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Sci-fi horror film 'M3GAN': Behind the viral success

Directed by Aucklander Gerard Johnstone, this entertaining tale follows an artificial intelligence doll, M3GAN, who acquires self-awareness and unleashes hostility toward anyone who threatens her bond with her human companion.     

Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland served as the production hub and used locations across the city to envision the world of the gripping 2022 sci-fi horror film, M3GAN.

Box office brilliance

For the production minds behind M3GAN, the decision to film in Auckland was a rewarding one. As producer Adam Hendricks of Divide and Conquer and Judson Scott of Atomic Monster discovered, Auckland offers an excellent combination of stellar scenery, film-friendly infrastructure, and a vibrant community of talented filmmakers.

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If anybody asked me if they should film in Auckland, it’s an absolute yes. It’s as good a film crews as you’re going to find. It’s as good as facilities... an excellent place to live.

Judson Scott

The film's successful premiere in Los Angeles on December 7, 2022, and its subsequent theatrical release in the United States on January 6, 2023, captured audiences worldwide, grossing over $180 million (USD) against a modest budget of $12 million (USD). The film competed with franchise hit Avatar: The Way of Water for number 1 at the US box office. M3GAN's clever blend of horror and humour received praise from critics and audiences alike, solidifying its place as a standout film of the genre.

“The first thing I realised when we were filming in Auckland was that we were working with a lot of individuals that have done productions that are much bigger than ours on a much grander scale in terms of budget and what's required of them to do,” says Judson Scott.  

“We're incredibly lucky to be making what you would consider a smaller movie at the studio level with people that have won Academy Awards for working on the likes of Avatar, The Lord of the Rings, Cowboy Bebop, or Rings of Power. To have access to those people to who bring all that knowledge to M3GAN is just so fortunate for us.”

The producers appreciated the collaborative way that Kiwi crews work together to achieve the best result and how everyone pitches in to get the job done. The local cast also impressed the filmmakers, with the performance of 12-year-old Aucklander Amie Donald, bringing a captivating physicality to the role of M3GAN and helping the film go viral on social media with her killer dance moves.

The production team considered themselves incredibly fortunate to discover Amie's immense talent, with her background in dancing and stunt work, adding depth and authenticity to the AI doll character. 
Our region's diverse landscapes, from bustling urban streets to serene suburbs and evocative forests, provided the perfect canvas to paint M3GAN's haunting tale, with Auckland doubling for the city of Seattle. Screen Auckland facilitated the filming in a number of locations including the South Auckland suburb of Sunnyhill and picturesque Woodhill Forest which served to enhance the film’s narrative. 

For Adam Hendricks and Judson Scott, their filming experience in Auckland was a gratifying adventure, akin to making films with friends on a grander scale. The connections they forged and the memories they created will undoubtedly lead them back to Auckland for future projects. 
With a sequel, dubbed M3GAN 2.0, already in the works, and other productions due to film in our region soon, the spotlight remains on Auckland as a leading destination for filmmakers seeking to create unique cinematic experiences. 

Made In Auckland

The creativity and talent of Auckland and New Zealand crew and talent contributed to M3GAN’s viral and box office success worldwide: 

  • Director Gerard Johnston injected the comedic tones 
  • Amie Donald played M3GAN, and co-created the famous dance 
  • Production designed by Oscar-award winning Kim Sinclair 
  • Post-production in Auckland included Masters of Reality and Fathom  
  • 245 New Zealand crew  
Light shining through trees in a forest
Viva La Dirt League's Henderson Studio
Filming on the set of TechTown, Viva La Dirt League

Filming on the set of TechTown, Viva La Dirt League

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