James Cameron has suspended production on the Avatar sequels due to coronavirus concerns in New Zealand, according to the New Zealand Herald (via THR). Cameron had planned to shoot at Stone Street Studios in Wellington next month, but producer Jon Landau has confirmed that filming has been delayed indefinitely. Wellington-based VFX company Weta Digital will continue their work on the sequels in the meantime.
“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,” Landau told the Herald.
“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 curve.” It’s unclear when the Avatar sequels will resume production in New Zealand, but a crew member told the New Zealand Herald that “the production is very supportive of us. We’re not being laid off, it’s on hold, so they’re still committed to shooting it here as far as I know.” Landau said he and Cameron will be re-assessing the production schedule “everyday, because that’s how quickly things change.” “We try and monitor all this and look at things and think about what is in the best interest of our crew. I call it our Avatar family. That is really paramount to us above anything,” said Landau, who plans to get “as many minutes” as possible to Weta Digital so the company can continue its VFX work during the shut do.
Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings series had also been shooting in New Zealand before the production was put on hold over the weekend. Meanwhile, in Australia, Warner Bros. halted production on Baz Luhrmann‘s untitled Elvis Presley biopic after star Tom Hanks tested positive for COVID-19, while Marvel’s Shang-Chi was also put on hold, though its director, Destin Daniel Cretton, recently tested negative for the virus. Avatar became the highest-grossing movie of all time when it first hit theaters more than a decade ago, but the sequels have suffered one delay after another. It’s unclear whether this latest production delay will affect Avatar 2‘s release date of December 17, 2021. Three additional sequels are slated every other year thereafter in December 2023, December 2025 and December 2027. Collectively, the four films are budgeted at roughly $1 billion. Sam Worthington returns to star alongside Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver.