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New Zealand Is Fertile Ground for a Filmmaking Boom

New Zealand has magnificent and highly diverse landscapes within close proximity of each other and, thanks to filmmakers like Peter Jackson, an incredible local infrastructure

What makes New Zealand a fertile ground for a filmmaking boon?

As a moviemaker you need to be resourceful and adaptable and perhaps due to our isolation — or having to make do with what we have — we Kiwis seem to be able to do a lot with a little.

On Friday, my film "Good for Nothing" — the first Western shot entirely in New Zealand — will be released in New York. We used the Kiwi landscapes as a stand-in for the Wild West, similar to the way Sergio Leone used Italy and Spain in his famous spaghetti Westerns from the '60s starring Clint Eastwood.

We were able to shoot our film on a budget of about $60,000, while getting all the high production values similar to a large studio-backed film. We weren't able to pay for large amounts of studio time, or the cost of re-creating the Wild West on set, so we had to use the actual landscapes that were available to us. We were able to find them in New Zealand, and they work great on screen.

Indeed, as it turns out, New Zealand is the perfect place to make movies. It has magnificent and highly diverse landscapes that are, most importantly, within close proximity of each other, and a workable climate.

What's more, thanks to Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger, and Jamie and Ann Selkirk who have paved the way, we now have an incredible local infrastructure and experienced crew base.

While working on "Good for Nothing," we were able to develop a very supportive relationship with local outfits Weta Digital and Park Road Post, and gain access to their awesome state-of-the-art facilities. This is a great example of local filmmakers now reaping the benefits of the vision of others.

For example, some artists from Weta Workshop helped us create the prosthetic teeth for the male lead character. Our animal trainer, sound recordist, head of makeup and leather master are "Lord of the Rings" and "King Kong" alumni with phenomenal experience and skills. Some other onset crew came straight off "Avatar" and "Lovely Bones" to come and construct a rickety Western saloon and jailhouse for some whiskey for us. 

People from Weta Digital worked on our visual effects shots in their spare time and Park Road Post were very accommodating and supportive with scheduling our independent film around the big films.

Many members of our crew were taking time between large projects or were young locals who have gone on to work on big films like "The Hobbit." It's a small industry and everyone knows everyone. Artists have the opportunity to stand out and be noticed.

Finally, New Zealand's isolation is not working against it, but rather is becoming one of the reasons why the country, and particularly Wellington, are becoming a drawing card for those in the film industry. Lack of commuting time, and a great lifestyle has helped retained the talent pool. It has grown and as it endures, it has been able to foster and teach the local industry.

In choosing to base himself in Wellington, Sir Peter and team have drawn in a pool of highly talented members of the film industry from overseas. As well as getting to work on some amazing projects, these filmmakers happen to enjoy many aspects of living in New Zealand.

We were lucky on "Good for Nothing" to be able to tap into a collection of passionate and dedicated people, who adapt well to the ever-changing world that is modern filmmaking. The movie couldn’t have been made without the dedication and resourcefulness of a group of young crew members as well as some that are very experienced.

This powerful combination helped us develop a film that looks and feels authentic and true to the world we wanted to create, which fits so well with the story we wanted to tell.


First-time director Mike Wallis began his career in a video store in Queenstown, New Zealand. At age 21, and determined to make films, he moved to Wellington and made his first short film starring Bret McKenzie (“Flight of the Conchords”). At the time, Miramar, a Wellington suburb, was starting to expand with production on Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and Wallis got a job as a runner. He later found a niche in the Animation and Motion Capture departments at the visual effects house Weta Digital, eventually becoming animation manager, writing screenplays in his spare time. 

In 2005, he and his fiancé Inge Rademeyer decided to self-fund and produce their first movie, "Good for Nothing," the world's first Pavlova Western -- pavlova is New Zealand's national dish. It opens March 9 in New York.