While the PM and her team were setting out their programme to reconnect us with the rest of the world, Amazon was advising the government of its plans to pull the plug – both from our film-making facilities and from the government’s generous subsidies.
And whereas yesterday’s “Latest from the Beehive” posts included two speeches and a press statement on (eventually) the reopening of our borders, today’s posts include news of the Government’s response to Amazon’s withdrawal.
Amazon’s decision was reported more than 12 hours ago by The Guardian (which wasn’t necessarily the first to break the news).
Amazon has made the surprise decision to move production of its $1bn-plus Lord of the Rings series from New Zealand to the UK, rejecting tens of millions of dollars in incentives to shoot the TV show in the same location as the blockbuster films.
The government was informed of Amazon’s decision to pull out of New Zealand on Thursday. The economic development minister Stuart Nash said it was disappointing, especially for the local film industry.
Maybe our disinclination to reconnect with the world just yet was a factor in Amazon’s decision to disconnect.
The Guardian says:
One additional factor is the strict Covid policies that continue to operate in New Zealand, which Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister, said would mean the country’s borders would effectively remain closed until the end of the year.
Any time a member of the cast or crew left the country – roughly half the cast is from the UK – they would have to quarantine for 14 days and there are limits on how many people can leave the production at any given time.
It looks like a big setback the wellbeing for our film industry.
But Nash has gone on the front foot, as you can see from the most recent posting (at time of writing) of press releases on The Beehive website:
Latest from the Beehive
The New Zealand Government will no longer proceed with part of the deal to support the Lord of the Rings TV Series, following the decision by Amazon Studios to shift production of future seasons to the United Kingdom.
Other recent Beehive posts tell us …
After six weeks of performances across New Zealand prisons, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis has congratulated Tongariro Prison as the overall winner of the 2021 Hōkai Rangi Whakataetae Kapa Haka.
Today we will be discussing some of the big questions facing us as we continue to protect New Zealanders against COVID-19, while at the same time preparing to gradually and safely reopen to the world.
The Government will use the second half of 2021 to vaccinate as many New Zealanders as possible and safely conduct a self-isolation trial for vaccinated New Zealanders in order to prepare for a phased resumption of quarantine-free travel, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today.
I want to start by thanking Professor Skegg and your group of experts for the important scientific contribution you have made to this discussion and the Government’s decision making about reopening our borders.
Projects aimed at protecting taonga species, including kiwi, kokako and hihi, are among a number of Taranaki-based initiatives receiving a boost through the Government’s Jobs for Nature programme, Minister of Conservation Kiri Allan says.
Community Housing Providers (CHP) will now to be able to access up-front funding in the early stages of new build developments to help bring on more public housing at pace, the Housing Minister Dr Megan Woods has announced following a roundtable of CHP leaders in Wellington last night.
By now the government’s border-opening programme has become the subject of nation-wide discussion and debate through other media.
Point of Order today will focus, rather, on the announcement that the government will no longer proceed with part of the deal to support the Lord of the Rings TV Series.
That’ll show ’em, eh?
Economic Development Minister Stuart Nash said he was disappointed by the decision.
“Amazon Studios advised that post-production work on Season One will continue in New Zealand till June 2022. However, Season Two will be filmed in the UK as part of a strategy by the studio to expand its production space and consolidate its footprint in the UK.
“I am enormously proud of the New Zealand screen sector. The Amazon Studios’ decision in no way reflects the capabilities of our local film industry or the talents of the people who work in it. This is a multi-national company that has made a commercial choice.
“With Season One, the New Zealand screen sector has proven its reputation for offering a world-class workforce, globally competitive sound stages and post-production facilities, and a safe destination with outstanding scenery and friendly and welcoming people.”
Nash then got down to business:
“The previously agreed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Amazon Studios will no longer proceed in its current form. The five percent incentive previously offered on top of the standard 20 percent rebate for all international film productions is withdrawn.”
Amazon Studios – like every other international production – is eligible for a 20 per cent rebate on its qualifying production expenditure in this country, under the terms of the International Screen Production Grant.
Amazon Studios’ qualifying local expenditure is estimated to total around $663.74 million so it could potentially be eligible for a $132 million rebate under the 20 per cent rule.
“The international film sector is incredibly competitive and highly mobile. We have no regrets about giving this production our best shot with government support. However, we are disappointed for the local screen industry. Work will continue across government on ways to keep supporting the sector,” Stuart Nash said.
Which means work will continue to find other financial lures to bring the movie moguls to this country.
Now let’s check out The Guardian’s account of what has happened.
The newspaper says Amazon, which four years ago paid $250m to secure the TV rights to JRR Tolkien’s works after founder Jeff Bezos demanded a Game of Thrones-style hit for its streaming service, chose to film the first series in New Zealand after competitive bids from around the world.
But whereas we Kiwis like to believe this country is the land of the Hobbit, the descendants of Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien have other ideas:
It is understood that the Tolkien estate had been keen for the series to be shot in the UK, the land that inspired JRR Tolkien’s original books, although did not have any right to determine the TV production’s location.
Production will continue in New Zealand until June next year with the premiere of the first series, which has reportedly cost $465m, scheduled for 2 September next year.
The Guardian notes that the production has not been without controversy in New Zealand.
Earlier this year, the government had to defend its deal with Amazon Studios following criticism that it was ‘bending over backwards’ for one of the richest companies in the world, by offering it multimillion dollar rebates to bring its production to the country.
The UK offers attractive rebates for TV series that cost more than $1m an episode to shoot and is the home of many high-profile Amazon productions.
The New Zealand Film Commission chief executive David Strong said the Amazon production had employed nearly 2,000 New Zealanders.
“It’s a shame and I feel for everyone who has put their hearts into this production. Season two was expected to begin later in 2022, so our role now is to work hard to keep the Kiwi screen sector employed.”
Strong said the Studio’s departure will open up avenues for other international productions to shoot in New Zealand.