Mixing it: Murray Francis, left, with Sir Anthony Hopkins, star of 2005 Kiwi movie The World's Fastest Indian

With ideas to diversify the tourism-dependent Queenstown economy on the bubble since
Covid, many believe a film studio’s more vital than ever to help us capture more filmmaking opportunities. Among them is renowned Kiwi producer Murray Francis, who tells PHILIP CHANDLER one proposal in particular has caught his fancy

Queenstown’s missing huge opportunities without a film studio, a veteran Kiwi producer claims.

With Australia and New Zealand seen as Covid-free, Auckland-based Murray Francis says these countries are well placed to fill ‘‘an insatiable demand for content for the streaming services like Amazon and Netflix’’.

But despite Queenstown’s world-renowned attraction for filmmakers, he believes we’re
missing out because we don’t have capacity for wet-weather shooting to provide continuity of work.

‘‘Wet-weather cover is for when we turn up in the morning on the side of the lake to shoot  a couple of scenes.

‘‘It’s raining so we go inside to a wet-weather set we’ve had built.’’

Francis is already familiar with South Island shooting conditions, having had producing roles for four films here — two, Ogopogo (renamed Mee-Shee: The Water Giant) and 10,000 BC, were shot in or near Queenstown, while The World’s Fastest Indian and Two
Little Boys were shot in Southland.

He’s used a squash court, a hangar and a woolstore for wet-weather cover, but says the South  Island needs at least one permanent studio to rival the six in the North Island — four in Auckland and two in Wellington.

While he’s aware of a lot of talk about Queenstown film studio plans, he believes one concrete proposal — for a site at Victoria Flats, near Gibbston — is perfect.

A company, Paradise Studios, owned by the landowner, floated its $12 million proposal in April last year, saying it was bringing forward its plan to address Queenstown’s Covid-induced tourism crisis.

Francis says, off his own bat, he flew down to attend an industry meeting hosted at Gibbston by Paradise Studios manager Ryan Leggatt.

‘‘Everyone had an opinion on what should go where, but I said the biggest thing we need is studio space for wet-weather cover sets.’’

Other facilities could follow, he says.

‘‘I took Ryan’s builders and engineers for a tour of [Auckland’s] Kumeu studios where they’re shooting The Lord of the Rings [for Amazon].’’

Francis says he’s disappointed the Victoria Flats studio’s yet to go ahead as he’s been told it could have been built by now as it’s self-funded.

In March, news came out Silverlight Studios had government approval to apply for fast-tracked consent for a huge film park by the Wanaka-Luggate highway.

Its backers have a conditional contract to buy the land.

Francis says he’s ‘‘not denigrating’’ the proposal ‘‘because it’s a fabulous thing’’.

However, he notes Queenstown already has a film community, while Wanaka’s a 45-minute drive away ‘‘so it creates a cost exercise’’.

‘‘You can’t go to an Amazon and say, ‘this guy’s going to cost $2000 a week but to cover his overtime to get him to work it’s going to cost another $500’.’’

By contrast, he says Victoria Flats, while out of the way, is conveniently only a 25-minute
drive from Queenstown.

‘‘All I know is, when I take an executive from Amazon or Netflix out there, they’d feel comfortable immediately, and that would trigger an avalanche of stuff down there.’’

‘Council not playing favourites’

Council favours a film studio but isn’t playing favourites — that’s the word from Queenstown mayor Jim Boult.

Those behind Paradise Studios had planned to piggyback on a resource consent for a whisky distillery on the same site, on the basis it had similar bulk-and-location requirements.

It had also sought fast-tracked consent from the government.

So far it’s not had joy on either front, however it’s understood representatives from two government ministries are keen to discuss its proposal in Queenstown next week.

Meanwhile, it’s been reported council’s supported the Wanaka film studio’s quest for a fast-tracked consent.

Boult says council believes a permanent film studio ‘‘would be a very positive move’’, but says it’s ‘‘completely agnostic’’ as to who develops it and where it goes.

‘‘It’s not my position to comment on individual resource consents, that’s the planning department, but council has no favourites and never would.’’