New Zealand Returns To Production, Paving Way For ‘Avatar’ Sequels & ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ Series To Resume Filming

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EXCLUSIVE: New Zealand’s health and safety production protocols have been endorsed by the national government, we can reveal, meaning production can restart in the country after it was halted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Some film and TV shoots “are already safely underway,” the New Zealand Film Commission has confirmed to us. This potentially paves the way for the country’s highest-profile productions, James Cameron’s Avatar sequels and Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings series, to get back underway in coming months.

Cameron and producer Jon Landau were filming live-action elements of the big-budget sequels when the pandemic struck. Since then, they have continued to work on the film’s virtual production in California and with Weta Digital on the visual effects.

The official Avatar twitter feed yesterday posted an image of Cameron on set directing actors in a water tank. However, the timing and location of the shoot isn’t clear and we understand that the team isn’t back in New Zealand yet.

Production on the Avatar sequels reportedly began in 2017 with a combined budget of more than $1 billion. Earlier this year, release dates were announced for each film: Avatar 2 on December 17, 2021; Avatar 3 in December 2023; Avatar 4 in December 2025; and Avatar 5 in December 2027.

Amazon’s mega-budget series update of The Lord Of The Rings franchise reportedly had to send home hundreds of cast and crew from the production’s West Auckland, New Zealand shoot in mid-March. The series was filming the first two episodes of the series, directed by J.A. Bayona, with the bulk of the shooting done. As Deadline reported late last year, in conjunction with an early Season 2 renewal for the fantasy drama, the LOTR series was to go on a 4-5-month hiatus after filming the first two episodes. There are no plans for production to resume to just finish the two episodes, with the shutdown segueing into the planned 4-5 month hiatus.

According to the New Zealand Film Commission, every production in the country will now be required to complete a registration with portal ScreenSafe in order to help the Ministry of Health with contact tracing and WorkSafe with monitoring.

The New Zealand Screen industry’s COVID-19 Health and Safety Standard and Protocols were officially endorsed by government agency WorkSafe. Funded by the NZFC, the Standard and Protocols were developed by ScreenSafe, with a team of industry experts. The documents outline safe production guidelines and can be found at, while the full ScreenSafe COVID-19 Health and Safety Production Toolkit, which will be available soon, will include more detailed scenarios, templates and contacts.

New Zealand Film Commission CEO Annabelle Sheehan said, “The NZFC’s focus and commitment since the industry hiatus, has been the health and safety of all those who work in the New Zealand film industry and the ongoing sustainability of the wider screen sector. We are heartened and grateful for the hard work and partnership of the guilds who have worked to get this document completed so quickly.”

New Zealand has widely been upheld as an example to be followed during the coronavirus outbreak. The country has recorded only 1,139 cases of the disease and 21 deaths.

The country’s lockdown has been gradually eased in recent weeks and further significant relaxation is expected next week, including the permission for gatherings of up to 100 people. Domestic travel and office work is also due to resume. The country has restricted international travel and required arrivals to quarantine for a period of time so the teams behind major international productions may need to wait a while longer but the path to a return is becoming clearer.

Earlier today, we reported on the Czech Republic re-opening its doors for production.

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