There are some surreal sights at Avalon, where modern-day filming has been taking place amid 1970s surrounds. Two Aboriginal actors wander down a wood-panelled corridor, heading for a smoko break while filming segments for an Australian museum.
A few weeks ago, Avalon's back lot was transformed into the shell-pocked Passchendaele battleground of 1917, as the Gibson Group filmed a TV documentary-drama called War News.
The new owners of the studio, who took over from TVNZ in April, have been busy forming links with industry up-and-comers, and are keen to sign up a long-running series, to complement lucrative but sporadic film work.
This year, Wellington director Geoff Husson filmed a sci-fi television show pilot called Johnny Ruckus at Avalon.
The studio has also formed links with Pukeko Pictures, a production house co-founded by Sir Richard Taylor, and Desert Road Productions has a telefeature lined up for Avalon.
"It's of a fairly secret nature, we don't even know what the title is at the moment, but it will be shooting here from February," says Paul Mainwaring, chief executive of Avalon Film and Television Studios, who first started working there in an after-school job in the 1970s.
"It was such an exciting environment," he says. "I thought I want to be a part of this, and I've never left."
Purpose-built in 1975, Avalon Studios remains the best facility of its type in the country, a "one-stop shop" for TV and film, according to director Gary Watkins said.
"No one will ever build another Avalon. It's got everything from makeup to wardrobe, generators, the whole range of services and equipment."
Despite the recent departures of Lotto and Trackside, Mainwaring remains positive about the future. "We're really enjoying it. It's a challenge, but we're optimistic about it. We just have to make sure that we're open for all customers, for anyone who wants to use this facility."
Losing Trackside was a blow, he says, but valuable studio space was freed up when Lotto departed.
"We're looking at the international model of getting people who write international material to make productions here."
The studio has also moved into the events business, successfully hosting the Westpac Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards in November.
There are already plans for a 2300-square-metre sound stage "if things go well".
Only a proposal at this stage, the 20m-high structure would allow filming of feature films, television, video and photo shoots in one space.
The Government's recent announcement that the next three Avatar movies will be made in New Zealand was also "a shot in the arm", Mainwaring says.
"We're very optimistic about positive outcomes from this announcement."
Steve La Hood, a director of Wellington company Story Inc, has been at Avalon recently, filming a visitors' experience segment for the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park in Cairns.
"They have a fantastic studio here, and it's under-utilised really," he says. "We're loving it - it's a good place to work."
- The Dominion Post
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