Kim Sinclair

Kim Sinclair

Neil Kirkland, who later became construction supervisor on Avatar, was also on that job. He designed this set which was the interior of this German First World War battleship and then he actually built the set. He was the foreman of the carpenters. Then all the painters got called off to paint something else so he painted the set and then when they filmed it he actually acted in it -he was the sailor that loaded the gun. For him, it was a very Kiwi process.

That’s pretty much what happened to me is the next job I did. I was the art director of the job after that, then I was the production designer. There were not very many film crews in New Zealand so it was very easy to rise through the ranks.

We have a vey big commercial industry in New Zealand because of the locations. Particularly from Europe and Asia. TV commercials are a bigger economic unit than feature films here -it’s a lot more money. They’ll fly in and go to scenic spots and make an advertisement for Chinese butter or German milk or American turkey. I’ve never really got involved in commercials but the point I’m making is that the film industry has always been location-driven in New Zealand. It’s a long way from anywhere and the reason to come to New Zealand is the destinations, the variety of landscapes in New Zealand. We’ve done TV movies set in Los Angeles, Florida, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, North Carolina. About fifty percent of the United States you could shoot in New Zealand if you went to the right place. The problem of course is that the cars drive on the wrong side of the road here. The film industry would probably be twice as big in New Zealand if we drove on the right hand side of the road!

My background is doing location work. I’ve carved out a career doing difficult locations. I’ve worked in Mexico and South Pacific Fiji on Castaway. Legend of Zorro was Mexico. Thailand on Beyond Borders. The Southern Alps on a film called Vertical Limit. Basically looking after art departments in places that are a bit inhospitable. Islands, tops of mountains. I’ve done loads of films where you have to fly around by helicopter. And get materials in by helicopter. We shot the Last Samurai in New Plymouth, which is quite a remote part of New Zealand. We built the village there. There was no road access. We actually choppered in all the materials. The point of is that Avatar was quite interesting in that it was the first time that a major American feature film has come to New Zealand not for any location shooting at all but totally because of the human resources, the facilities, and now also the modest tax break.

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About the Interviewer

Tom Lisowski is a production designer who has designed swamp mazes shot in China, crumbling cliffs in Utah, future arenas in South Central, dilapidated tenements and twisted laboratories under luxurious mansions... William Anthony is a Los Angeles-based commercial and editorial photographer specializing in portraiture, lifestyle and documentary imagery... Guest photographer Nelson Cragg is an award-winning cinematographer who shoots and directs television, feature films, and commercial projects. Contact ArtStars: tom@artstars.us