Story: Screen industry

Page 1. New Zealand’s screen industry in the 2010s

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What is the screen industry?

The screen industry produces, distributes and exhibits feature films, documentaries, television programmes and commercials.

Production is the largest and most varied part of the sector. It employs producers, writers, directors, art directors, location managers, costume designers, cinematographers, production and sound designers, artists, set builders and painters, costume and prop makers, make-up artists, caterers and actors.

During post-production films are edited, sound is refined and sound effects added. Computer-generated imagery (CGI), from the 2000s a standard element in many screen industry products, is worked on at this stage.

Distributors provide screen content to exhibitors, who show it on television, through cinemas, and for home use via DVD sales and rentals. Internet distribution and exhibition, both legal and illegal, became increasingly common in the 2000s.

Bums on seats?

Does New Zealand’s screen industry put bums on seats in aeroplanes as well as in cinemas and living rooms? Although feature films in particular are touted as a way of bringing tourists to New Zealand, the evidence suggests that the effect is small. Even the Lord of the rings trilogy, a particularly effective showcase for New Zealand’s scenery, increased the number of visitors by less than 1%.

Perception of the industry

In the 2000s public and government perception of the screen industry was strongly positive. It was acknowledged as a source of tangible economic and intangible reputational benefits to New Zealand.

Screen industry businesses

In 2012 Wellington was the base for over half of the country’s screen production businesses, with Auckland (where the film industry was growing) home to nearly a third. Queenstown and Otago also had a significant number of businesses. Wellington was seen as the feature-film hub, while Auckland was the centre of television production.

Although many screen industry businesses are set up to produce a particular film or television series, there is a core of substantial enterprises, many of which were decades old in the 2010s. Notable amongst them was the Wellington-based group of businesses owned by or associated with director Peter Jackson: Wingnut Films, Park Road Post Production, Weta Workshop, Weta Digital, Stone Street Studios, Portsmouth Rentals and Weta Limited.

Others include South Pacific Pictures, Gaylene Preston Productions, Gibson Group, Screentime and Topshelf. International production companies with New Zealand bases in the 2000s included NHNZ (formerly Natural History New Zealand) and Cloud 9 Screen Entertainment Group.

Size of the industry

In 2012 the screen industry generated $3,290 million in revenue. Production levels are another way of looking at the size of the sector. In 2012, 40 feature films were made in New Zealand, earning more than $1 billion for the first time. More than 500 television programmes were also made. Levels plummeted in 2013, when international productions were attracted to countries offering higher incentives than New Zealand.

Government support

International productions filmed in New Zealand brought revenue to the country. In order to encourage these the government introduced a large-budget screen production grant in 2003, followed by a post-production, digital and visual effects grant. Although sometimes referred to as ‘tax breaks’, these grants were a rebate: the government gave production companies a percentage of the money they spent within New Zealand.

In late 2013 the government increased the rebate for large-budget film productions from 15% to 20–25%. Lower-budget films (those costing up to $15 million) could get a rebate of their costs of up to 40%. The rebate for local television productions increased from 20% to up to 40%. The government also planned to invest in local productions to increase their chance of commercial success.

Going digital

By 2014 cinemas screening 35-millimetre film were few and far between – most had gone digital. The new format allowed simultaneous release of movies around the world, ending a century of New Zealanders having to wait to see films released overseas weeks or months earlier.

Internet and digital technology

The effects of digital technology and the internet on the screen industry were still unfolding in 2014. However, film and television businesses were already expanding into interactive entertainment, and there was extensive use of digital effects in screen production. This use of digital effects particularly strengthened Wellington’s screen industry, as Weta Digital attracted large projects from around the world.

Another effect was the diminishing importance of television, as more people began to use the internet to access content. The lowering of budgets and production standards in television advertising may have been a consequence of this.


In 2012 the screen industry employed 15,700 people. Production and post-production employed just over half of all screen-industry workers, about a quarter worked in broadcasting and almost a fifth worked in exhibition. Collectively, the industry’s 15,700 workers earned $787 million, just under a quarter of the $3,390 million generated by the industry.

Screen industry workers carried out 28,900 jobs. The difference between the number of those working and the number of jobs resulted from the employment structure of the industry. Many people were employed on short-term contracts, with some doing several jobs each year.

‘Hobbit Act’

In 2010 a dispute between actors and Wingnut Films over conditions of work on The hobbit became national news. Warner Brothers (the United States-based studio which owned the rights to The hobbit) and Wingnut Films pushed the government to legislate. The resulting legislation became known as the ‘Hobbit Act’, and included altering employment law to prevent those employed on contracts being recognised as employees.

Distribution and exhibition

Film exhibition in the 2000s was dominated by Reading Cinema (United States owned), Hoyts and Amalgamated (both Australian owned). There were also many independent cinemas. Distributors for cinema and home exhibition included the major Hollywood film studios, Village Roadshow Films and Hopscotch Films. The Home Entertainment Association of New Zealand represented the large Hollywood studios and Village Roadshow.

How to cite this page:

Megan Cook, 'Screen industry - New Zealand’s screen industry in the 2010s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 May 2022)

Story by Megan Cook, published 22 Oct 2014