To Avalon and beyond
The razzmatazz of the silver screen is coming to Lower Hutt with the company behind Avatar set to lease two landmark buildings.
880 Productions, part of the Fox Studios empire, is understood to be on the verge of nabbing a five-year deal on TVNZ’s former Avalon Studios to the tune of $500,000 a year.
On the other side of the valley, 120 Hutt Park Rd – the former Turners car auction building – is in the final stages of being negotiated. The deal is tipped to be worth $800,000 to $900,000 annually for a lease lasting about six years.
Miramar’s Weta empire has previously been confirmed as doing post-production work for the Avatar sequels.
Hutt City Mayor Ray Wallace confirmed the leases of the two sites were ‘‘pretty much a donedeal’’. He understood work would begin on the films later this year.
It would be ‘‘fantastic’’ for the Hutt Valley, notably in terms of flow-on business that could see the area emulate the film-driven transformation of the Wellington suburb of Miramar, aka Wellywood.
‘‘We have always known that . . . Avalon Studios had the potential to get back to its glory days.’’
The resurrection of the former Turners car building was ideal for the council, which was trying to get away from the ‘‘dirty industry’’ image that Seaview and Gracefield were once known for. It wanted to see those areas become home to ‘‘hi-tech’’ industry.
Hutt South MP Chris Bishop said ‘‘all of Lower Hutt’’ would be supportive and many had seen the Avalon Studios as an ‘‘underutilised, world-class asset’’.
He understood the production would be eligible for a 25 per cent tax benefit under the New Zealand Screen Production Grant.
Hutt-based Labour MP Ginny Andersen said, on top of the immediate employment the sites would offer, there were collateral benefits for the likes of nearby food, transport and accommodation suppliers.
Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency’s David Jones said the deal showed much of the films’ production would be done in the region.
Since TVNZ upped sticks at Avalon in 2011, the studios have continued to be used for filming.
But the Avatar sequels – starring New Zealander Cliff Curtis – are set to flood the Valley with film workers. It is understood work had already begun overseas on the first two sequels.
Director James Cameron’s first Avatar movie employed more than 1500 people in New Zealand and injected about $100 million into Wellington’s economy alone. That 2009 movie was the highest-grossing film of all time after earning a reported US$2.788 billion (NZ$4.075b) at the box office. It was last year announced
Avatar 2 would be released in December 2020, followed by partthree in December 2021, part four in December 2024, and part-five in 2025.
Avalon Studios opened in 1975 and was, at the time, one of the largest television-making facilities in Australasia. But, by 2011, it was a shadow of its former self and the glory days ended for the once state-of-the-art studio.
‘‘We have always known that . . . Avalon Studios had the potential to get back to its glory days.’’ Ray Wallace, Hutt City mayor
The first Avatar movie employed more than 1500 people in New Zealand and its sequels will likely be worked on at Avalon Studios, right, in Lower Hutt.