Huge Wanaka film park plan

Corbridge Estates, east of Wanaka, has been bought by Silverlight Studios with a view to...
Corbridge Estates, east of Wanaka, has been bought by Silverlight Studios with a view to establishing a film park. Inset: The Silverlight Studios team of (from left) Jonathan Harding, Ra Vincent and Mike Wallis. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
A plan to develop a massive film park - complete with a replica of a New York park - on the outskirts of Wanaka is being hailed as a game-changer.

An Oscar winner is among the trio behind the project planned for a 322ha parcel of land.

Their company, Silverlight Studios, has been given approval by the Government to apply under special Covid-19 legislation for a fast-tracked consent application to build film studios, production offices and a film and technology school on the site.

A spokeswoman said the Silverlight Studios team of Weta Digital veteran Mike Wallis, double Oscar nominee Ra Vincent (The Hobbit and Jo Jo Rabbit production design) and film accountant Jonathan Harding, had been looking around the country for possible sites for three years.

They were planning for the project to go on Corbridge Estates, a 322ha farm lying between State Highway 6 and the Clutha River, 6km east of Wanaka.

"The park will include four purpose-built sound stages, VFX stages, workshops and unique features such as a replica portion of Central Park, New York, one of the most used film locations in the world," she said.

A Ministry for the Environment report said building would take place on the southern half of the site, with the balance being maintained as open paddocks.

It said the development would be focused around an artificial lake which would be created by modifying an existing reservoir.

Queenstown Lakes District Council deputy mayor Calum Macleod said both he and Mayor Jim Boult signed a letter of support for the development in October.

"In terms of diversification of the economy it ticks every box."

"This will bring in thousands of employees, it is of a scale that is irrevocably going to change the South Island, forget about Wanaka," Cr Macleod said.

Great Southern Television part-owner Philip Smith, the executive producer of One Lane Bridge which is being shot in Queenstown, said he knew of four proposed film studio projects and was hoping at least one of them happened.

"As makers of content we need studios, because it is a lot more expensive to shoot on location constantly, so to be able to build sets, have bad weather days and get crews in there is far more economical."

Mr Smith said the growth of drama production in New Zealand and Australia was "incredible" at the moment.

"To have something of that scale on an extremely large allotment you could achieve a lot, and it would be very appealing to film-makers,’’ he said.

Film Otago Southland chairman Brad Hurndell said they had been pushing and looking for this opportunity for a long time.

"It has always been a chicken-and-an-egg scenario where you don’t get the work because we don’t have a studio and we don’t have a studio because we don’t have the work.

"We have always been stuck in this loop, so if we can break that loop then it might kick-start other opportunities as well here," he said.

The project has been approved by Environment Minister David Parker to go through the fast-track consent process.

The economic impact on a region hit by Covid-19 was cited as a reason for Mr Parker’s decision as it was expected to bring 300 jobs during the construction phase and up to 1200 jobs once it was operational.

A spokesman for the minister said the fast-track referral gave the applicant the ability to lodge the application and supporting documentation with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) who would create an independent expert consenting panel.

This would take place instead of the usual council consenting process.

At this stage the EPA had not yet received an application, he said.

- kerrie.waterworth@odt.co.nz

 

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