james cameronAfter making Avatar in Wellington, James Cameron’s three sequels are now also lined up to shoot in New Zealand. The Kiwi government says it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox to see the director make each of the next Avatar installments locally. The move doesn’t come as much of a surprise given Cameron/Avatar‘s history Down Under, along with the helmer’s 2012 purchase of oodles of land in South Wairarapa, near Wellington. The news coincides with changes to the tax incentive structure in New Zealand which were also unveiled today. Under the new regs, the new Avatars could qualify for a total rebate of 25%.

avatarWhen the first Avatar was made in New Zealand, it delivered more than NZ$307M in spend for the local economy. The memo of understanding on the new movies includes several commitments inlcuding a spend of at least NZ$500M ($413.1M) on local production activity – ie, most of the live action shooting and VFX. There’s also an engagement to hire Kiwis in Head of Department roles with about 90% of the live action crew expected to be local. New Zealand will also get to host “at least one” official red carpet premiere. (The original film world premiered in London.) James Cameron and John Landau have also offered to serve as founding members of a new screen advisory board. And, there is language on marketing and promotion of New Zealand and its film industry alongside the three Avatar films; the transfer of technological know-how to New Zealanders; retaining screen production infrastructure in New Zealand that could be used for industry training; and a commitment by both parties to grow the screen sector in New Zealand and to building a long term and productive relationship between the Crown and Lightstorm/Twentieth Century Fox.

Meanwhile, changes to the tax incentive scheme announced by the local government today will see a hike in the rebate from 15% to 20% for international film and television productions. A further 5% will be available for international productions that deliver significant economic benefits to New Zealand. An as-yet undefined points system will determine eligibility.

On the local side, New Zealand productions will have access to a 40% rebate with that now extended to television and productions with larger budgets. The two tiered system will take the form of a rebate on productions with up to NZ$15M ($12.39M) of qualifying New Zealand spend. The changes come as the existing Screen Production Incentive Fund and Large Budget Screen Production Grant are combined to form the New Zealand Screen Production Grant, an uncapped fund. The criteria and details on how to apply for the grant will be available beginning April 1, 2014.

“These changes will enable larger scale New Zealand productions to be made as well as encouraging more New Zealand stories to be seen on screen,” says NZFC Chair Patsy Reddy. This year the NZFC supported a record 13 feature, 22 shorts and administered grants for a further 25 film and television productions including Sundance Channel/BBC co-production Top Of The Lake. Kiwi director Peter Jackson has made New Zealand his production center, shooting the Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit trilogies there. The small country has two local films at the top of the box office this year, Mt Zion and Beyond The Edge. Last year, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was the top film with about $9.2M.