New Zealand

New Zealand Is Ready for Its Close-Up as Most of Film Industry Remains Sidelined by COVID-19

It may not be long before cameras roll again on the "Avatar" sequels, and more Hollywood projects may look to "Middle-earth" as a film location

Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

The New Zealand government, which aggressively contained the coronavirus outbreak, has announced that domestic film productions can start rolling cameras again, with international productions, including James Cameron's "Avatar" sequels, to follow.

Studio executives and producers across the Pacific are eyeing the island nation as a potential savior, especially with so many other filming locations — including North American hubs California, New York and Georgia — grappling to find a safe path to reopen, NBC News reports. The Los Angeles County Public Health Department is planning to allow film, TV and sound production to reopen "with modifications" in stage three of its recovery plan, which is weeks away at best and subject to change in the event of a coronavirus resurgence.

Even in the best scenario, the pipeline that ultimately brings superhero flicks and other tentpole epics to the big screen has largely ground to a halt, which will ultimately cause a big gap in content in the coming years — even after movie theaters reopen.

Other countries have also announced the reopening of film productions within their borders, including mainland China and the Czech Republic. Deadline reported this week that the British government greenlighted the resumption of filming there, predicated on producers developing safety plans approved by health authorities for their sets.

None of those countries has been as successful in beating back the contagion as New Zealand, which reported no new cases of the virus for a third straight day on Thursday. And few have the cinematic infrastructure to handle multiple Hollywood epics at the same time, which has been in place in New Zealand since director Peter Jackson used the real-life Middle-earth for his "Lord of the Rings" movies. Film production is a $2 billion a year industry in the country of just under 5 million people.

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