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TV and film dramas are booming in New Zealand

How many major drama movies – including top-notch TV series – are currently filmed in New Zealand? Eight? Twelve?


Phil Smith of the Great Southern production company.
Photo: delivered

Not even close! We estimate there are more than 30 – from overseas productions like James Cameron’s avatar Sequels and Taika Waititis bandits of timeto TV hits like The Brokenwood Mysteries, dairy and Panthers.

There never seems to have been a better time to be a New Zealand actor or crew member.

It’s booming – new films by Lee Tamahori and Christine Jeffs, international shoots like Power Rangers and Minecraft – and especially TV shows, reflecting the fact that many of these are snapped up for streaming abroad.

Great Southern producer Phil Smith is part of this boom and comes from the hit series Single Lane Bridgeand with a new series dry creek about to shoot in Kaikoura.

He spoke to Standing only today about the creativity boost and how to keep it going.

“It’s probably the most exciting time in New Zealand film and television history, and not many people actually realized it was coming,” Smith said.

“For the next 12 months as a Kiwi, you’re probably going to have to stick your head down a rabbit hole if you don’t actually see that there’s a film set operating somewhere from the far north to the deep south.”

Smith said the boom has many benefits for the economy – it has little impact on the environment, spending money within our economy and shipping products abroad.

While gigantic productions like avatar sequels or the new Lord of the rings TV series get the most press, with many TV shows filmed here exporting the talent of the New Zealand cast, crew and sets.

“Twenty-eight of those productions are still very highly funded television shows that originate here as our intellectual property and go out into the world.”

The surge in streaming, with more and larger platforms, is feeding demand for content, Smith said.

“What most broadcasters have found is that drama drives people onto their platform. People don’t go there to watch reality shows, they go there to see drama and stories.”

“It’s the golden age” of drama, Smith said, with Hollywood stars like Kate Winslet, Chris Pratt, Steve Martin and others now doing streaming programming.

Neill Rea as Mike Shepherd and Fern Sutherland as Kristin Sims in Brokenwood Mysteries.

The Brokenwood Mysteries.
Photo: Pictures from the South Pacific

But not every production features big stars – The Brokenwood Mysteries is in its eighth series and a huge success.

broken wood is a phenomenon, it’s sold in so many countries, it’s incredible.

“I could imagine that 100 million people could watch a series, it’s that big.

“These shows are made in New Zealand, they present us to the world.”

There is also now an emphasis on telling stories centered around the motu, in places like Queenstown, Christchurch, Kaikoura and Whakatāne.

“We took drama out of Auckland and brought it to Queenstown a few years ago Single Lane Bridge and when it first aired, I think it was the most-watched drama in New Zealand in a decade,” Smith said.

“I think it’s because Kiwis wanted to see something outside of Ponsonby Road and they just liked it.

“I think we’re seeing all creatives thinking outside of Auckland now and how can we use all of that amazing landscape in stories to tell in New Zealand?”

But Smith also believes the government needs to recognize the importance of New Zealand’s entertainment industry and plan for its continued growth.

“The movie dollar has produced such a net positive outcome for our economy.”

“I think our industry now has a responsibility to educate politicians a bit better and discourage them from visiting a forestry company with hard hats on.

“We have to take them to movie sets and explain to them how valuable the dollar is and explain to them that tax refunds don’t go abroad.”

Ideally, having a minister specifically responsible for the display industry could help, he said.

“We’ve got a boom, but we have to make the boom sustainable because we’re like a multi-billion dollar industry now, so are we educating enough people?

“Do we need an entertainment minister to take care of all this and are we training enough people so that we are sustainable?

“Making this creative economy sustainable would be an incredible goal.”

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