Small crowds gathered outside the security fences of a large-scale Hollywood production in central Whanganui on Monday, with a very well-known extra one of those taking part in the production.
Dancing Pictures, owned by US-based parent company A24 Films, invited the Chronicle onto the set, which saw both Ridgway St and Victoria Ave transformed into 1918-era Texas.
The details of the project have not yet been made public, other than the fact the film is believed to be of the horror genre and set in the early 20th century.
The central city location was specifically chosen to take advantage of Whanganui’s famous heritage architecture, with many businesses transformed to appear as chemists or butcheries from the outside.
There were also several extras involved in the production, many of whom were local to Whanganui. One of those extras was mayor Hamish McDouall, dressed in a full 1910s get-up, complete with a heritage hat.
“It’s been really great fun. All film is moments of panic and hours of waiting around, but this is great,” McDouall said.
“And I’m still doing mayoral business. I’ve had two phone calls on set and I’ve approved one press release.”
McDouall said that nothing but good could come from the project in terms of the local economy.
“There’s a bunch of Whanganui people working on this. I was talking to one guy before who said this was his first feature film.
“This is Whanganui and people will see that.”
One of the senior leaders at the site said about 120 staff were dotted around the set on Monday, ranging from catering staff and baristas to props teams and producers.
The cast of this project is top secret, as is the focus of the film, but A24’s previous production in Whanganui does give some hints as to what to expect.
Representatives from A24, best known for Oscar-winning film Moonlight, have been in the country since November when film executives jetted in from the US before spending two weeks in MIQ.
A number of actors and production crew members were granted “critical worker” exemptions to enter New Zealand while the borders were closed, with local contractors shoulder-tapped to fill the roles overseas staff would otherwise occupy.
Since arriving, A24 has worked on two productions, basing most of the production for both films out of Whanganui, but also spending some time in Ōtaki and Wellington.
Production for A24’s first new film X began in February, based out of a Fordell farm. The Chronicle understands that A24 spent a significant amount of time preparing the farm for the film, including building a barn from scratch.
The same property has also been used as the HQ for all contractors for this second production.
X is reportedly a horror film based around the production of an adult film and saw high-flying Hollywood stars Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow and Kid Cudi jet into Whanganui earlier this year.
Snow is best known for her role as Chloe in the Pitch Perfect franchise, while Kid Cudi, real name Scott Mescudi, is a well-known rapper as well as an actor, having won two Grammy awards.
It was also revealed on Monday that New Zealand’s own Martin Henderson is starring in the film. Henderson started his career on the television show, Shortland Street, eventually going on to star in Grey’s Anatomy and Netflix’s Virgin River.
On set on Monday, Jacob Jaffke, producer of both of the new films, said after spending six months in Whanganui, the city had a special place in his heart.
“It’s been a dream. We found this amazing farm, and everything hinged on finding that location. It wasn’t easy, but we found what we wanted here in New Zealand and in Whanganui,” Jaffke said.
“We looked at the US, we looked at Western Australia and we looked at New Zealand. When the New Zealand plans came together, we thought this was by far the best option. The locations here sealed the deal.”
Jaffke praised the work of the Whanganui District Council’s economic development arm Whanganui & Partners, saying they played a big role in assisting A24 pull everything together for the production.
“Working with A24 and Dancing Pictures has been a pleasure and we are thrilled with the positive feedback they’ve offered about Whanganui,” Whanganui & Partners creative industries strategic lead Emma Bugden said in a statement.
“Productions like these are not only exciting to see happening, they also have a positive effect on our economy and provide employment opportunities.”
The majority of the group will leave Whanganui for the final time on Tuesday, with some remaining to clear the site at Fordell.
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