Auckland’s Matakana village is famed as a boutique wine and artisan food destination, but production of another kind took centre stage in August 2020 when the crew and cast of Canadian and New Zealand project A Love Yarn came to town.

The 90-minute telefeature romance, which was filmed across various Auckland locations during the month and involved a cast and crew of 50, is one of the few projects globally to be completed in a world severely disrupted by COVID-19 – with New Zealand’s strong response to the pandemic allowing relative normality for the screen industry.

A Love Yarn Producer Ian Whitehead says: “Filming alongside our expert co-producers in Auckland has given us the ability to wrap our productions safely and on time, all the while utilising these beautiful locations to maintain our original creative vision.”

The film stars New Zealanders Anna Hutchison and Simon Arblaster, and was directed by New Zealander Peter Burger. 

The production had completed two location shoots under New Zealand’s alert Level 1 – where the country has complete freedom, but restricted border entry – and was two days into a five-day shooting block at Matakana when a temporary rise to COVID-19 Alert Level 3 restrictions occurred across the Auckland region.

The production paused filming to adjust the script and logistics to comply with the strict Level 3 government-approved ScreenSafe health and safety protocols, which allow safe filming at all but the highest COVID-19 Level 4. 

Tina McLaren says: “We were able to relatively quickly get back on schedule thanks to the ScreenSafe protocols. We simply adapted some scenes to be inside rather than out on the street. The protocols gave us a sense of security as a team, as well as the community we were based in,” says Tina McLaren.

A Love Yarn’s Location Manager Johnny Egdell says: ”We had good feedback from local business owners about the planning and professionalism of our shoot under COVID-19 conditions. We had one or two members of the public ask how we were allowed to carry on under Level 3. 

“That’s understandable, given Kiwis have taken COVID very seriously since the start. We were able to explain that we were operating under the Government-approved industry COVID protocols.

“We really appreciated the patience of the Matakana community. Without their support and understanding, we couldn’t have produced the film,” Johnny Egdell says.

It was a win, win. About 80 per cent of the cast and crew rented accommodation in and around Matakana and supported the local supermarket, bakery and coffee shops – with contactless visits still allowed when the Level 3 conditions took effect.

Screen Auckland, the regional film office which permits public space filming on behalf of Auckland Council, issued a number of permits for the production across the region at Te Muri Beach within Mahurangi Regional Park, Taupaki, a reserve and street in Mangere, and in and around Matakana.

Screen Auckland worked with the production to ensure it was able to understand and work within the national ScreenSafe protocols.

Screen Auckland Manager Jasmine Millet says: “We were delighted to welcome A Love Yarn to our shores. It is a great example of the advantage Auckland and New Zealand can offer productions in the COVID-19 world, while still ensuring cast and crew are working in a safe on-set environment.

“Other productions of all sizes and budgets are also being completed here, which is great for the local and global industry. Content can still be made, and in turn the productions bring valuable direct spend, keep our expert crews in jobs, and are supporting the hundreds of Auckland companies that expertly supply the industry.”

A Love Yarn is a New Zealand and Canadian co-production, with North American television and streaming releases planned, and possibly an international streaming release.