Filmmaking spinoff from Aussie production buy-in

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Expect a boom in local filmmaking now that Australia’s biggest broadcaster has bought into a Queenstown-born production company.

So says Great Southern Television boss Phil Smith, after Seven Network’s owner Seven West Media bought a 70 per cent stake in his company late last year.

In a deal thought to be worth almost $14 million, the Queenstowner’s stakeholding has reduced from 50 to 30 per cent while co-founder Sir David Levene’s half-share has been snapped up.

Having the support of Seven Network, Smith says, will drive more locally-produced TV.

“We’ve got heaps of shows that we’re developing here. I think there’s going to be a drama boom in Queenstown, right now.

“We anticipate we’ll make two dramas in the next year in Queenstown; not small ones – $15m to $20m budgets.”

He says he and Pip Hall, daughter of Kiwi playwright Roger Hall, are writing a thriller, shot locally.

“We’ve just spent the last couple of months driving around the Crown Range [looking for locations] – it’s a really good thriller.”

A locally-set children’s drama is also in the pipeline, Smith confirms.

“Seven looking to focus here just means more work for people here.

“Having a studio and being able to build some sets would be good, but most of the stuff we’re looking at is location shoots.”

Smith says a trigger for selling down Great Southern is that Aucklander Levene, who’s 88, is quitting his assets and investments.

“But he also knew for us to go to the next level, we needed to get someone international.”

Smith first met Seven Network’s CEO about 10 years ago in the French film festival location of Cannes, he recalls.

“We did lots of good, healthy deals, so Seven became our de facto partner in Australia, anyway.

“So when we started thinking about Sir David leaving, Seven was our first [idea].”

Seven had already shown interest in Queenstown, he adds, with actor Rebecca Gibney setting the second series of her drama, Wanted, here and in Central Otago.

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