The film had budget of NZ$9,235,000. It received $2.5 million from the New Zealand Film Production Fund. Additional financing came from ApolloMedia, Filmstiftung NRW, the New Zealand Film Commission and NZ On Air. Casting director Diana Rowan visited numerous schools to find an actress to play Pai. 10,000 children were auditioned before narrowing it down to 12. Castle-Hughes impressed Caro in the resulting workshop and was cast as Pai. The film was shot in Whangara on the East Coast of New Zealand's North Island and in Auckland. Producer John Barnett said "This novel was set in Whangara and it would almost have been heresy to shoot anywhere else. There are very physical things that are described in the book – the sweep of the bay, the island that looks like a whale, the meeting houses, the number of houses that are present and of course, the people whose legend we were telling. [...] If we'd gone somewhere else and tried to manufacture the surroundings and the ambience, then I think it would have been noticeable in the picture." The whale beaching was depicted using full-scale models created by Auckland, New Zealand based Glasshammer visual effects. The 60-foot waka seen at the end of the film was made in two halves in Auckland before being transported to Whangara. The waka was given to the Whangara community after filming concluded.
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