As ever with the movies what you see is not what you get and where a film is set is not always where it’s filmed. A good example being last years Avengers:Age of Ultron film which had major scenes shot at the Metropolitan Police training school at Hendon – if you look very carefully in the background of some of the battle scenes you catch occasional glimpses of their iconic statue of Sir Robert Peel!
So we’ve just found that the recent Hit Disney film Pete’s Dragon though set in America’s North west was actually filmed in New Zealand. It’s all down to tax incentives as America’s Pacific Northwest may be picturesque but the region does not easily support Hollywood production due to a lack of filming incentives and studio facilities.
The production considered Australia and Canada before opting for New Zealand and its beautiful scenery which owed much to producer Barrie M Osborne who had worked on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and perhaps more importantly New Zealand offered them a a generous filming incentive.
Obviously the forest locations needed to match those locations in the Pacific Northwest of America. and in the Rotorua/Tokoroa region of the North Island, there are extensive pine forests and road networks that were similar as the the pine forests in New Zealand are mostly farm plantation forests which allow some flexibility as trees are grown specifically to be cut down for lumber and other resources, so production could arrange to clear trees that were already mature and scheduled for ‘harvesting’. In all over 50 mature pine trees were felled to create the filming area and allow for rigging of sails, silks and wires for stunt work with a further 100 mature pine trees being removed by assigned expert loggers from the forestry company who were able to drop the trees in such a way as to minimise the damage to the surrounding trees for further filming and a base for the film unit.
The central North Island of New Zealand has one of the largest man made forests in the world and is approximately 1,000 square miles in size with fully sealed private roads running through them.
Elliot and Pete forest treehouse was built both as a set in the woods as well as on sound stages at Stone Street Studios and Avalon Studios in Wellington. Tapanui in the Otago region of South Island stood in for the fictional Pacific Northwest town of Millhaven and a nearby timber mill that had been closed for 20 years became a key location. All of the small-town exterior elements were filmed in Tapanui town and the central part of the town was closed for a week and the town’s population of 900 people being swelled by a crew of 300 for over four weeks. Local business loved it especially pub which did extremely well out of it.
The film has not performed anywhere near as well as other Disney releases this year (The Jungle Book, Zootropolis, Captain America) and at time of writing internationally it has made $78,935,734 on a budget of $65m.
New Zealand has done well out if it though with Scarlett Johansson’s live action version of Ghost in the shell being filmed in Wellington in April.