New Zealand has gotten the greenlight…well, more like a yellow light. But the country is open for business, and productions companies are allowed to resume filming live-action productions and open offices, albeit with some post-COVID-19 changes.
The island nation had 1,154 confirmed cases, almost all of whom have recovered, according the the government’s website. As of press time, only three new cases had been reported in the past two weeks. Because of those encouraging numbers, New Zealand has begun to reopen many of its services, including schools, shops and offices.
Pukeko Pictures, based in Wellington, began putting measures in place before the country itself went into lockdown. The prodco has a co-production agreement in place with Hengxin Shambala Kids in China for several franchises, including The WotWots and Book Hungry Bears, which means several members of the team are flying back and forth between the two countries frequently.
“We had been reading the tea leaves,” says Clive Spink, the CEO of Pukeko Pictures. Early on, the prodco asked anyone traveling to isolate for two weeks upon their return, and the entire company transitioned to working from home in February, which Spink says created a smoother transition when the government put the full lockdown in place in mid-March.
Now, as the country begins to reopen, Spink is being cautious. “We’re not planning too far ahead because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Spink. He has been reading the news reports that the pandemic won’t likely end soon, and in the future there could be more outbreaks or future epidemics. He’s preparing for a future where his team transition into and out of lockdowns every few years, which means a lot more flexible work.
Right now the office (pictured) is technically open. However, Spink says only three members of the 25 person staff go in regularly.
The rest of the staff are gearing up to work from home for the foreseeable future. Spink says his staff have been enjoying this flexibility, with some working in the evenings and taking care of children during the day. “People need to get their job, done but they can work whenever,” he says.
For anyone who does want to go into the office though, they need to sign in and out so Pukeko is able to track movement. Visitors also need to sign in and provide contact details for future contact tracing, should the need arise.
After focusing on its in-production projects for the past several years, Pukeko is in the process of developing a new slate of animated and live-action content. The prodco, which created Thunderbirds Are Go, hasn’t done a lot of live action in the past, but has a number of projects in development pipeline now and sees this as an opportunity to fill a gap many around the world can’t resume productions.
“What we’re also really excited about from an opportunity as a country is being able to go back into live-action production a lot earlier than a lot of places around the world,” says Spink. “We’re looking at a bunch of projects that are ready to go that we could shoot completely in New Zealand as the country is now open for business.”
Live-action productions will have more restrictions than usual, says Spink. Cast and crew will need to create a mini bubble, agreeing to only interact with each other and their own families and avoid leaving the country during production. They also will implement the same restrictions as in the Pukeko office, having people sign in and out of the set and leaving contact details for contact tracing.
New Zealand is home to several large-scale productions right now, including several new movies in the Avatar franchise for Disney, as well as the new Lord of the Rings spin-off TV series for Amazon Prime Video. Avatar, at least, has resumed filming already in the region.
Even though productions are ramping up, Spink says he doesn’t expect him or his team to return to traveling any time soon. He, at one point, was used to doing around 19 long haul flights per year to Asia or Europe to meet with production partners and attend markets. But all of that is on the hold for the next little bit and he’s enjoying the flexibility of working from home.
The next step in opening up is New Zealand and Australia are looking at creating a travel agreement. Citizens from either country would be allowed to venture back and forth between the two locations, and presumably work on each other’s productions, which Spink says would be a huge advantage over the rest of the world.