage and technical suppliers, transport companies, education providers and the large number of people who will be recruited as extras.

“We are committing to developing talent and capacity across the region,” Ms Northcroft says. “Hopefully this is the first of many productions to come here.”

A major focus for Greenstone is to build regional capacity and diversity in New Zealand’s screen industry, encouraging more productions to film in Rotorua and, hopefully, seeing Vegas return for future seasons.

“We hope those we train will go on to make the screen industry their profession, and the results will be evident in on-going local pathways for iwi kāinga.” says Ms. Crampton.

Vegas is fictional and set in a town that does not exist, but Writer and Executive Producer Michael Te Arawa Bennett and the team of co-producers and storyliners from Steambox Film Collective have been working closely with iwi, hapū and other local authorities to ensure the storytelling is accurate and fair in its representation of gangs and young Māori in New Zealand.

“Gang stories always invite conflict, and there’s no ‘nice’ way to deliver these narratives. But when the perspective comes not from a place of blame, but from one of understanding, empathy and release, the opportunity is there to explore wider themes: the differing responses to decades of colonisation; the ‘putting it right that counts’,” Bennett says.

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