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TV adaptation of one of New Zealand's most successful books hits Kiwi screens

The highly anticipated small-screen adaption of one of New Zealand's biggest books has hit televisions in its world premiere.

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The TV series was commissioned by the BBC, but all production as final post-production was done in New Zealand. Source: 1 NEWS

Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries is the story of love, revenge and murder set in 1860s New Zealand. Catton herself reinvented her Booker Prize-winning book for television.

Lisa Chatfield, who is the producer of the six-part series, said making it for the screen has been exciting, challenging and a drama unto itself.

"You know it's a big deal to bring a book that really belongs to New Zealand audiences," she told 1 NEWS.

"Eleanor has done this extraordinary job of turning the story inside out and slightly back to front, yet it's completely in the same world and of the same people."

The series was commissioned by the BBC and has international backing. But unusually for such circumstances, all production and final post-production was done in New Zealand.

"To get to finish the whole thing locally has been really wonderful," Ms Chatfield says.

"So those are the things that make it special and that certainly makes it the biggest series of its kind that has been made here."

It is also unusual to have a period drama made in New Zealand, something put down to the high-cost.

The Luminaries series came with a price tag of tens of millions of dollars.

"For lots of audiences the other piece that might be a little bit in this space is The Piano, and that was an extraordinary piece of work and is something we absolutely held as a bar for the kind of New Zealand work that we were wanting to create," Ms Chatfield says.

OTHER PRODUCTIONS STRUGGLE IN COVID-19 WORLD

The series was well wrapped up before Covid-19 hit the world, and the local film industry, but dozens of others were not as lucky.

"There were 47 productions that had to close down and they were all in different stages of pre-production and post-production," New Zealand Film Commission chief executive Annabelle Sheehan told 1 NEWS.

"And so that's a huge number of just local New Zealand productions and very distressing for them, but so necessary of course because of the pandemic.

"There were 2000 crew involved in international productions, so like the global screen industry the New Zealand screen industry is really suffering from the impact of Covid-19."

Sally Campbell, who is head of production at South Pacific Pictures, is part of a screen industry response group set up to help the recovery.

She says the virus has caused "upheaval" in the sector but protocols that have been developed are getting it back on track. And that's putting New Zealand in a shining spot.

"We have a response perhaps more than other countries in the world of what you can do to make a safe shooting environment," she said.

Contact tracing and physical distancing in productions are key.

"It will affect how we shoot, if you're still thinking about physical distancing... that definitely affects how you're shooting on a set - maybe it slows you down a bit."

But film and television is no stranger to difficulties and challenges, which producers say has helped by putting them in a good position to grapple with coronavirus.

"There is a lot of change that goes on in what we do, we often work project to project, so yes it was completely and utterly something new but we try to approach it like we'd approach everything else," Ms Campbell says.

It is something echoed by Ms Chatfield.

"I'm really grateful to have not been filming, I've got lots of friends and colleagues who were in the middle of making productions when Covid struck and the lockdown happened," she says.

"That's an incredibly hard thing to recover from to try get your production back up on its feet again.

"Film-makers, television-makers - everybody's really resilient, we exist in a world where we're constantly responding to change and unexpected disaster so I know the cast and the crew and the producers are all going to pull through, but it's hard."

For now, The Luminaries producer is happy to have pulled through her own pre-Covid production.

"Eleanor's created something magic in the novel and then she's translated that to the screen, it's been a huge adventure."