Beyond Cinema - Issue 11, 2016: THE COMMISH

For the masses - where's Otago?

Otago and Southland are regions that make up the Southern portion of New Zealand, this is the area my office covers.

Some film commissioners come from economic development, others from production or tourism - what was your stepping stone?

Like many film commissioners it was a circuitous route. After moving to Queenstown I worked in the bungy-Jumping industry when it started in New Zealand. That led me to rigging a bungy-stunt on a television commercial. I liked the challenge of working on a film set, and ultimately migrated through production and rigging to the Art Department. I started a restaurant, sold it, started a guiding business, then heard they were looking at setting up a film office in Queenstown. It’s the only job I have ever applied for.

What film or television project do you think of as having best captured the essence or the people of your region best?

That’s a tricky one. In our region, the bread and butter is international TV commercials and we are constantly getting top quality A-list directors coming here to give their take on the environment. With advertisements, it’s about selling a feeling or experience as much as the product, so I see our region being reinterpreted on an ongoing basis.

As far as capturing the essence of the people, “The World’s Fastest Indian” was a true story about a kiwi who was from Invercargill and, against all odds, went out and took on the world at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Aside from being a great story, it captures the can-do essence of the people here.

Did “The Lord of the Rings” change everything for New Zealand forever?

The Lord of the Rings was an absolute game changer. Before that, New Zealand was considered a nice place to shoot but not known internationally as having a top-tier film industry. The success of the trilogy made people realize that NZ had the capability to deliver at the highest level. This gave other productions the confidence to know they could come here and use local crew and or equipment and produce the highest quality product. It also helped to establish Weta Workshops, Weta Digital and Park Road Post, which have gone on to be considered world leaders in their respective fields.

As for the effect on tourism, I had lived here for 10 years before Rings came out. During that time, whenever I returned to the States and would tell people I lived in New Zealand, they either confused it with Australia or drew a blank. After the trilogy, the reply had changed to “I’ve always wanted to go there.”

The power of film to influence a person’s awareness or perception of a place is incredible, and the trilogy is the poster boy for film tourism.

Within the AFCI, you took on a specific, personal role in educating others on issues related to shooting in sensitive or protected environments? Why is that?

We are a locations-based industry. Our strength is our locations and our threat, in my region, is not being able to readily access those locations. No Access = No industry.

As I got more involved with lobbying, and with contributing to land management plans and strategies, I realized that most of the resistance to granting site access came from a lack of understanding of how we work. If productions are respectful of the environment and view shooting in sensitive areas as a privilege, they will buy into the need to have strict guidelines. Once this relationship is established and understood, conservation groups and others who enjoy the natural environment begin to recognize the film industry as a partner in conservation, and that the industry can contribute much-needed funds to help further conservation work in these areas.  

What’s the best thing about your incentive program currently in place?

We have an incentive that is both competitive and uncapped, which puts us in the game globally.

And you’re also tasked with nurturing indigenous filmmakers in your area?

We have a good stable of up and coming talent and have also started a writers-in-residence program and are trying to enable the next great script to be written in our region.

If I visited you for 48 hours -- what would I see or eat to make me want to come back?  

48 hours would just be a tease... but we would do a road trip around the southern half of the South Island. The scenery is as varied as it is beautiful and the local food and wine are fantastic. That said, the real hook is the people, New Zealanders are engaging and entertaining and have a knack of making you feel immediately at home… I arrived here for a month 28 years ago and am still here.

Click the button below to read the complete Beyond Cinema Magazine, Issue 11

Beyond Cinema Magazine