What is it about the Land of the Kiwis?

I’ve just been reading an interesting article on NineMSN – http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=76865 – that talks about the boom in film production going on for our rivals over the water, New Zealand.

Which got me thinking – why is the perception building out there (and I’m speaking about internationally as well as within the Australian general public) that NZ is the leading popular destination for international, large-scale film productions in this region?

I mean, Australia has seen a few of these in the recent past as well. Ghost Rider, Superman, Charlotte’s Web and the current US television series Nightmares & Dreamscapes. Three of these even filmed in Victoria. But are we neck-and-neck or behind in relation to our international attractiveness?

Of course, the NZ Film Office is very good at marketing – the article I just read proves it – plus, they have Peter Jackson and the Lord of The Rings trilogy – which is most likely a strong contributing factor for international studios even considering filming there. I was reading another article recently that said a by-product of LOTR is that most Americans now actually know where New Zealand is – nice to see a film trilogy can be educational as well as entertaining.

I wondered if the tax incentives might be playing a part in the strong NZ marketing pitch, so I looked up the current NZ vs. Australian tax breaks and qualifying conditions for internationals. Funnily enough (from what I can work out, and I’m no taxation expert) – they’re exactly the same right now. Exactly the same – no variation whatsoever. I mean identical. However, as Film New Zealand rightly points out on their website – “… New Zealand production costs are 20% cheaper than Australia and 32% cheaper than Canada, after any tax incentives or rebate schemes in those territories are taken into account, and prior to the effect of New Zealand’s tax exemption for large budget screen production grants. The flexible, deregulated and highly creative New Zealand production environment makes your dollar go further.” – http://www.filmnz.com/production-guide/taxation.html

So, we’re back to marketing again. I’d say that the weaker NZ dollar is a damn good sales point (only currently 5c less than Australia’s dollar value to US, but still an advantage), and they absolutely should be pointing that out (which they have without actually using the word “weaker” – which is always a good idea when you’re aiming for strong sales copy).

Maybe our dollar value is against us right now in relation to competing with New Zealand – I notice on the Ausfilm website that we only mention Canada as competition – “Australia enjoys a 7.5% advantage over Canada. A new study commissioned by Australia’s Department of Communications, IT & the Arts shows that for a US $24million feature film, Australia is 7.5% less expensive than Canada. Canada is often perceived as more competitive financially, but its major incentives are labour based, vs Australia’s 12.5% tax rebate on all qualifying Australian production expenditure.” – http://www.ausfilm.com.au/childsplay/cgi-bin/show_page.pl/2/105

Well, that’s nice, but, looking at it from the perspective of an international producer, it hardly maks me want to film here, compared to New Zealand’s pitch!

And yet, Australia has so much more to offer …

We have a huge variety of locations – desert, mountains, beaches, rough bush, remote dusty country towns, tropical rainforests, pine forests, rolling hills, major cities, dense urban landscapes – and I would hazard a guess that we have more diverse backdrops available than our Kiwi neighbours. We also have a few major studio set ups on the East Coast (as well as some smaller ones dotted around the country). We have some of the best technicians available and our crews are lauded worldwide. And, of course, the glut of Aussie actors and directors who are continuing to make an impact globally (some of whom are originally New Zealanders, but we’ll ignore that for the minute!).

Some might say that our cost of workforce is the problem. But we in the Australian entertainment industry already negotiate our pay packets, under Enterprise Barganing (well, I – or my agent – have many times anyway), so really it’s no different to what the Kiwi’s do in that respect.

So, is it something as simple (yet complex) as dollar value and tax incentives? Or is it Union issues (I notice that New Zealand proudly state that “New Zealand is a non-SAG country, thus relieving producers of overseas industry union issues.” Don’t know how well that would go over here) Or is it something as simple (yet, again complex) as marketing?

I’m not saying that Australia should aim to become like Canada and have one, or more, of our major cities turn into a Hollywood backlot (a friend who works in the Vancouver industry was saying that a couple of years ago you couldn’t walk down a street without seeing an abandoned set for “X-Files” or some similar television or movie shoot. And that traffic was a nightmare during filming season), but I do think that, at least for Australian crew and to a lesser extent actors, more international productions might be a good thing.

Either that – or we get more of our own films and television programs up and running …

… no, that wasn’t a joke, just a desperate wish.

Personally, thinking about it, I don’t know which would be more difficult.

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