"Avatar" fans hungry for information about the long-gestating sequels to the 2009 science fiction blockbuster got another morsel this week, when director James Cameron said he will film the live-action portions of the three movies in New Zealand, with production scheduled to start there in early 2015.
Cameron said the intention is to shoot the three movies concurrently, releasing the first sequel in time for Christmas 2016 and the following sequels in late 2017 and late 2018.
The announcement, which Cameron made at a news conference in Wellington, New Zealand, on Monday, came with a promise from "Avatar's" studio, 20th Century Fox, to spend at least $413 million in the island nation, in exchange for a 25% tax rebate there. In addition to the live-action shooting, much of the visual-effects work will be handled by New Zealand's Weta Digital.
As on the first "Avatar" movie, the performance-capture portions of the film, which represent a large chunk, will be shot on stages in California, this time at a studio in Manhattan Beach.
Cameron's game plan for the "Avatar" sequels has shifted frequently since the 2009 film became the highest-grossing movie of all time and collected nine Oscar nominations, with release dates, screenwriters and even the number of films changing along the way.
The director originally planned to write two sequels himself -- a process he described as "daunting" in a 2012 interview with The Times -- and to release the first of the films in December of next year.
In August, Fox announced that Cameron and his production company, Lightstorm Entertainment, had increased the number of sequels to three and brought on screenwriters to help the director complete the sprawling and complex series. Josh Friedman ("War of the Worlds") is writing "Avatar 2," Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver ("Rise of the Planet of the Apes") are tackling "Avatar 3" and Shane Salerno ("Savages") is at work on "Avatar 4."
The evolving schedule is familar terrain for Cameron and Fox, which pushed back the releases of both "Titanic" and the first "Avatar" to accommodate the scale and ambition of those films.
Taken together, the three "Avatar" sequels dwarf even the scope of Cameron's earlier movies. At the Wellington press conference, the director said he expects the three films to cost under $1 billion.
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