Waipā eyes slice of movie money

Waipa business development manager Steve Tritt with Waikato Screen’s Madelien Scholten at Karapiro scouting for locations.

Lights, camera, action – that’s a refrain you could be hearing more in Waipā with the establishment of a Waikato regional film office.

Waikato Screen, as it will be known, will share offices with its funder Hamilton and Waikato Tourism in Waipā at Hamilton Airport for three years while it sets up and establishes the region as a desirable screen location.

The international film industry is worth $3.5 billion to New Zealand with only 4.8 per cent ($170 million) going to the Waikato.

It used to be higher when The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit made its home in Hobbiton.

In 10 years, Waikato Screen hopes to have tripled Waikato’s film economy.

Erin Griffiths and Madelien Scholten from Waikato Screen told Waipā District Council’s Finance and Corporate committee on Tuesday many other businesses benefit from film making.

“If you ever look at the end of the films, it’ll have about four minutes of all the jobs you’ll have in films going through the credits,” said Griffiths.

Films can have up to 32 different roles creating up to 700 jobs. The industry in Auckland employs 7500 people and involves 1800 businesses. Waikato could easily get a slice of that.

“Waikato Screen will help grow jobs and businesses, retain our highly skilled crew, raise morale and profile our stunning region to the world of film,” she said.

Waipā and neighbouring South Waikato district councils have already benefitted from Waikato Screen’s intervention.

Following three specific enquiries, council business development manager Steve Tritt met up with Scholten to scout for Waipā locations.

“He showed us all the beautiful spots that matched the producer’s brief.

“That has been a great link and has been very valuable information because in the end production decided to film in Waipā and paid the location owner very generously,” said Scholten.

A recent night-time filming in Tokoroa benefitted the South Waikato town thanks to Waikato Screen’s intervention. Instead of the crew staying in Rotorua, which was their intention, they booked out all the accommodation in Tokoroa, used local hire companies and retailers to complete filming.

When they had to cut down two trees, Waikato Screen brokered a deal with the council for the production company to donate native trees which were planted by a local school.

Tritt said there was a constant stream of location scouts coming through Waipā closely followed by non-disclosure agreements.

“It’s difficult to talk about film opportunities until they’re done,” he said.

The money to establish Waikato Screen came from the Waikato Regional Council’s Regional Development Fund. It granted $575,000 to Hamilton and Waikato Tourism which contracts Waikato Screen. Funding also comes from Wel Energy Trust and South Waikato District Council.

Waikato Screen will work alongside prospective filmmakers to facilitate their needs from film permits through to post-production, creating sustainable employment opportunities.

A regional film office would improve communication, stimulate economic development, support, and promote talent and showcase the region, said Griffiths.

The Waikato is already home to high flying people in the industry – a leading location scout in Huntly, an assistant director from Power Rangers lives in Raglan and actor Joel Tobeck in Cambridge.

Mike Pettit

Councillor Mike Pettit revealed one of the parents at Cambridge Primary School, where he is principal, worked in props on Avatar and Lord of the Rings and spoke at a school gathering.

Children were very engaged in the possibilities the film industry provided.

Regions enjoying the benefits of a flourishing film industry include Venture Taranaki, Film BOP, Film Otago, Dunedin Film, Screen Canterbury and Eastern Screen Alliance, Screen Auckland, and Screen Wellington.

Waikato is one of the only remaining regions with a film office.

Waikato Screen Advisory board established in 2018 consists of: Amanda Hema (Te Waka), Kiri Goulter (Te Waka), Jeremy Mayall (Creative Waikato), Jason Dawson (Tourism Waikato), Rebecca Evans (Tourism Waikato), Vanessa Williams (Hamilton Central Business Association).

Waikato Screen sought funding and support from Waipā District Council. No decision was made at the meeting.

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