THE POWER OF THE DOG (L to R): BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH as PHIL BURBANK, JESSE PLEMONS as GEORGE BURBANK in THE POWER OF THE DOG. Cr. KIRSTY GRIFFIN/NETFLIX © 2021
62% NZ cast
27 New Zealand cast
328 New Zealand crew
Shot on location in New Zealand
27 South Island shoot days
23 Auckland shoot days
13,500 accomodation nights
15 key location sets built
25 key studio sets built
130 people on the construction team
THE POWER OF THE DOG: BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH as PHIL BURBANK in THE POWER OF THE DOG. Cr. KIRSTY GRIFFIN/NETFLIX © 2021
An official New Zealand/Australian co-production, The Power of the Dog was written, directed and produced by Academy Award winning New Zealander Jane Campion. The film was adapted by Campion from the 1967 novel by Thomas Savage and stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Frances Conroy, Keith Carradine, Peter Carroll, Adam Beach alongside rising New Zealand star Thomasin McKenzie.
The film was shot on location across New Zealand - including the city of Dunedin, Ida Valley, Oamaru and Queenstown – with its production base in Auckland.
The production had a predominantly New Zealand crew including experienced award-winning Kiwis such as Co-producer Chloe Smith (The Piano, Ash vs Evil Dead, Black Christmas), Production Designer Grant Major (An Angel at my Table, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), Costume Designer Kirsty Cameron (Slow West, Whale Rider) and Hair and Makeup Designer Noriko Watanabe (The Piano, Top of the Lake: China Girl).
“It was an enormous pleasure to be working in my homeland with so many extraordinary Kiwi colleagues and particularly heart warming to hear my lead actors comment that they had never seen sets so well made or dressed with such incredible detail. Working with the enthusiasm and love of this crew and cast and Thomas Savage’s masterful novel was a lifetime thrill and I’m very grateful to the New Zealand Film Commission and the country for their support. I also want to give a shout out to Jacinda and her government for handling the COVID pandemic so swiftly and well because it enabled us to get back up after the lockdown and complete our film with safety and confidence unknown in the rest of the world.”
About shooting in New Zealand
The film was shot on location in the South Island of New Zealand — its sparsely populated, grassy plains and rocky mountains were a remarkable match for Montana.
Campion had initially thought she would make the film in Montana, or somewhere similar in the US or Canada, however Campion was encouraged to consider New Zealand, her home country, which has an incredibly experienced crew as well as a diversity of landscapes.
“On the second day of sniffing around the South Island, which I know well, I was taken to a property near the Hawkdun Ranges area in Central Otago. I fell in love with it. It’s so remote and it’s 360 degrees empty with an amazing hill range behind it that felt very atmospheric,” says Campion.
“Ultimately, shooting in New Zealand wasn’t a compromise, it was the best choice for us.” - Jane Campion.
Outdoor sets were designed and built by Production Designer Grant Major — including the Burbank ranch and barn.
Campion had worked previously with Major on An Angel at My Table. He had gone on to win an Oscar for his work on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The set build for The Power of the Dog was substantial; with both exteriors and interiors of the Burbank ranch and barn shot on location, as well as the Red Mill hotel set where Rose is working when she meets George. “Grant and his team just did the most amazing job with the house. Our overseas actors — Jesse, Kirsten and Benedict — all said they’ve never seen sets like it. You could totally believe in them,” says Campion.
“Having worked with Grant before, I knew how clever he is as the designer and how brilliant he is at coming up with solutions. He’s a seriously extraordinary New Zealander. He’s like the Edmund Hillary of production design — the shy, quiet achiever.”
Major equally admires Campion: “I truly respect her intelligence and sensitivity. She’s one of the world’s best directors, in my view. And from a production designer’s perspective, she’s got a really good eye. We worked through all the creative decisions together. We worked together quite intensely with the laying out of the ranch in terms of its geography, for example. Jane likes to keep things fluid for as long as she can, to have options in front of her to find the very best solution.…and not just the big things, she is very across all of the detail.”
The interiors of the barn were shot on location in Central Otago, New Zealand; while most of the house interiors were built on sound stages in Auckland.
Hundreds of locals from the South Island were used throughout the production from on-set extras, to builders and blacksmiths, providing a huge economic boost to the region. Around 20 classic cars from the 1920s had to be sourced for the production and hundreds of cattle wrangled throughout location filming.
“The Power of the Dog is yet another award winning film being made in the World of Difference that is Central Otago. Our unique landscapes coupled with film-friendly policies make for a winning combination for the film producers and the local community.”
Director of Photography Ari Wegner spent roughly a year working with Campion, location scouting, storyboarding, and developing the visual style for the film, as well as working collaboratively with Grant Major, Costume Designer Kirsty Cameron, and Hair and Makeup Designer Noriko Watanabe.
Wegner was passionate about filming in New Zealand, which offers landscapes so distinctly different from her home country. “I’ve always loved it. It’s a landscape that gives so much.”
The Power of the Dog is a New Zealand/Australia co-production that qualified for the New Zealand Screen Production Grant. It received a 40% cash grant. Find out more.
About the film
Severe, pale-eyed, handsome, Phil Burbank is brutally beguiling. All of Phil’s romance, power and fragility is trapped in the past and in the land: He can castrate a bull calf with two swift slashes of his knife; he swims naked in the river, smearing his body with mud. He is a cowboy as raw as his hides.
The year is 1925. The Burbank brothers are wealthy ranchers in Montana. At the Red Mill restaurant on their way to market, the brothers meet Rose, the widowed proprieties, and her impressionable son Peter. Phil behaves so cruelly he drives them both to tears, revelling in their hurt and rousing his fellow cowhands to laughter – all except his brother George, who comforts Rose then returns to marry her.
As Phil swings between fury and cunning, his taunting of Rose takes an eerie form – he hovers at the edges of her vision, whistling a tune she can no longer play. His mockery of her son is more overt, amplified by the cheering of Phil’s cowhand disciples. Then Phil appears to take the boy under his wing. Is this latest gesture a softening that leaves Phil exposed, or a plot twisting further into menace?
The Power of the Dog is a See-Saw Films, Bad Girl Creek and Max Films production in association with Brightstar, Te Tumu Whakaata Taonga the New Zealand Film Commission, Cross City Films, BBC Film and the New Zealand Government’s Screen Production Grant. The film is produced by Jane Campion, Tanya Seghatchian, Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Roger Frappier. The film was developed with BBC Film.
The Power of the Dog will release theatrically in New Zealand on November 11, followed by a November 12 release in Australia. The Power of the Dog will then be available worldwide on Netflix from December 1.