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Director James Cameron says Avatar sequels will be filmed in New Zealand

Director James Cameron seals deal for three sequels to the blockbuster 'Avatar' movie

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 9:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2013, 3:14am

Director James Cameron will film three sequels to the record-breaking sci-fi epic Avatar in New Zealand after striking a deal with the government for increased production subsidies.

Cameron said the films, with a combined minimum budget of at least NZ$500 million (HK$3.19 billion), would be shot back-to-back and released once every 12 months from late 2016.

The original Avatar was partially shot in New Zealand and its Oscar-winning special effects were created by Wellington's Weta Digital, best known for its work on New Zealand director Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.

"It's quite a thrill to officially say that we'll be bringing the Avatar films to New Zealand," Cameron said.

Aside from an increased subsidy that would account for up to 25 per cent of the films' budget, Cameron said New Zealand offered highly skilled production crews and world class special effects.

"I've worked with crews all over the world, quite a bit in the United States and Canada, and you don't have that same spark [there]," he said.

Avatar, which tells the story of a blue-skinned indigenous species fighting to stop miners exploiting their planet Pandora, earned US$2.78 billion worldwide and remains the highest-grossing film on record, according to industry website boxofficemojo.com

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said securing the sequels was a coup that "will scream out to the world that New Zealand is a great place to make movies".

"We've got to be a lot more as a country than just lamb chops and All Blacks," he said. "That's what the movie industry does, it demonstrates to the world that there's more to us."

There were fears late last year that New Zealand would lose the deal, with the government reluctant to lift its screen production rebate from 15 per cent to 25 per cent to match the sweeteners available in countries such as Britain and Australia.

Key faced criticism in 2010 when he changed New Zealand's industrial relations laws to ensure The Hobbit trilogy stayed in the country, a move he said had created about 5,500 jobs.

He denied the Avatar deal was another example of Hollywood forcing concessions out of his government, saying "there will always be people who want to look at this as a glass-half-empty situation".

For all the technical skills available in New Zealand, Cameron said he and 20th Century Fox would have had to look elsewhere if the government had not offered increased subsidies.

"Business sense would have had to prevail and I'm glad that it never came to that," he said.

Cameron, whose other hits include Titanic, Terminator and Aliens, said he hoped the three films would cost less than US$1 billion to make. He added pre-production work had already begun.

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