Why action sports films can become big business

"Per capita, New Zealand and Canada are the biggest outdoorsy markets in the world."

Action sports films once featured little more than an endless reel of tricks by daredevils on skateboards and BMX bikes, but now it's a multi-million dollar genre where budgets can rival those of feature hollywood films.

Event cinemas in New Zealand are about to release a series of 12 big-budget, documentary-style action sports films. 

The venture, dubbed Action Sessions, is being pushed by Sydney-based distributor Garage Entertainment, which has the rights to distribute films from major producers in Austria and the Untied States.

Co-founder Mick Lawrence told NBR ONLINE the genre of actions sports films is about to become huge, as horror films did in the 1980s.

"All of a sudden people applied storylines and budgets, and horror grew very quickly as a category of media."

He says action sports is going through a similar phase, where budgets can be as high as $3 million – about the same as a shock horror movie.

The films are becoming more mainstream now because they are less "trick-focused", Mr Lawrence says.

"It used to be kind of action porn. Now, the producers and brands involved are requiring them to be like normal films that have a story.

"It's a bit like National Geographic meets action sports."

Mr Lawrence is confident the films will be well attended in New Zealand.

"The number of DVDs we sell and the way Kiwis consume our media tells us New Zealanders love this stuff.

"Per capita, New Zealand and Canada are the biggest outdoorsy markets in the world."

The first of 12 Actions Sessions films starts showing in New Zealand on July 29.

Titled Attack of La Nina, the 74-minute film bills itself as showcasing "the talents of today's best skiers in a journey through the snowiest winter of their lives".

Mr Lawrence says what Garage Entertainment is doing is significant because previously each film producer or brand would push their own films. But Garage has now gained the rights to all of them.

"We can select the best stories with the best production budgets and put them forward, rather than separate producers ringing cinemas or media companies pushing their films, saying 'I have one snowboard film.'

"We have a thousand," he says.

To demonstrate just how far action sports films have come from the old "trick-focused" days, a feature-length film based on the late surfer Jay Moriarity's quest to ride the Californian Mavericks will come out later this year.

Called Of Men and Mavericks, it stars Hollywood heavyweights Gerard Butler and Elisabeth Shue, and is directed by LA Confidential's Curtis Hanson.

"I'd say you're likely to find more and more stories come out of the non-fiction lives of these athletes and people that have lived in this action sports world," says Mr Lawrence.

"It's better than fiction." 

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