Gold fever arrived on New Zealand television screens on Sunday, 17 May with the world premiere of one of the year’s most anticipated series, The Luminaries – an adaptation of Eleanor Catton’s 2013 Man Booker Prize winning novel, brought to the screen by BBC and TVNZ.

Set on New Zealand’s beautiful yet unforgiving West Coast at the height of the 1860s gold rush, the characters of The Luminaries stepped off page and on to set in Penrose, Auckland, where a retrofitted warehouse studio facility located and secured by Screen Auckland, a division of Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), became the production base.

Much of the production was filmed inside historical yet fantastical indoor sets, including the stunning ‘fortune parlour’ The House of Many Wishes, as well as exterior sets replicating 19th Century Dunedin and Hokitika streets, the hold and cabin of the ship Godspeed and a remote cottage in the Arahura Valley.

Jasmine Millet, Screen Auckland Manager at ATEED, says the region is proud to have played a big part in the stunning production: “The global demand for content means Auckland’s permanent film studios are very busy, but The Luminaries is a great example of how we’re able to meet producers’ needs using additional flexible studio spaces.

“Screen Auckland works with productions to understand their requirements and finds spaces to suit. In this case, a local warehouse became the production’s main base, with areas for costume, set construction, hard-stand for recreating 19th Century downtown Dunedin, and production offices,” says Jasmine Millet.

A behind-the-scenes clip reveals how they made it happen.

ATEED’s Screen Auckland team also worked with the show’s location manager to get access to locations that worked for the storyline and era it was set in, including doubling for New Zealand’s West Coast and Otago. Auckland’s heritage park Monte Cecilia was used as a stand in for Dunedin. A number of set pieces were created there including stone walls, paths, extra vegetation and a horse and cart as part of the action. Special heritage considerations meant the set up and shooting had to be carefully planned with Auckland Council staff.

Auckland’s duel coastlines appear in the show, with locations including Te Henga Beach, Waitakere Bay and Muriwai Beach, as well as extensive set and bush scenes at Jonkers Farm – beautiful wilderness which has belonged to the Jonkers family for five generations and hosted many international screen projects over the years.

The Luminaries brought economic gold to Auckland, including 40 jobs for Kiwi actors and 603 jobs for Kiwi crew, and more than $1 million spent on accommodation for cast and crew members – an example of the halo effect the screen sector has on the wider Auckland economy.

Auckland’s world-class post-production expertise also took centre stage, with Images & Sound undertaking most of the post-production, and Assembly creating the geographically themed animated titles.

Grant Baker, Managing Partner at Images & Sound, says while The Luminaries is the business’ biggest time and budget job to date – with nearly 20 people working on the series including sound designers, online editors and colour graders, producers and VFX – the biggest challenge was the clock.

The Luminaries post-production took place across international time zones, including the challenge of organising and directing additional dialogue replacement with actors in LA, New York, Rome, London and even the Australian outback! It was great to work with an international team and prove how Auckland screen businesses can work seamlessly to meet complex production needs, including the use of highly secure networks – which is becoming more and more a significant factor in these collaborations,” says Grant Baker.

Pam Ford, General Manager Economic Development at ATEED says along with The Luminaries, several productions entirely or partly made in Auckland have already released this year.

“Audiences around the world are experiencing the talents of Auckland’s screen sector through diverse feature films and television series. 

"Guns Akimbo and television series The Dead Lands on TVNZ OnDemand, and Letter for the King on Netflix are good examples. July is the planned screening date for The Luminaries on BBC, and the release date for Disney’s live action remake of Mulan.

“That impressive slate of productions further cements the region’s reputation as an international production hub, while local productions that are the lifeblood of the sector continue to speak volumes about Auckland’s screen sector skill and capacity,” says Pam Ford.

The Luminaries producer, North Shore raised Lisa Chatfield, says the local screen sector rose to the occasion, demonstrating the quality of skill and capacity to deliver to an internationally financed production .

“It was great that Auckland had the scale for us to be able to base the production here. It gave us a chance to tell a uniquely New Zealand story for audiences both here and internationally, using local talent on both sides of the camera. The Luminaries is a testament to the skill and hard work of those involved – we've got a lot to be proud of,” says Lisa Chatfield.

The Luminaries will continue to be available in New Zealand on TVNZ OnDemand .

Ellen Comber
Communications Advisor - Economic Development