— When “The Lord of the Rings” debuted in theaters in 2001, it not only
introduced to the big screen the fantastical world of wizards, hobbits
and orcs, but it also put
The Academy Award-winning trilogy ushered in a hit
franchise for New Line Cinema, employed thousands of crew members,
spurred a tourism industry called the “Frodo economy” and, thanks to
breathtaking landscapes along with low-cost labor, established
“It’s a source of pride that we’ve built an international industry here and we have long-standing relationships with the
chief executive of Film New Zealand, a group that helps filmmakers find
locations. “We’re talking about an industry which is growing faster
than any other sector of the economy.”
But that growth could be severely stunted,
ironically because of a brawl between the man most credited with
building up the industry —
partner Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer recently greenlighted production of “The
Hobbit,” which has had a history of setbacks that delayed shooting for
years. But the studios have threatened to move the two-picture project,
which is scheduled to begin filming in February, after a dispute with
New Zealand Actors Equity.
With the support of an Australian actors union, the
group mounted an international campaign to press for union wages and
work rules for
performers, who work as independent contractors. Even after the unions
called off their boycott, producers of “The Hobbit” said they were
still considering filming elsewhere.
“The damage has been done,” Jackson warned ominously in a statement.
The prospect of losing the
so-called screen industry employs 7,000 people and supported 2,673
companies in 2009, up 30 percent from 2005. Most of the growth has been
in the digital graphics, animation and effects business, where revenue
in 2007, according to a report from Statistics New Zealand. The largest
of the players is Jackson’s Weta Digital, which did most of the effects
Economic Development Minister
“It’s a dreadful situation, and it’s going to take a
bit of work to even get future productions into good shape,” Brownlee
told a New Zealand TV station.
For a country that enjoys a reputation as one of the
most peaceful and bucolic on the planet, the fracas over “The Hobbit”
triggered the kind of protests seen more on the streets of
This week, more than 2,000 actors, crew members and technicians marched in the capital in support of keeping the films in
Executives at Warner and
There would be no shortage of potential suitors. In
a global marketplace where countries try to outdo one another with tax
breaks and other incentives aimed at luring filmmakers,
“Other countries have everything to gain from a dispute in
Carr said recently. “International productions can take their pick of
where they film in the world, and everyone wants a picture like ‘The
Hobbit.’ It’s a buyer’s market.”
offers a 15 percent rebate toward qualified production costs on major
films. Other selling points include stunning vistas, a top-notch
visual-effects industry and low production and labor costs. The
California Milk Advisory board shot a series of “Happy Cows” TV
The hand-wringing over the fate of “The Hobbit” is
understandable, especially given how much the country profited from the
“Lord of the Rings” films. The three “Rings” movies pumped
into the economy and employed 50 principal actors, hundreds of crew
members and more than 15,000 extras, or about 0.4 percent of the
The trilogy spawned a burgeoning tourism trade and paved the way for a number of other high-profile productions to shoot in
is producing “Spartacus,” said he was “keeping an eye” on the labor
dispute but said his company had had good experiences in the country.
“There are a lot of great professionals there, and we’ve been building a base of talent there for a number of years,” he said.
Carr said she was hopeful the labor dispute wouldn’t
hurt the country’s standing among filmmakers. “In the short term, there
may be some concern about whether
reputation as a filmmaker’s paradise and an easy place to do business
is going to change, but I’m confident that our reputation won’t be
affected in the long term.”
(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.
Visit the Los Angeles Times on the Internet at http://www.latimes.com/.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.