The New Zealand film and television industry is in a bad state as productions are lured overseas by bigger state subsidies, leading Kiwi director Andrew Adamson says.
Film-industry gossip is running hot that the Avatar sequels will now be shot overseas, but insiders say that is just the tip of the iceberg, with the Kiwi industry in a worse state than at any time in the past 20 years.
Under the Large Budget Screen Production Grant, New Zealand offers big-budget productions a 15 per cent rebate on money spent in the country, with larger rebates for projects more than $200 million. Other nations such as Britain and South Africa offer rebates of 25 per cent, while New Zealand's high dollar is a further deterrent to overseas money.
Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce has ruled out a straight rebate increase, although he said he was working to pull the industry out of its "tough period".
In the past five years, New Zealand taxpayers had already given film-makers $411m, and more would be hard to justify, he said.
"It's not a case of not wanting to do a little more, it's about how do we break the cycle?"
A preferred solution was increasing New Zealand's ownership of intellectual property in projects, weaning it off the whims of foreign cash.
It is an idea backed by Adamson, one of New Zealand's most successful film-makers whose films include Mr Pip and Shrek.
But that needed to be combined with a revamp of the rebate system and more sound stages in New Zealand, particularly in Auckland, he said.
The film industry was "effectively dying when we have done so much to build it up" and, in a single year, he had seen about $300m in projects lost to New Zealand.
The rebate scheme was no longer competitive on the world stage. Most of the people who worked on Mr Pip with him were now out of work, he said.
Paula Jalfon recently produced Salmon Fishing In the Yemen, yet since returning to New Zealand a year ago has found no work.
"We are in a crisis. Everyone knows that the film crews are leaving the country to find work or leaving the industry."
Tax benefits for film had benefits for all of New Zealand, she said. "Film-induced tourism and the part the industry plays in reinforcing New Zealand's image and brand have been extremely successful to date."
Dominion Post movie reviewer Graeme Tuckett, who runs industry employment website crewwel lington.co.nz, said two years ago there would have been up to 10 international shoots in New Zealand but now he know of only one: a Western being filmed in the South Island.
"It's the worst it's been in over 20 years. We have the most highly skilled crews in the world here, but they're not working.
"We just want a level playing field with Australia, South Africa, and Europe. You wouldn't send the All Blacks out with 10 men, but that's what Steven Joyce has allowed to happen."