By Richard Verrier
3:52 PM EST, December 16, 2013
In the latest sign of California's declining movie market share, director James Cameron announced he will shoot the three sequels to his Oscar-winning blockbuster "Avatar" in New Zealand.
Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment will do the performance-capture work on the movie in Los Angeles at MBS Media Campus (formerly known as Manhattan Beach Studios).
However, the live-action portion of the production will film in New Zealand, following a similar pattern to the original 2009 film, Cameron and his partner, Jon Landau, announced Monday.
"We are doing the performance capture here in L.A., which is going very well for us, and then we're going to New Zealand for the live-action filming,'' Landau said in an interview Monday.
Production on all three movies is expected to begin simultaneously late next year or early 2015, with the first film being released in time for Christmas 2016.
"It's quite a thrill to be officially saying that we're bringing the 'Avatar' films to New Zealand," Cameron said at a news conference in Wellington, the nation's capital. "We had such a wonderful experience here making the first film."
It's the latest coup for New Zealand, which also hosted the "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" movies and has built a tourism industry around promoting its film locations. Lightstorm and Twentieth Century Fox have agreed to spend $413 million in New Zealand on the 'Avatar' sequels.
The decision, however, is another blow to the California film industry and a blow to the state's struggling visual-effects industry, which has been losing business to rivals in Canada, the UK and New Zealand. Director Peter Jackson's Wellington based-company, Weta, is expected to do the bulk of the effects work on the "Avatar" sequels.
With the "Avatar" announcement, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said the government was bolstering its film incentives.
Under the change, Hollywood studios will be able to get 20% of the money back that they spend in New Zealand, up from 15%. An extra 5% rebate will be paid to film productions that carry “specific benefit” to the country, Key said at the news conference. To qualify, for example, Fox has pledged to hold at least one of the “Avatar” sequel premieres in the country and include a New Zealand tourism video on DVDs and Blu-ray discs.
In an interview, Landau said New Zealand's offer of a 25% rebate on the three films was a significant draw. California offers a film tax credit, but it excludes movies with budgets of more than $75 million. The 'Avatar' films are estimated to cost at least $250 million each.
"It's a problem for us staying here," Landau said. "We were looking at different places around the world, but with New Zealand increasing their incentives, that made it possible.... We would love to stay here. Trust me."
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