Disney abandons Auckland film studio

<i>Xena</i>  was filmed at the Auckland Film Studio.
<i>Xena</i> was filmed at the Auckland Film Studio.

While the local movie industry has been tearing itself apart over The Hobbit dispute, the west of Auckland is quietly having its own film crisis.

The Waitakere City Council-supported Auckland Film Studio has run into financial trouble after its main user, Walt Disney New Zealand, pulled out of plans to film the next series of Legend of the Seeker there.

In a financial report dated October 4, studio chairman Ross Jewell said Disney had vacated the premises this year after having signalled it planned to stay.

Falling advertising revenue has had an effect on television and film production worldwide. Jewell wrote in the report that economic conditions in the industry are "less than optimum" and facility upgrades have been put on hold.

The value of the studio's 4.2ha property, complete with five sound stages – which have hosted the production of films such as Whale Rider and The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe and TV series such as Xena: Warrior Princess and Power Rangers – plunged from $14.5m in March 2008 to $10.7m at the end of March this year.

The company's assets were worth $11.1m at the end of March.

The studio is majority owned by Auckland businessman Tony Tay's film company. The Waitakere City Council, which invested some $6m in the project back in 2005, has a 44.44 percent minority stake.

The studio's struggles were uncovered by Waitakere City resident Gary Osborne, who says he is angered that ratepayers are exposed to such a venture at a time when council debt has been rising rapidly – debt that will be subsumed into the new Auckland Council.

"They are spending my money propping up a loss-making venture," said Osborne.

He managed to obtain the financial accounts despite their not being public documents.

The accounts do not have to be publicly disclosed when a local authority owns only a minority stake in a company, he said, a rule he believes needs to be changed.

Jewell declined to comment until after the "ownership hiatus" in the changeover to the super city.

There is no sign of trouble on the studio's website, which bears the headline quote: "One of the wonders of the world...an unparalleled success story" – a quote from the American Film Institute about the New Zealand film industry.

Sunday Star Times