New Zealand is ready for its close-up as most of film industry remains sidelined by COVID-19

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  2 weeks ago  •  19 comments

By:   Ethan Sacks (NBC News)

New Zealand is ready for its close-up as most of film industry remains sidelined by COVID-19
As the coronavirus pandemic hobbles film production across the globe, New Zealand's relative success with containment of COVID-19 has Hollywood watching.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

Not long ago, the sounds of hundreds of armored feudal-era Chinese soldiers clashing swords rang out in the suburbs of Auckland, New Zealand.

In the midst of a pandemic that has hobbled film productions across the globe, that action sequence from the upcoming "Mulan" now seems like ancient history. It's going to be a battle of a different kind to make movies before a COVID-19 vaccine is readily available.

"This will just be an interesting challenge to see how we actually are able to engage in the collaborative act of filmmaking," said David Conley, executive visual effects producer at Weta Digital, the New Zealand-based effects house behind "The Lord of the Rings," "Planet of the Apes" and "Avatar" franchises. "How many takes are you allowed to do of two actors hugging, for example?"

Instead of recruiting hundreds of extras for those big battles, perhaps the director can get by with 10 and add the rest of the legion courtesy of an army of computer programmers working remotely.

"We're not suggesting that this is a long-term solution, but it's a short-term solution that helps those filmmakers who are eager to get their movies up and running again," Conley said.

The New Zealand government, which aggressively contained the coronavirus outbreak, has announced that domestic film productions can start rolling cameras again, with international productions, including James Cameron's "Avatar" sequels, to follow.

Studio executives and producers across the Pacific are eyeing the island nation as a potential savior, especially with so many other filming locations — including North American hubs California, New York and Georgia — grappling to find a safe path to reopen. The Los Angeles County Public Health Department is planning to allow film, TV and sound production to reopen "with modifications" in stage three of its recovery plan, which is weeks away at best and subject to change in the event of a coronavirus resurgence.

Even in the best scenario, the pipeline that ultimately brings superhero flicks and other tentpole epics to the big screen has largely ground to a halt, which will ultimately cause a big gap in content in the coming years — even after movie theaters reopen.

Other countries have also announced the reopening of film productions within their borders, including mainland China and the Czech Republic. Deadline reported this week that the British government greenlighted the resumption of filming there, predicated on producers developing safety plans approved by health authorities for their sets.

None of those countries has been as successful in beating back the contagion as New Zealand, which reported no new cases of the virus for a third straight day on Thursday. And few have the cinematic infrastructure to handle multiple Hollywood epics at the same time, which has been in place in New Zealand since director Peter Jackson used the real-life Middle-earth for his "Lord of the Rings" movies. Film production is a $2 billion a year industry in the country of just under 5 million people.

"New Zealand has got a couple of advantages," said Ira Deutchman, a professor of film at Columbia University School of the Arts and a veteran independent film producer. "One is the fact that they jumped on (the coronavirus situation) much quicker than others did and managed to get it under control. And the fact that it is an island helps.

"But I think it's partially because New Zealand has an incredibly well-developed infrastructure for production that is not utilized tremendously by indigenous filmmakers," he continued. "So, they are better set up to handle outside production coming into the country."

Among the international productions that were halted when New Zealand shut down March 25 were the "Avatar" sequels, Amazon Studios' "Lord of the Rings" series, Netflix sci-fi series "Cowboy Bebop" and the Robert Downey Jr.-produced "Sweet Tooth."

With soundstages under construction in Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown on the South Island, the country could potentially absorb a few other movies that have been shut down elsewhere, said New Zealand Film Commission Chief Executive Annabelle Sheehan.

"They will have to be sure that they can provide a system that can keep both international guests, as it were, and the crew here and the rest of New Zealand safe," Sheehan said of movie and TV productions.

"We've done a lot of work on that. It won't open in a way that's unsafe," she said. "It's about balancing how many we can take in. We believe we have good capacity and some strong developing capacity."

With only 21 COVID-19 deaths recorded in the country, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's government has been lauded for its aggressive testing, quarantine policies and closing the country's borders to foreigners.

ScreenSafe, the official health and safety monitors of New Zealand's film industry, is developing protocols that productions will have to follow, including mandatory 14-day quarantines for actors, studio executives and department heads returning to the country.

"There's a substantial set of documentation that is some 40 or 50 pages," Conley said. "As an example, hair and makeup will now have to operate in an extremely hygienic environment, in which they have to sort of distance actors or have actors come into a trailer at alternative times."

All involved acknowledge there's no script for how to make movies during a global pandemic.

"This is an important moment for film in New Zealand," Sheehan said, "and we kind of believe we're ready."


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1  Ed-NavDoc    2 weeks ago

Some things that need to be considered about New Zealand are, 1.) It's location. 2.) It is a island nation approximately the size of California with less than 1/10 the population. 3.) They already have a strict immigration policy and visa entry requirements.. 4.) New Zealand's medical and public health capability is easily on par with the United States and other 1st world nations. In some instances they are superior.

Buzz of the Orient
1.1  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Ed-NavDoc @1    2 weeks ago

Did you make that comment in case anyone might wonder why New Zealand was so successful in containing the virus while America has not been - would they not have had the same warnings, and at the same time?

1.1.1  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @1.1    2 weeks ago

Yes, I made the comment as to why they were so successful. My comment is also based on my having lived in the country and having dealt first hand with their medical and public health system when I was in the U.S. Navy. New Zealand is a awesome country. The U.S. would do well to follow their examples.

Buzz of the Orient
1.1.2  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Ed-NavDoc @1.1.1    2 weeks ago

For most of my life, when I thought about a country in the world that I would like to live in (other than Canada) it was New Zealand.  China never even entered my mind until I was 69 years old.

1.1.3  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @1.1.2    2 weeks ago

Actually, after having visited New Zealand multiple times and having lived there for 6 months back in the late 80's, I told myself that if I were ever going to emigrate to another country it would be New Zealand. I love that place!

1.2  Kavika   replied to  Ed-NavDoc @1    2 weeks ago

All of the is true Doc, but the real silver bullet was that PM Arden locked the country down when there were 105 cases and the people of NZ followed the rules. NZ is a draw for foreign tourists who flock there literally every month of the year.   The opposition party was in support as well. (imagine that political parties actually agreeing on something).

If you look at other similar-sized countries around the world you'll see a huge difference in the number of cases and in the number of deaths. 

One of the things that really stood out to me was in the height of the lockdown the health minister took a ride to the beach. He was demoted that day and PM Arden said ''I expect better''.

If you check out Australia you'll see much the same result and much the same restrictions. 

Dean Moriarty
1.2.1  Dean Moriarty  replied to  Kavika @1.2    2 weeks ago

It arrived there long after we already had community spread here.  

“New Zealand has an advantage of a relatively isolated location, which meant fewer early travelers from China and other infected areas and a longer time before cases started to appear. New Zealand saw its first cases on Feb. 28, at a time when the U.S. already had community spread and likely thousands of unreported cases,” says Thomas J. Bollyky, the director of the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations.“

1.2.2  Kavika   replied to  Dean Moriarty @1.2.1    2 weeks ago

Again, that is true but the reaction of NZ was quite different than most other countries which were paramount in containing the virus. 

Australia, which had a huge number of tourists and students from China enacted the same restrictions and they, like NZ, were able to contain the virus. 

The first cases of coronavirus in Australia were confirmed on January 25th.

1.2.3  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Kavika @1.2    2 weeks ago


1.2.4  Kavika   replied to  Ed-NavDoc @1.2.3    2 weeks ago

I have a ''permanent residency visa'' for Australia. I had three facilities in NZ, Auckland, Wellington and CC. Loved NZ and would spend 1 to 2 weeks there every quarter reviewing and working with our operations.

Always enjoyed seeing the fellows walking around CC in their walking shorts with the tall socks. Typical Brits.

1.2.5  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Kavika @1.2.4    2 weeks ago

I used to get a kick out of my Kiwi friends and co-workers asking me about my perspective of New Zealand as somebody who was of Native American and Mexican American extract. My answer was to imagine somebody who was of Maori heritage walking down the street in a small rural Southwestern Arizona desert town. Probably the same reaction. The Kiwis thought that analogy was hysterical.

1.2.6  Kavika   replied to  Ed-NavDoc @1.2.5    2 weeks ago

LOL, good one.

Many of our employees were Maori. We also sponsored our local rugby team. I got along great with the Maori. We would have long conversations on our respective cultures and beliefs. They taught me the Haka and I taught them the Fancy Dance...A good time had by all and a great learning experience for me and them. We also had a big operation in Samoa and there is a large contingent of Samoans in NZ. I speak the Samoan language and we would have gatherings with an American Indian, Samoans, and Maori now that is one hell of a Pow Wow.

Do you know where the city of Wanaka on the south island is? 

1.2.7  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Kavika @1.2.6    2 weeks ago

I have never been to Wanaka but I know where it's at. I have been to Hanmer Springs North of Christchurch though. Did you ever make it there?

1.2.8  Kavika   replied to  Ed-NavDoc @1.2.7    2 weeks ago

Is that where the hot springs are? if that's it, yes I've been there. A friend took me there one day.

1.2.9  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Kavika @1.2.8    2 weeks ago

Yep, that's where the hot springs are. Went there a couple of times. Had a friend that was a retired Navy weather tech who owned a small dairy in Riccarton, a suburb of Christchurch, who took me there.

1.2.10  Kavika   replied to  Ed-NavDoc @1.2.9    2 weeks ago

It' a really interesting place. 

The reason I asked about Wanaka was that I have a very good friend that lives there. We met in Long Beach CA. he had just been hired by Heinz foods who owned Starkist and he was going through all the corporate BS before he headed out to American Samoa. I was having dinner with some friends at the Triple Nickle in LB and he was at a table next to us, somehow we struck up a conversation and he told me he was headed out to Samoa to take over as the GM of the Starkist plant there. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I was aware that a new GM would be taking over the plant since we hauled up to 3,000 containers every two weeks out of there back to LB Starkist. I had spent many weeks and months out there getting and keeping the operation running smoothly. 

Anyhow when I told him more about his plant and business than he would learn in the next year we became fast friends. He and his wife have visited and stayed with us in the US on many occasions and we have had the pleasure of staying with them in Wanaka. 

Also, they have some really great wines on the south island.

1.2.11  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Kavika @1.2.10    2 weeks ago

Yes, they do have great wines. They also brew one of the best beers. My favorite beer is Steinlager. I would rather drink that than any American domestic beer. Steinlager is to New Zealand what Fosters is to Australia! 

1.2.12  Kavika   replied to  Ed-NavDoc @1.2.11    2 weeks ago

I'm not a beer drinker but my wife is and that is what she would drink when we were in NZ.

Buzz of the Orient
3  Buzz of the Orient    2 weeks ago

I wonder how many NT members are aware of where the title to this seed came from.

"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."


"This misquoted line is spoken by Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson, in the film Sunset Boulevard, directed by Billy Wilder (1950). At the end of Sunset Boulevard, delusional crackpot (i.e., actress) Norma Desmond stalks toward a camera, thinking it's a movie camera,  saying , "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up." In reality, it's a news camera and everyone is there because she's about to be arrested for murder. What a misunderstanding."


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