Unscripted plot twist over Silverlight Studios funding

The site where Silverlight Studios Ltd is set to be built. PHOTO: ODT FILES
The site where Silverlight Studios Ltd is set to be built. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Development of a $280 million film studio near Wānaka has suffered an unwelcome plot twist, after it was revealed the government will no longer provide funding for the project.

A total of $4.5m had been promised to Silverlight Studios Ltd through the $20m Queenstown Economic Transformation and Resilience Fund (QET), a Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment initiative that aimed, in part, to "increase the level of non-tourism economic activity in the district".

Announced by then regional development minister Kiri Allan in March last year, the funds were to assist with Silverlight’s operational costs, once work on "phase zero" - three modular sound stages - had been completed.

MBIE investment director Paul Swallow said funding from the QET was approved "in principle" and announced, after which contracts were negotiated.

"In September 2023, due to delays in the start of soundstage construction, the underwrite arrangement was not put in place," he said.

Mr Swallow said Silverlight Studios was pursuing its development near Wānaka and remained in contact with Kānoa, the ministry’s regional economic development and investment unit, about the project.

Last September planner Scott Edgar said Silverlight’s plans had been impacted by external factors, including an uncertain global economic situation, the government’s review of screen tax incentives and the strike by the Writers Guild of America.

When approached, Silverlight Studios co-founder Mike Wallis said he had no comment to make about the underwrite.

When the funding was originally announced, Mr Wallis said it would enable the first phase of work to be completed in 12-14 months.

To date, the project exists only on paper and the land sits empty.

Silverlight Studios Ltd had been originally granted consent for the project in December 2021 under Covid "fast-track" legislation.

Queenstown Lakes District Council granted Silverlight a five-year extension on the consent, to March 14, 2029, in September last year.

The site became a topic of discussion earlier this week when a temporary fence was erected near its entrance on the Wānaka-Luggate Highway.

The Otago Daily Times has been told by sources Taika Waititi will be directing a film in Wānaka in the coming months.