Hollywood Reporter

24 February 2004

Grant and Rave: an initiative to lure offshore production draws the interest of the global film sector.

Wakefield, Phil

While the New Zealand Film Commission reports a high level of international interest in the Large Budget Screen Production Grant scheme--a government-backed initiative to attract offshore productions that took effect last year--the local film industry is giving the tax-free incentive mixed reviews.

"It will polarize the industry, as Australia's (tax-based) scheme has," predicts producer Tim Sanders (Newmarket's "Whale Rider"). "There, you have highly paid people on $5,000 a week who work out of the Fox and Warner Bros. (Pictures) studios and who can afford to wait for the big projects--and then you have the indigenous industry struggling to get smaller statement films made."

But industry veteran Don Reynolds calls the scheme "absolutely crucial" to attracting international production. "It will draw the odd studio film like (Buena Vista's) 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,' but it will appeal more to $20 million-$40 million movies, where a 12.5% rebate makes a difference to their budgets," he says.

Under the initiative, projects can recoup 12.5% of their New Zealand production costs if budgeted at more than NZ$50 million ($34.2 million) or worth NZ$15 million ($10.2 million)-NZ$50 million but make at least 70% of their total production expenditure in New Zealand. For TV series, episodes with a minimum spend of NZ$500,O00 ($342,000) can be bundled to achieve NZ$15 million within year of when production begins.

Those thresholds put the scheme out of reach for most New Zealand producers. Film Factory New Zealand's Paul Carran believes that it will lure the big studios but criticizes the government for "slavishly copying" Australia's lead.

"The grant scheme is a top-down model--remember (former U.S. President Ronald) Reagan's trickle-down theory of economics?" he says. "Whereas, I hold the view that a bottom-up model is the only way to genuinely grow real capacity in the local industry."

Producer Rob Tapert, whose Screen Gems film "Boogeyman" has submitted a grant application, believes that the scheme makes New Zealand competitive with Australia.

"Even though local productions are squawking that they got ignored, I think they will be surprised by the number of $15 million-$20 million productions that otherwise would not be made here," he says. "It's not (films like Warner Bros. Pictures') 'The Last Samurai' or (New Line's) 'The Lord of the Rings' that are going to be attracted, but (films like Paramount's modestly budgeted) 'Without a Paddle,' which could have easily gone to Mexico or Canada."

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