November 7, 2005

Peter Jackson Leads NZ Film Biz to New Heights

By Borys Kit

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - When Peter Jackson unveiled the first "Lord of the Rings" movie in 2001, it ushered in a torrent of attention on New Zealand and its film industry, kicking it into high gear and showing that the country was a viable place for Hollywood to make its movies.

Four years later, with Jackson's "King Kong" just more than a month away, the director's shadow still looms large over the film industry in the remote country of 4.1 million people.

"He's important because of the films he makes himself, he's hugely important because of the infrastructure he's developed to enable him to make the films himself," New Zealand Film Commission chief executive Ruth Harley said at the annual American Film Market in Santa Monica.

"And also because of the standard of the films he's made, people know it's possible for New Zealand to turn out that high quality of work.

"I'm sure if we hadn't had 'Lord of the Rings,' Andrew Adamson would have had a lot of difficulty bringing 'The Lion and the Witch & the Wardrobe' to New Zealand," she added.

Since Harley took over the film commission in 1997, New Zealand has also spawned such films as 2003's Oscar-nominated "Whale Rider" and the Anthiny Hopkins vehicle "The World's Fastest Indian," which will have its U.S. premiere Tuesday at the AFI Fest in Hollywood.

The commission has two weapons in its arsenal: the New Zealand Film Production Fund, which with its annual budget of NZ$20 million helps out local productions, and the Large Budget Screen Production Grant. This offers a 12.5% grant on productions, local or international, of more than NZ$50 million. If the production is less than that number, 70% of the total cost must be in spent in New Zealand in order to qualify.

It appears New Zealand's film industry will continue its hot streak for the foreseeable future. After this winter's high-profile releases of "Kong Kong" and "Narnia," plus "Indian," next year probably will see the big-budget productions of Universal Pictures' "Halo" and Walden Media's "The Bridge to Terabithia" shoot in the country as well as the local horror comedy "Black Sheep."

"I think that we haven't gotten as far as I hoped on the domestic side, but we have achieved beyond my wildest dreams on the international side," Harley said.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter