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On a balmy winter’s evening a good-sized crowd gathered at Unitec to hear more about the Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) proposal for the construction of a screen studio complex on the contentious 20 hectares of ex-air force land at Hobsonville, West Auckland.

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Event organiser Film Auckland was pleased with the turnout, particularly that it was a much broader cross-section of the industry than often turn out for industry events. Producers, production companies, crew, actors, ancillary small business owners and industry suppliers were all present. The NZFC was represented by Philippa Mossman and Catherine Bates.

Billed as the Film Industry Forum Part II the event followed on, albeit at some distance, from the 2013 Film Auckland-organised meeting to discuss the unpleasant state the industry (particularly the Auckland industry) was in at the time.

“People are becoming more proactive,” noted Film Auckland’s Graham Dunster. Now that things are improving following changes to incentive schemes, people are more interested in having a say in decisions that will affect the future of the industry.

On the subject of the proposal to develop a screen precinct in Hobsonville, there was plenty of buy-in to the view that if it does happen it needs to be done properly.

ATEED’s Mark Ford presented the proposal as it stands presently: the Proposal for Screen Innovation and Production Precinct approved by council in early July.

At Thursday’s consultation with the industry, the first salient point to emerge was that proposals of interest for development on the Hobsonville site were due on Monday (31 August) and a deal with a “preferred respondent” was scheduled to be complete by 31 October. Ford accurately described this as a “very tight time frame”.

Although it was stated that there is “no predetermined outcome”, it became clear pretty quickly that there were one or more investors prepared to support this proposal with their cash, as long as there was clear support from the industry itself.

To that end, it was also clear that one of the aims of the evening was to garner a quantity of convincing expressions of such support to “encourage” investors. It was also very clear that, whatever questions and concerns individuals might have about the proposal, there was widespread, enthusiastic support from those present for the idea of building a world-class soundstage studio complex in Auckland.

As if to remind everyone of the international competition Auckland faced in attracting studio shoots, the Forum took place only hours after Queensland’s state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced a new 4000sq.m. sound stage to be built at Village Roadshow’s Gold Coast studio facility.

ATEED’s plan envisaged that the Hobsonville studio complex would serve both local and international production companies, be managed by an experienced operator (not by Auckland’s council), would provide jobs, and would link up with tertiary institutions.

Why Hobsonville, and not a redevelopment of the Auckland Film Studios at Henderson?

The Henderson location was seen as inefficient; and the land was privately owned. The Hobsonville site was owned by the council, its development had government support.

Critically, as one location person confirmed, Hobsonville Point was the only sufficiently large area of flat land available reasonably close to the city centre.

Ford claimed that the precinct as envisaged would increase gross domestic product by $483 million, create 435 new jobs over the Auckland region, and increase wages and salaries by $26 million per annum in Auckland.

Those numbers would be sustained by a predicted 6% per annum growth in demand for screen content around the world. That number was allowed to stand unchallenged although the rise and fall in global screen production has no direct effect on the amount of screen production Auckland might attract with new studio facilities. As the events of the last two years have proved, New Zealand attracts a lot more international production when the incentives offered are competitive.

Participants at the event split into groups to discuss questions and offer feedback. The groups were (1) producers, (2) third party suppliers, (3) screen technicians (crew), and (4) “the creatives” – defined as make-up, art department and design people.

The questions discussed ranged from big picture (overall concept of the studio facilities, effects of government incentives) to practical considerations (people’s experience of working at international studios, considerations around the location of the Hobsonville site, ancillary and support industries, the broader makeup of the Hobsonville precinct).

The future of the present Auckland Film Studios in Henderson was a concern for many. Many people wanted to see it continue to operate beyond the completion of Hobsonville, not least to service lower-budget productions that might not be able to afford the flash new complex with its necessarily sophisticated and expensive support infrastructure.

While low-budget productions will continue to be made, whether or not being the poor cousin studio facility will remain viable if the Hobsonville precinct goes ahead is open to debate.

Whether there would be sufficient interest from producers and equipment/services suppliers to relocate to Hobsonville wasn’t, although Film Auckland will collate the information gathered into a coherent form and make it available.

What was resoundingly clear from the Forum was the feeling that the creation of a world-class facility in Auckland was long overdue, along with considerable relief and happiness that something finally appears likely to happen.

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