VIP VISITOR: Pete’s Dragon stars the 2002 Academy Award winner Robert Redford, who’s 78.
VIP VISITOR: Pete’s Dragon stars the 2002 Academy Award winner Robert Redford, who’s 78. Contributed

NZ town residents off to vacate houses for film crews

OTAGO residents in Tapanui are offering to vacate their homes to accommodate Robert Redford and the expected 250 cast and crew shooting the Walt Disney Studios live-action remake of Pete's Dragon in April.

The West Otago town is the third stop of four locations after filming begins at Stone Street Studios in Wellington on Monday.

After Wellington, filming will shift to Rotorua for five weeks and then to Tapanui for two or three weeks in autumn before wrapping up with a week in Invercargill, the movie's unit publicist Andy Lipschultz says.

Annalie Downie, of Tapanui, has been helping to set up local accommodation, gathering as much information and vacancies as possible.

"The community has been remarkable. They have stepped up, as they always do," she said. "There have been people offering houses, people moving in with other people and people deciding they can go and see family overseas, leaving their house vacant for film crews and other people."

The West Otago town of 750 and nearby Gore in Southland would be stretched to accommodate the production crew if people had not been "incredibly generous-spirited", Ms Downie said.

"It's not unusual for film crews to have to do this, to accommodate lots of people, but usually it's in bigger centres where there's lots of hotels, motels..."

Mr Lipschultz said the location had been chosen for its proximity to the decommissioned sawmill, formerly Blue Mountain Lumber, about 15km out of town.

Starting on February 23, the town and the decommissioned sawmill are set to be transformed by builders and the art department. The film is reported to diverge widely from the 1977 original, a musical, in which a nine-year-old orphan and his pet dragon escape evil adoptive parents to live with a lighthouse keeper in Maine, on the east coast of the United States.


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