I hopped on a plane and traveled across the Pacific to explore the varied scenery, lifestyle and ambience of this production paradise, which was anything but ordinary. It was everything you’d expect from a filming destination and much, much more. It was a journey where I experienced breathtaking natural wonders and saw some of the most striking landscapes ever captured in film and television. As a result, it ignited thoughts of endless cinematic possibilities.
At the southern end of the west coast lies primeval Fiordland, a 1.2-million-acre park that is largely unexplored. One of the best parts of the trip was getting to see the picturesque Milford and Doubtful Sounds, which hold center stage with clear, blue waters lined with lush, green mountains and beautiful waterfalls. It was an adventure to experience both sounds by boat and really take in just how natural and untouched these areas were. And, set on the edge of the glacial Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown offers picturesque landscapes and dazzling views of the Remarkables mountain range, while secluded Glenorchy has more small-town ambiance highlighted by the vivid greens and blues of the surrounding scenery.
But don’t be fooled by Southern New Zealand’s remote atmosphere, as the region offers so much more. “Queenstown is built on tourism, so the infrastructure is already here,” says Kevin “KJ” Jennings, executive manager of Film Otago Southland. “Great hotels, bars and restaurants keep the clients, agencies and crew very happy.” The region can meet the needs of any production in town with its film-friendly hotels like the Crowne Plaza Queenstown, easily-accessible dining establishments and welcoming locals. “Most regions have diverse locations,” Jennings notes. “We are fortunate that the landscape changes so dramatically in a short distance. Within an hour of Queenstown we have lush forests, snow-capped peaks, rivers and lakes as well as dry, barren, rocky looks. [And] Carlsberg [beer] shot [a commercial] last year, and we doubled as the moon.”
Film Otago Southland represents a combination of six regions in the southern half of New Zealand’s South Island, including film offices in Queenstown and Dunedin as well as the districts of Central Otago, Clutha, Waitaki and Southland. It was interesting to learn that opposite seasons to the Northern Hemisphere is a key factor in attracting productions to Southern New Zealand. “Our bread and butter is high-end, international TV commercials,” says Jennings. “We do a lot of snow shoots in July and August.” In February 2012, veteran New Zealand Director Jane Campion will start shooting her mini-series “Top of the Lake” (starring Holly Hunter and Elisabeth Moss) in the Lake Wakatipu area with 16 weeks of shooting in Glenorchy and Queenstown. The Sundance Channel and BBC are co-producing the mini-series under the Australian production company See Saw Films.
New Zealand’s Southland offers expert production support to both local and international filmmakers. Special teams deal directly with aerial and underwater filming, location scouting, and training and managing animals while film offices help with the sole needs of each production. “A unique thing about New Zealand is the cooperative approach we take,” Jennings explains. “The regional film offices and the national film office all work together to deliver the best options to each production. Kiwis have an easygoing attitude with an incredible work ethic.” Jennings adds that the region offers a turnkey operation with approximately 120 crewmembers, and all the equipment can be sourced locally.
With a variety of production perks and one-of-a-kind vistas, New Zealand offers cinematic treats that you simply must experience for yourself. Having the opportunity to actually experience the Southland was a riveting experience I will never forget. Until I’m able to return, I’ll continue staring at a new photo — one that I was lucky enough to take myself.