Yesterday, I wrote a piece about how someone testing positive for COVID-19 could affect a production, but we haven’t really seen how a COVID outbreak in a particular area where production has resumed might affect that show until now. A new Variety story has gone into some depth on how New Zealand reopened for international productions after being hit by COVID before becoming one of the first countries to fully contain the virus, partially thanks to being an island that made it easier to shut its borders.
New Zealand greatly benefits from being one of the COVID-free zones that has a strong film infrastructure, skilled crews, award-winning VFX and post houses and incentive schemes, all things that add up to making it a hot location to resume production on movies and TV shows. Wisely, the country also made some exclusions in its border restrictions to allow the international productions into the country, presumably having to quarantine for two weeks, and this helped allow the country to feel safe while allowing its local crews to work again.
Production resumed in New Zealand in June with many shows currently in pre-production process in Auckland, including Amazon’s prequel to The Lord of the Rings, Robert Downey Jr.’s Sweet Tooth, the adaptation of the anime Cowboy Bebop, and director Peter Farrelly’s The Greatest Beer Run Ever.
Earlier this week, four new cases of COVID appeared in Auckland, essentially a family of 4, but it ended the country’s 102-day streak of no new cases. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern immediately put the area back in lockdown, going from the Level 1 – the lowest level on the country’s alert system — back to Level 3. The shows that were in pre-production were able to continue their prep but doing so remotely. Four related people does not sound like a lot in the grander scheme of things, but without knowing how they contracted the virus or knowing with whom they’ve come in contact, it’s easier and safer to just shut things down for a few days.
Meanwhile, director James Cameron has continued to film his multiple Avatar sequels. but that production is in Wellington on the far southern tip of the North Island, which has been placed on Level 2, which includes mask-wearing, social-distancing and groups up to 100. Cameron’s production can continue to work under the region’s mandate.
Cameron and his crew arrived in Wellington on May 31 and immediately quarantined for two weeks, but it only took a few weeks after contacting Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford before Cameron could make things happen. The show was able to employ 400 New Zealanders for its crew, bringing in $60 million over the course of six months. Already a New Zealand resident himself, Cameron seems to be enjoying the experience, as he told local website Stuff that he’s applied for a New Zealand citizenship with hopes to make all his movies there.
Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop is likely to keep the rest of New Zealand’s crews employed as it films its first season over six months, and there is already talk of a second season. Meanwhile, local filmmaker Jane Campion (The Piano) was able to bring in international cast for her next film Power of the Dog, which includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons.
Twyford told Variety that he hopes the country can continue to thrive. “We have guidelines in place to allow filming to continue, provided productions meet health and safety requirements. Going hard and early with our response provides the best chance we have to continue taking advantage of the huge boom our screen sector is experiencing.”
It seems like New Zealand has found the best of both worlds in terms of resuming production, although it’s also staying vigil in order to avoid a second outbreak that might be harder to control. We can see how a few new cases of COVID might slow things down but hopefully only for a couple days, and Level 2 seems workable for film production regardless.