Casting call for commercial space

3:24 PM Saturday July 27, 2019 True Commercial

Sir Peter Jackson’s Park Road Post Production in Wellington.

Film studios in Auckland and Wellington need more large-footprint space to meet an avalanche of work, says a leading real estate figure.

Ryan Johnson, Bayleys Real Estate’s national director commercial and industrial, says that while more than 60ha of land is occupied by film and production studios in the two regions, the industry needs more if it is not to miss out on new productions. Much of the available studio space is already earmarked for other productions.

New Zealand’s reputation as one of the world’s most film-friendly countries is reflected in the amount of work our studios attract.

For the 2018-19 year, eight local feature films have gone into production and 20 international features, drama and factual series were committed for the same period.

“From a real estate perspective, the industry is saying it’s almost at a point where it risks becoming a victim of its own success,” said Johnson.

“Even with a new studio opening a year ago on 27ha of former industrial land at Kumeu, Auckland is short of space for studio facilities. And Wellington also needs space.”

Auckland's two biggest studios — Auckland Film Studios (AFS), on a 10.5ha Henderson site, and Kumeu Film Studios (KFS) — occupy 37.5ha between them.

They are leased and operated by ATEED, the council-controlled economic development agency, from another council organization, Panuku, which has the assets in its property portfolio.

AFS has been a mainstay of Auckland’s screen production for 25 years. It occupies former cool stores bought by Waitakere City Council in 2002 for $3.8m.

AFS has three sound stages, the largest occupying 1924sq m, plus nine associated buildings and a back lot.

“The quality of the main sound stage means the studios remain in strong demand, with major international productions in place throughout last year, two international TV series in production now, and bookings until the middle of 2022,” says Pam Ford, ATEED's economic development general manager.

AFS is also a base for filming James Cameron's Avatar 2 and 3 sequels. This multi-year project is being shared with Wellington's Stone Street Studios.

ATEED has a five-year lease running until October 2022. If filming is ongoing the lease will be extended, says Ford.

The agency’s lease over KFS runs until 2029, while development on that site in collaboration with the Korean family owner has been ongoing.

KFS features two 2300sq m sound stages; an indoor dive tank; an outdoor ocean horizon tank, with an 864sq m green screen wall; 4000sq m of stage area; 6000sq m of workshop space and production offices; plus a forest, stream and yard which form sought-after back lots.

KFS took shape on former timber processing land under a partnership between Warner Bros and China's Gravity Pictures, the New Zealand Film Commission, the private land owner and ATEED.

Auckland’s smaller studios include South Pacific Pictures, in Henderson, Studio West, in Glen Eden, Kelly Park Film Studios, near Silverdale, and central Auckland’s Beop Studios. AR/VR Garage is home to augmented and virtual reality start-ups.

Meanwhile, Wellington has become a film production and screen technology hotspot, with resulting growth in the industry’s property footprint.

Director Sir Peter Jackson, special-effects guru Sir Richard Taylor and editor and producer Jamie Selkirk have created a highly successful empire with Stone Street Studios, Weta Digital, Weta Workshop, Park Road Post and equipment rental firm Portsmouth.

The multi-million dollar studios, sound stages and pre- and post-production facilities are based on an 8ha site in Miramar.

The complex has four purpose-built stages, including the world-class 2238sq m ‘Kong’ sound-proofed stage. There is a further 6670sq m across three other studios, 6177sq m of workshop, 1795sq m of offices, plus a large back lot.

Wellington's other main studio, Avalon, has five stages covering 1462sq m on a 2.45ha site in Lower Hutt, with a back lot, production offices and helicopter pad.
It was the early centre of television-broadcasting production.

It also became the focus of film production, building on the National Film Unit, which Jackson bought in the late 1990s and incorporated into Park Road Post. In April 2012 a consortium, Avalon Holdings, bought the Avalon Studios.

With a big stream of work over the past five years, film has become a big contributor to national GDP, hitting $2.2b in the year to June 2018. That was a drop from a stellar 2017 when revenue hit $3b, with fewer big-budget films and a decline in television activity.

A rebound is expected this year with demand still coming from major US-based studios, plus countries such as China, and streaming.

ATEED and the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency both say they are exploring further development, and have pointed to a need for more studio space.

ATEED’s Ford says streaming companies are driving an increase in studio inquiries around the world, and Auckland has already hosted a number of productions for companies such as Netflix.

“Streaming companies have a different business model combining content creation with distribution, so the ability to create content is crucial,” Ford said.

“They often need studio space which is entirely their own — representing an evolution from the traditional film studio model which has different players alongside each other within the same facility.”