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Story: Screen industry

New Zealand’s screen industry dates from the 1890s, when the first films were exhibited. It grew from small beginnings, with little money but a lot of enthusiasm. By the 2000s the industry worked on many overseas productions as well as local film and television.

Story by Megan Cook
Main image: Filming Thirsty work, a television series about wine, in Cromwell, 2012

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The screen industry includes people and businesses who make, distribute and exhibit films, television programmes and commercials. It includes writers, directors, producers, costume and prop designers, caterers, actors and many other workers.

New Zealand’s screen industry in the 2010s

New Zealand’s film industry tends to be based in Wellington and many companies, including those connected to internationally successful film-maker Peter Jackson, are based there. Television production mainly happens in Auckland.

In 2012, 40 feature films and 500 television programmes were made in New Zealand. That number dropped in 2013. To encourage more overseas productions to New Zealand the government offered a rebate for large-budget films.

In the 2010s digital technology had already made a huge difference to film production – including the widespread use of digital effects. The internet was starting to change how films and television programmes were exhibited and distributed.

The screen industry, 1895 to 1970s

The first film was shown in New Zealand in 1895. Cinema chains were set up from the 1900s. Film-going reached its peak in 1960/61 with each New Zealander seeing an average of 17 films that year.

A few pioneers made films in the early 20th century, and some overseas films were made in New Zealand in the 1910s and 1920s. Only a few feature films were made until the late 1960s but the government made shorter documentary films from the 1920s and television programmes from 1960.

People went to the movies less often after television was introduced and many cinemas closed. However, making television programmes expanded the screen industry and gave more people the opportunity learn film-making.

Advertising became another source of work and money for film-makers.

Screen industry growth, 1970s to 1990s

New Zealand’s screen industry expanded from the 1970s, with more films and television programmes made. Many film-makers worked collaboratively, with little money but much enthusiasm. The loose co-operative Alternative Cinema included film-makers such as Merata Mita and Geoff Murphy.

Overseas film and television productions, such as Xena: warrior princess, boosted the industry.

The New Zealand Film Commission, set up in 1978, supported the film industry through government grants and marketing. From 1989 television production was funded through NZ On Air.

How to cite this page:

Megan Cook, 'Screen industry', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/screen-industry (accessed 17 October 2017)

Story by Megan Cook, published 22 Oct 2014