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The Light Between Oceans filmed NZ as Australia

The Light Between Oceans VikanderRomantic drama feature The Light Between Oceans filmed southern New Zealand as Australia with actors Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander.

The story follows a lighthouse keeper and his wife living on an island off the coast of Western Australia in the aftermath of the First World War. After adopting an infant girl they discover in a boat lost at sea, the couple face the consequences of their decision years later.

“The biggest driver behind what brought New Zealand into the filmmakers’ scope was that the Australian government’s filming incentives programme wasn’t able to match what the New Zealand Film Commission had to offer,” says Jared Connon, the film’s supervising location manager, in comments to KFTV.

“A production-friendly lighthouse location in Australia was also proving elusive - this led the team to take a wider view on what the options might be.”

Filmmaker Derek Cianfrance decided early on to shoot entirely on location rather than using studios.

“Every building both interior and exterior was an original and existing structure that the director was determined to incorporate into the story,” Connon says. “There were some additions made to the locations, and a lot of stripping back took place to bring the buildings back into the correct period, which was an amazing thing to watch.”

Cape Campbell lighthouse lies on New Zealand’s Marlborough coastline and stood in for the story’s remote Australian island setting. The team spent a month filming at the lighthouse, setting up a community of campers for cast and crew a little less than an hour’s drive away.

The Light Between Oceans - historic street

“[It] was in fact beyond a challenge – it was a life experience that none of us will ever forget,” Connon says. “We had to build everything to support their living from the ground up and then provide daily support for crew at the same time whilst shooting was underway.  

“The weather was extreme almost every single day we shot there. Yet we had the joy of reinstalling the original lens in the lighthouse which had laid dormant on the ground floor of the structure for the past 20 years. 

“Maritime NZ – which allowed us to revert to the old lens and system – was instrumental in making this happen, and they took great pride in their workmanship.”

The Light Between Oceans lighthouseThe production team used Port Chalmers in the southern New Zealand city of Dunedin as a stand-in for a mainland Western Australia town that features in the story, dressing the area to date it to the first half of the 20th century.

Location filming also took place in Tasmania, the Australian island state off the south coast of New South Wales.

“While New Zealand was able to provide almost 95% of the locations, there was one setting that we couldn’t match, and that was the township of Stanley in Tasmania,” Connon says.  

“It is a beautiful seaside village, with a working port that looked like it was straight out of the history books. It was distinctively Australian and stunning in every wide shot we took.

It certainly wasn’t a straightforward location to pull together, but the people of Stanley welcomed the film with open arms.”

The New Zealand Screen Production Grant offers a base cash grant of 20% for international films, which has helped boost the country’s profile internationally. Recent big-budget films have included Pete’s Dragon and Ghost in the Shell.

Australia’s main international filming incentive is a 16.5% Location Offset, although the government has been under long-term pressure to expand the support.

For more on filming in New Zealand see our production guide.

Production images: Davi Russo / DreamWorks. BTS images courtesy of Jared Connon.