One of the biggest behind-the-scenes stars in Queenstown’s film and TV industry since the ‘90s moved to Auckland last Thursday. Annie Weston discusses her move with PHILIP CHANDLER, reflects on changes she’s seen and explains why the TV commercial sector is shot
As a line producer and production manager, Annie Weston’s worked on countless commercials, films and TV series in her past 23 years in Queenstown.
She’s brought in productions that have poured millions into the resort economy, and given high-paying jobs to dozens of locals.
From last Thursday, though, the 52-year-old shifted her talents to Auckland to work in its booming film industry.
‘‘I don’t want to leave Queenstown, and I’ve loved my life here, but that life’s over,’’ she says.
What’s changed is Queenstown’s no longer getting the lucrative TV commercials it used to.
Weston’s also been frustrated the door’s been slammed on international shoots coming here due to Covid border restrictions.
In some ways she’s coming full circle — she spent the first six-and-a-half years of her career in the North Island, albeit in Wellington.
‘‘I started doing work for [Queenstown industry stalwart] Barbara Williams, and it got so busy I got shipped down.
‘‘I was already production managing big commercials.
‘‘Nicky Saggers left the industry to have babies, and I kind of slotted into her place.’’
As a production manager for shoots, she’s described her role as making sure the client gets what it needs, where it’s needed and when it’s needed.
However, as a line producer, her job included engaging crew for mostly overseas clients and sorting out paperwork.
As for memorable shoots, she recalls a Winter Olympics commercial shot over seven nights at Cardrona’s Snow Farm which even included a blizzard.
‘‘It was a hideous job, actually.’’
Not helped by having to do her day job, too — ‘‘even though people know you’re working nights, they still email or call you’’.
A major highlight was securing Hong Kong-based film, Dynasty Warriors, which was shot in Queenstown and other parts of the South Island.
A Hong Kong line producer she’d helped out shooting backgrounds for a Chinese TV series had rung out of the blue asking if she could do Dynasty.
‘‘That was great — we had about 400 people on the pay roll, over a 17-day shoot, and their budget was $7.2 million.’’
The Queenstown industry’s bread and butter, however, had been big-brand international TV commercials ‘‘because we’re off-season and our dollar was
And our scenery ain’t half bad.
‘‘I was fortunate to be here in the heyday.
‘‘But people don’t watch TV commercials any more, they watch streaming.
‘‘Commercial [shoots] now are two or three people and a drone.’’
A couple of years ago, her daughter had gone to boarding school meaning Weston got time to travel for a few months at a time for film work, in particular.
She’s not the only one to travel — many local film crew go to the North Island for work, she says.
Weston was also frustrated when Immigration New Zealand wouldn’t give international travel exemptions for a huge Christchurch-based shoot this year ‘‘that would have been employment for 400 South Island crew over five to six months’’.
She says Queenstown’s also suffering without a film studio — ‘‘it’s really hard to compete against the infrastructure in the North Island’’.
Despite this, Weston insists Queenstown’s been good to her, and she’s leaving with no regrets.
And there could yet be a silver screen lining to her move to Auckland.
‘‘As [local industry veteran] Brett Mills says, I’ll probably get more work in Auckland that I can bring down to Queenstown by being in Auckland rather than being here.’’
What they said about her
● Association of Film Commissioners International president Kevin ‘KJ’ Jennings: ‘‘It might be seen as a temporary loss, but having someone of her calibre taking her skills to the next level could ultimately bring bigger things here.’’
● Executive producer Philip Smith: ‘‘She has been amazing bringing projects to Queenstown and also mentoring and growing the industry.’’
● Production runner Vanessa Smith: ‘‘It’s a very demanding job she carries with a lot of grace and kindness. I think every crew member in Queenstown absolutely adores her.’’