The Waikato region is about to make a significant mark on the international movie industry, thanks to the efforts of Waikato Screen, the recently established Regional Film Office. Waikato Screen aims to connect national and international film productions with the rich talent pool and diverse landscapes of the Mighty Waikato.
Erin Griffiths, one of the directors and a Te Uku resident, spearheads Waikato Screen’s initiatives, which include film location scouting, linking production crews with local talent and businesses, as well as facilitating collaboration with local iwi, stakeholders and councils in the Waikato region. The ultimate goal is to enhance communication, stimulate economic development, and support and promote the wealth of talent within the region.
To kick things off in Raglan for 2024, a Japanese film crew is embarking on the production of a Netflix live-action romance series titled ‘Beyond Goodbye.’ Starting on 15 January and lasting for five days, the production will utilise the breath-taking vistas of Whāingaroa as a backdrop. Starring popular Japanese actors Kasumi Arimura and Kentaro Sakaguchi, the series explores the poignant tale of two lives entwined by fate.
While ‘Beyond Goodbye’ is set in another place, Erin explains that finding diverse locations is crucial in the film industry. “It’s not just about how beautiful a location is, it’s about how much it can resemble somewhere else. As with actors acting as someone else, places often pretend to be somewhere else,” she says.
“We have been working with the New Zealand and Japanese teams to ensure they utilise as many of the local businesses as possible, fill short term crew positions with locals, ensure local hapu are on board and their short stay will benefit our little town.”
Waikato Screen’s previous success includes facilitating the production of ‘The Gone’, based in Te Aroha, which injected a million dollars directly into the local community over a six-week period. These productions significantly benefit local businesses, including cafes, restaurants, catering services, rentals, hardware stores, accommodation and more.
As a not-for-profit organisation, Waikato Screen is committed to benefiting the region by attracting international film crews seeking unique Aotearoa locations. It joins the Regional Film Offices of New Zealand, collectively working to draw screen business, talent and investment to the country.
Erin Griffiths says Waikato Screen faced numerous challenges during the initial stages.
“We didn’t have support for the film industry in the Waikato before we started Waikato Screen. It can be challenging to navigate between councils and stakeholders; our role is to facilitate and guide, making it easier for them to use our region.”
Waikato Screen previously worked on ‘Avatar – Ways of Water ’, ‘No Exit’ a thriller in Tokoroa, also Amazon’s ‘Don’t make me Go’, to name a few. “We also assist local productions including short films, TV commercials, music videos, etc, and continually build the reputation of the Waikato as a filming destination,” Erin says.
The hard work is paying off, with international production companies now considering the Waikato region for future projects. Erin, along with Tracy Hampton, an executive producer with extensive screen sector industry experience and Hamilton-based director and cinematographer Jack Barry, are driving Waikato Screen’s success.
Recognising the importance of supporting the international film industry’s work in New Zealand, Waikato Screen is launching a youth training programme this year.
“To create career pathways into the screen industry, we are holding workshops at 15 schools in the Waikato. Additionally, we are supporting local professionals by providing high-end training to keep them up-to-date.”
Waikato Screen’s initiatives not only bring international attention to the region but also foster economic growth, create job opportunities, and provide valuable training for aspiring individuals in the film industry. The Mighty Waikato is poised to become a sought-after destination for filmmakers worldwide, thanks to the efforts of Waikato Screen and its dedicated team.
By Janine Jackson