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Bollywood May Bolster Thin Patch In 'Wellywood'

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Fuseworks Media
Bollywood May Bolster Thin Patch In 'Wellywood'

By Kent Atkinson of NZPA

Wellington, May 31 NZPA - Today's loss of Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro as director of The Hobbit has drawn attention to the possibility that Wellington's film industry may be overtaken by Auckland.

Delays in "green lighting" The Hobbit's two movies -- because of problems at MGM, one of the major studios involved -- means the Wellington region has nobody currently filming feature films, despite the steady flow of post-production and pre-production work at Weta Workshops and Weta Digital.

Auckland is currently filming a new Disney Channel film Avalon High, loosely based on the legends of King Arthur, and earlier this year wrapped a Warner Bros movie, Yogi Bear, for release on December 17.

Initial speculation about The Hobbit was that the first movie could be finished as soon as late 2010, but the latest release times which have been talked about for the two movies are 2012 and 2013.

But the capital may yet win a Bollywood re-make of a classic British crime caper next year.

A previous thin patch in Wellington's film sector -- when Sir Peter Jackson pulled the plug in 2006 after a year's work on a big-budget movie adaption of the Halo video game -- was turned into a triumph by him setting up first-time filmmaker Neill Blomkamp to instead direct District 9 -- though the location shooting shifted to South Africa.

Wellington has been busily promoting itself as New Zealand's answer to Hollywood -- to the point of proposing a Wellywood sign on the approach to its airport -- but the uncertainty over the $US150 million ($NZ219m) Hobbit movies may give Auckland a boost in its movie-making rivalry with the capital.

According to Statistics NZ, Auckland was the region in 2008 where screen production companies spent the most money and more than half (1212) of all screen industry businesses were in the Auckland region and just 29 percent (648) in the Wellington region.

Film Wellington manager Delia Shanly told NZPA today that though features were thin on the ground, a lot of pre-production and post-production work such as computer animation and visual effects was being done.

The 2009 figures from Statistics New Zealand showed a 51 percent increase in Wellington screen production revenue -- $531 million, up from $352 million the previous year -- largely on the back of James Cameron's 3D Avatar.

But Ms Shanly declined to comment on how the region would be affected by any delays that eventuated in The Hobbit project, because she had no information directly from producer Sir Peter Jackson or the Weta companies.

In the past six weeks there had been a lift in inquiries, TV commercials, and actual filming of smaller projects, but she noted lead times between inquiries and filming of a feature could take several years.

She was not aware of any feature movies "of any substance" filming at present.

But executives of a new Bollywood movie had recently visited to look at Wellington as a location for an Indian re-make of The Italian Job -- originally a 1969 British movie set in Turin -- by brothers Abbas and Mustan Burmawalla, directors specialising in Hindi action movies.

"It's looking quite promising -- but you never can tell," she said. "If that comes to fruition, they're looking to film early next year with an A-list star".

Ms Shanley said an industry survey showed that post-production businesses based in the Wellington region received $244m in 2009 -- 87 percent of this from digital animation work, with 327 businesses involved in digital animation compared with 225 the previous year.

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