Also, one of last year’s Escalator projects, Existence, goes into production next week for director Juliet Bergh.

The New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) has invited 12 teams to commit to a filmmaking boot camp under its Escalator initiative, bringing it one step closer to deciding which four very low-budget films it will finance in 2011.

But there’s actually 36 projects for the government agency to choose from because Escalator applicants had to submit three ideas to be eligible; all will now be interrogated as part of a four-day workshop, then further developed before a decision is made on which four will get made for NZ$250,000 each.

Existence, one of the four films chosen last year under Escalator, goes into production in 10 days with Juliet Bergh directing a script she wrote with the film’s DOP, Jessica Charlton.

The central character, Freya, is desperate to know what lies beyond the fence that traps her and her family on an isolated, securely guarded peninsular in a dystopian future.

Mhairead Connor, who was sought out by the NZFC and is producing with Melissa Dodds, sees Existence as a re-envisaging of the story of the Garden of Eden, set near the end of humanity instead of near the beginning.

“In large part we are able to make it (for the budget) because of the generosity of the cast and crew who are all being paid the same flat rate of NZ$150 per day.”

But a key to Escalator is turning the limitations of low-budget filmmaking into assets and, in the case of Existence, this has meant carefully refining a super efficient production methodology, and pinpointing the most important elements, such as the fence.

Being based in Wellington where people have film craft skills that are among the best in the world will also help add production value, Connor added.

Writer/director Jeff Simmonds, from the latest Escalator shortlist, was planning to sell 100 shares for NZ$1,000 each to finance the action comedy One Hundred Million Dollars but has had no bites to date.

The film stars stunt actor Jed Brophy, who is currently working on The Hobbit, as an ordinary guy who accidentally gets $100 million put in his bank account and takes the money and runs.

“You can’t try to compete with Hollywood because you fail miserably … it is an action film on foot,” Simmonds told ScreenDaily..

The Eco-Terrorist, another of his films, is about an environmentalist who wins the lottery and buys a derelict Russian submarine with the intention of sinking a Japanese whaling ship.

The 12 teams are as follows:

Glen Real, Wayne Ching, Alan Dickson (Shirley and the Hungary Bear, Peter Potts and the Pear Tree, The Zookeeper’s Son)

Jeff Simmonds, Hayden Campbell (One Hundred Million Dollars, Bad Lama, The Eco-Terrorist)

Maxine Fleming, Murray Keane, Carmen Leonard (The Thing About My Brother, New Velvet High, Seven Wonders)

Corie Geerders, Brad Lincoln, Reagan Morris (CrawlSpace, Echo, Truck and Digger)

James McKnight, Henley McKegg (The Elect, The Bowen Affair, Pink Moon)

Catherine Bisley, Dallas O’Neil (There Must Be More To Love, Mountain’s Shadow, Scenic Reserve)

Tom Hern, Max Currie, Luke Robinson (Hunt. Kill. Make Love to Woman, Stealing Tommy, Sexual Transmission)

James Solomon, Guy Capper (Llama Dreams, Corona, Scouts)

Sophie Henderson, Curtis Vowell, Sarah Cook (Manhunt, Faintail, I ♥Camping)

Richard Green, Johnny Givens, Brad Haami  (Te Taipo, Te Utu o te Wairua, Strip)

Joe Lonie, Anna Geddes, Duncan Cole (The Groupie, Meanage, The T-Bone Taxi Tapes)

Arthur Meek, Matthew Saville (One in Eight, The Colour, Firehands)