To Avalon and be­yond

The Dominion Post - - Front Page - Tom Hunt tom.hunt@stuff.co.nz

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.

James Cameron

Ray Wal­lace

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