Studio sees area as key to growing country’s film industry

An artist’s impression of part of the Silverlight Studios proposal. IMAGE: SUPPLIED
An artist’s impression of part of the Silverlight Studios proposal. IMAGE: SUPPLIED
Silverlight Studios is waiting to hear if it has won approval for a fast-track consent for its proposal to build a $280 million film studio complex on the edge of Wanaka. Marjorie Cook asked studio spokesman Mike Wallis what is next for the project.

Mike Wallis. Photo: supplied
Mike Wallis. Photo: supplied
Tell me a little about yourselves.
Jonathan Harding, Ra Vincent and I are all originally from the South Island. I grew up in Mosgiel ... Jonny is from Timaru and Ra is from Nelson. We all moved to Wellington when we were young to work on Lord of The Rings.

We were in awe of the courage the generation before us had, to take risks and build the infrastructure in Miramar, Wellington ...

[This] incredible bunch of people has given us the confidence and inspiration to embark on this large and exciting project.

I worked at Weta Digital for a long time, then after that spent some time in Los Angeles.

While there, I founded and was chief executive of Screen Experience Trust NZ.

This was an industry-led initiative ... to bring Hollywood executives to New Zealand to build new industry relationships.

Obviously it couldn’t proceed in 2020, but it worked well and was a great way to understand New Zealand’s position in the film-making world and how we can create a competitive edge in a highly competitive market.

These insights have fed into the design and innovation of Silverlight.

Returning home when Covid kicked in, the fast-track consenting initiative brought forward the prospect of building a purpose-built studio of scale.

Ra Vincent. Photo: supplied
Ra Vincent. Photo: supplied
Are all your fingers and toes crossed for a good outcome?

It has been known for some time the industry needs a base in the South Island, particularly in the Southern Lakes/Central Otago region.

We think Wanaka is the best choice ... For example, nearby locations have been used for fantasy worlds, Westerns, period China and Kashmir to name a few.

Another key factor is the premium living experience Wanaka offers to both cast and crew.

We believe it’s a place where talent will want to live, work and play.

The great outdoors and hospitality in the region provides endless possibilities outside of work ...

A film industry base in Wanaka could be a really compatible fit, as well as provide multiple opportunities for young people who want to stay and build a life in the area [who might otherwise leave].

This is a large development, but the land has a large undulation that will obstruct and camouflage the large buildings ... so that [they] are barely noticeable from State Highway 6.

Keeping the environment beautiful is really valuable to our business and is one of our core values, as is being as sustainable as possible.

We are aiming to, and are really excited about creating a fossil fuel-free film studio (one of the first in the world) and we have great companies, both in the region and nationally, supporting us on this endeavour.

Anyway, yes, all our fingers and toes are crossed.

Jonathan Harding. Photo: supplied
Jonathan Harding. Photo: supplied
The economic benefits of Silverlight Studios have been estimated at $1.7 billion to New Zealand and $969 million to Queenstown Lakes area. When might we start to see the effects of this locally?

We believe the film industry could be playing a bigger part in the New Zealand economy, especially if we want to hit our 2050 environmental goals ...

Kiwis are really good at film-making. Problem-solving, adaption and thinking outside of the box is in our nature and ... we see having a purpose-built facility of scale as an important next step.

We want to open parts of the park up to the public ... so that Kiwis can experience it, gain further understanding of the industry and how it works, hopefully inspiring the next generation to be a part of it.

The film, content and technology school will offer a unique on-site learning facility [and] New Zealand, thankfully, already has incredible locations and experienced cast and crew, but adding more state-of-the-art facilities to that line-up is very important, especially in the current market.

Local economic impacts will be positive and substantial, but there may be some short-term pressure on accommodation.

We have incorporated an accommodation element to the consent to mitigate some of this pressure. [It] also won’t all happen overnight, so this will give the market time to react and grow with the project.

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