by Lindsay Shelton
It was unprecedented when Peter Jackson made his decision to stay in Wellington instead of moving to Hollywood. Up to that time, every New Zealand filmmaker who had earned international recognition had been persuaded to move offshore. Jackson was different. Moving to Hollywood was “something I have always resisted,” he said in the mid 90s. And from his Wellington base he created three feature films which became three of the biggest international successes of all time. But now he’s saying “If we can’t make films in our own country, then what hope is there really. We may as well not live here.”
There’s been a last-minute rush to acknowledge the importance of trying to keep his two Hobbit films in New Zealand. Tourism New Zealand, suddenly remembering the huge increase in overseas visitors which was generated by The Lord of the Rings, said yesterday it would be deeply disappointed if the films were shot somewhere else.
The government is offering last-minute intervention. If one believes today’s DomPost, the Prime Minister has been checking on possible changes to employment legislation to offer more security to the American production company which is financing the two films and which has been spooked by the union’s campaign.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be blaming our actors. When we watch them working, they are always given well-developed scripts. But in the Hobbit mess, they’ve been woefully short of these. At first they denied the existence of the international boycott. Then yesterday they issued a convoluted statement in which they said they were withdrawing it.
Part of their announcement was contradicted by the American production company. In a statement published this morning, it says it’s been waiting “almost a month” for the international boycott to be lifted. The producers’ association has also contradicted some of the actors’ claims.
CTU president Helen Kelly hasn’t helped. Her branding of Sir Peter Jackson as a “spoiled brat” was ill-chosen. Today she seems to be reconsidering, telling John Drinnan in the New Zealand Herald “it’s hard to go up against a legend.” Not just a legend. He’s done far more for the New Zealand economy than the president of the CTU.
Equity’s competence as an industrial negotiator has been challenged this week by media commentator Russell Brown. He points out that Irish Equity has achieved the employment law change which it wanted, “not by brinksmanship, boycott, or targeting high-profile productions,” but by working out what needed to happen, and working efficiently towards it.
Unlike the actors, Wednesday’s film industry marchers understood that the back-to-back Hobbit shoots would have a huge impact on local employment.
Consider what the Financial Times reports about the British studio which is now being considered for the two films. The studio accounts for 25-50 percent of the UK’s inward investment in film production. Its American owners (the same people who are financing The Hobbit and who will be in Wellington next week to make final decisions on locations) aim to make it a production hub which would provide a platform for employment growth and wider benefits within the local economy/local community. The studio is central to long-term plans to invest in the local production community, to create local and industry employment opportunities.
Sounds just what Wellington was expecting, from The Hobbit.