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Avatar sequels suspend filming in New Zealand over coronavirus concerns

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Story by Jack Foley

JAMES Cameron’s Avatar sequels have halted production in New Zealand due to the country’s attempts to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Producer Jon Landau confirmed that there would be a delay to a block of filming that was due to take place in Wellington’s Stone Street Studios in April, although Wellington-based Weta Digital will continue to work on visual effects on the sequels, which reportedly boast a budget of $1 billion (NZ$1.65 billion).

The long-delayed sequels to 2009’s Avatar were due to be completed by the end of 2020, with work on a total of four films being done simultaneously.

Currently, Avatar 2 has a release date of December 17, 2021, with the following three sequels to be released in December 2023, December 2025 and December 2027.

It is not yet known whether the delay caused by the postponement of filming will affect any of those dates, although Disney and Fox will be hoping that work can re-commence as soon as possible.

In an interview with the New Zealand Herald, producer Landua said: “We’ve delayed it. We had plans to come down Friday night with a group of people and start back up, and we made the decision to hold off and continue working here [in Los Angeles] and come down there a little bit later than we’d planned.

“We’re in the midst of a global crisis, and this is not about the film industry. I think everybody needs to do now whatever we can do, as we say here, to flatten the [coronavirus] curve.”

The production schedule is now being assessed every day, according to Landau, to see when filming could resume, “because that’s how quickly things change”.

And he added that it was now the production’s priority to get ‘as many minutes’ as possible of VFX work to Weta Digital to complete.

The Avatar sequels are the latest international shoot to call a halt to production over the global spread of the virus.

Amazon’s $1 billion TV adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, which is also being shot in New Zealand, has also been put on hold.

As of Tuesday, New Zealand had a total of 12 confirmed coronavirus infections. The country’s government has acted aggressively to contain the outbreak.

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