New movie meccas draw stars away from Hollywood

Tax breaks send projects like ‘Avatar’ abroad

12/28/2013
BLADE NEWS SERVICES
Director James Cameron announces in Wellington, New Zealand, that he will shoot three sequels to his 2009 sci-fi blockbuster movie ‘Avatar’ in New Zealand.
Director James Cameron announces in Wellington, New Zealand, that he will shoot three sequels to his 2009 sci-fi blockbuster movie ‘Avatar’ in New Zealand.

In the old days, filmmakers flocked to Hollywood for its abundant sunshine, beautiful people, and sandy beaches. But today a new filmmaking diaspora is spreading across the globe to places like Vancouver, London, and Wellington, New Zealand.

Fueled by politicians doling out generous tax breaks, filmmaking talent is migrating to where the money is.

The result is an incentives arms race that pits California against governments around the world and allows powerful studios —with hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal— to cherry-pick the best deals.

The most recent iteration of the phenomenon came earlier this month when James Cameron announced plans to shoot and produce the next three Avatar sequels largely in New Zealand. What Cameron gets out of the deal is a 25 percent rebate on production costs, as long as his company spends at least $413 million on the three films.

“There’s no place in the world that we could make these sequels more cost effectively,” says producer Jon Landau. It is neither the archipelago’s volcanoes nor its glaciers that are attractive, because the Avatar movies will be shot indoors. Sure, Peter Jackson’s award-winning special effects infrastructure is there, but the deciding factor was the money. “We looked at other places,” says Landau. But in the end, “it was this rebate.”

Driving the trend are powerful global forces squeezing the entertainment industry. Falling DVD sales are putting pressure on movie-making budgets, while the demand for ever-more-amazing special effects grows. The spread of technology and skills around the world is creating a huge number of special effects suppliers — some using cheaper labor than can be found in Hollywood.