The NZ director, Peter Jackson, isn’t the first to tackle Tolkien’s trilogy. This introduction to LOTR was a radio version, broadcast by the BBC in the 1980s
And back in 1978 animator Ralph Bakshi stuck half of the story into cinemas, but never concluded the epic because of poor audience returns.
Now it’s the turn of Peter Jackson. Already glimpses of the production have been unveiled on a website.
(excerpts from preview)
But secrecy surrounds the filming, and any information or access to the cast is carefully controlled. Anyone who works on the project must sign a confidentiality agreement.
But one thing that can’t be kept secret is the amount of money that LOTR is generating. The budget for the film is about $360 million (NZ) one of the largest overseas projects ever to come here. So into whose pockets is the money flowing and by how much do New Zealanders stand to benefit?
"Apart from the huge amount of money that will come into the country, there’s obviously employment for large numbers of people."
"We’ve probably had about 3200 to date. On average we’re typically dealing with about 1000 employees, plus extras."
"The financial gain we’ve made out of it so far is tremendous, great atmosphere, and many people are delighted."
It’s not only the financial impact that’s important: how has bringing Hollywood to New Zealand, or rather constructing Middle Earth extended the film infrastructure here, and has it done anything positive for the financially-struggling domestic film industry. In today’s Insight I’ll be looking at the ring of gold surrounding the trilogy, and what it actually means for businesses around the country.
"We’ve got machinist and knitters and weavers and leather workers, glass-blowers at times, painters and sculptors, we’re making tapestries, the list goes on."
That’s producer Rick Porris, who’s from Northern California, but now lives in New Zealand. He’s one of Peter Jackson’s right-hand men in LOTR.
The film is being financed by the US production and distribution company, New Line cinema, a subsidiary of Time Warner. It’s putting up $130 million $US. With the weak kiwi on foreign exchange markets, that translates to around $360 million New Zealand dollars, and in any currency, makes it the second-most expensive movie production ever.
The top five look like this:
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace $217m
In comparison, New Zealand movies are minnows.
The Frighteners $28m
The Piano $10m
Heavenly Creatures $3.7m
What becomes of the Broken-hearted $5m
Once Were Warriors $2m.
Peter Jackson says 90% of the Rings budget, that’s $324 million, will be spent in New Zealand. 60% of that is expected to go on salaries.
Paul Frater, the director at Innovation Systems, at Business and Economic Research Ltd (BERL) says the production represents a significant export order.
"The rule of thumb for that that’s being spent locally is 2 to 1; for every dollar spent there’ll be another dollar of income elsewhere in the economy. That may or may not be true in this case, we honestly don’t know. We do have data on what productions spend in NZ, but not for productions that are financed as this one is. It’s an international production, on a very big scale, and normally not a lot of the work that is being done here would be retained in NZ; it would go back offshore. So this would be a first – we don’t know, and we’d have to find out.
Jackson’s studio facilities are based here, in the Wellington suburb of Miramar., a flat area of land near the airport. In addition to Jackson’s Camperdown studios, there is also Weta Digital, home of the Rings computer special effects, and Weta Workshop, responsible for creature effects, make-up, armour and miniatures. It means that the suburb has had an influx of cast and technicians, many of whom use the local businesses and shops.
James Ring and his wife Lynette changed the name of their café from The Penny Bun to well, what else, The Rings Café.
"It’s made a lot of difference, it’s been good. We hope they stay on for a few years yet. I think they’re supposed to stay on for a while yet."
"Can you quantify it?"
"Oh, probably a few hundred dollars a week, which has been good. It’s been what we’ve needed, because it’s been a bit quieter otherwise."
Down the main street, two petrol stations are bang next door to each other. Only one has The Lord of the Rings account.
"Definitely more traffic. With 200-odd cars it’s pretty good. It’s worth hundreds of dollars."
Around the corner and in the video stores, staff have been lucky enough to meet some of the overseas stars.
"We’ve actually had Liv Tyler come in, and what’s-his-name, Elijah Wood, so we’ve had, like, all the superstars come in. Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, Joy Luck Club is a foreign film, popular one as well. They go for the old ones as well, like the science fiction ones. Or the new releases. They don’t go for the ones that they’re in, I know that!"
And in the liquor store, the production staff and crews have become familiar faces, with a Gollum’s nose for good wine and expensive champagne:
"They’ve come in and they’ve bought certain products because they’re celebrating end of a shoot or someone really important is arriving from overseas, and they’ve come in and bought champagne for them . . ."
"The very best French champagne?"
"Yes definitely. It can range anything from $70 through to $90 a bottle. . . . They know their stuff."
The influx of people into Miramar for 12 months or more has also had an impact on the real estate business.
"There has been a great demand for rental accommodation, obviously, in the past few months. It has pushed the prices quite high in the rental side, and also in the investment side – lots of people have bought and are still buying residential accommodation in order to rent them to LOTR people."
"They love views and sun, that sort of thing, somewhat secluded too. I was talking to one of the ladies who actually does the rentals for the company, and she said they’ve got something like 60 properties on their books, so you can imagine – you take 60 rental properties away from the market; it doesn’t leave a lot of room for everyone else.
Film-making has become big business for Wellington. City Council figures suggest that last year the value of the region’s film exports was nearly four times larger than the whole of the country’s wine exports. Mayor Mark Blumsky says the region now makes the largest percentage of films produced in New Zealand, having taken over the number one ranking from Auckland.
"We’ve worked out here that the implications on our economy are about $600 million, having LOTR for the period of time, and the flow-through flow-on effects of those new businesses that have sprung up because of that film, we’re targeting quite easily 600 million dollars."
The three movies of the trilogy are being shot back-to-back over a period of 18 months or so. About half of the schedule is being based at Camperdown Studios in Miramar, Wellington, and the remainder on location in the central North Island and South Island.
Phil Frater from BERL says the multiplier effect or the value chain of spending on the economy will be different from region to region. "It will obviously different in a region like Wellington where the film industry’s got a long, long value chain as opposed to filming on the side of a mountain. But in terms of the economy for a rural district, obviously the spend is very big.
Film shoots have already taken place in the Waikato, the Upper Hutt region, Wellington, Queenstown and Ruapehu. In discreet areas sets of Middle Earth can be glimpsed, and in the Ruapehu district small figures have been seen dressed in medieval-type armour on the rocky side of the volcano.
Last year Queenstown became the base for filming, and again, local businesses benefited.
[Taxi co.] "They were wonderful for business, mainly because of the added people down here, obviously kept the drivers busy, which always keeps everybody happy, and the impact on the town was really good."
In Wanaka local businesses also received a short-term benefit when the local airport was used to fly in around 60 film crew and their equipment. But Tim Johnson, the manager of the airport, says its use pointed to its potential:
"There was a big Convair, a twin prop-jet Convair owned by Air Chatams, and the Origin Pacific jet-stream aircraft came in as well. I met the pilots of both those aircraft, and they remarked how suitable Wanaka would be for their operations. So I think that there’s a real opportunity to bring in charter flights of ski passengers, and some of those planes can fly direct from Auckland, for example. There’s the ability in the future to fly into Wanaka at night-time, which is not possible in Queenstown because of the terrain, which means people can get on the skifields first thing in the morning.
All of the regions where filming for LOTR has taken place expect to capitalise on tourists due to the natural promotion of the scenery in connection with the film.
[the Hobbit motel]: "We have got most of our hotel units booked for the film crew, but we did hold some back for regular customers, and we’re finding that they’re filling most nights as well."
Tourism NZ, the new face of the tourism board, strings together attractive shots of the countryside on this promotional video. The country is already experiencing its highest number of international tourists. In March almost 153,000 people visited NZ, a jump of 5% on the same month last year. Each of the top three markets, Australia, the US and the UK are countries which could reasonably be expected to have large audiences for LOTR.
George Hickton, the Chief Executive of Tourism NZ, says there’s no doubt that films pull people in:
"People simply see it as a reinforcement of what the country has to offer. And it’s more inclined to motivate them to come to NZ now, if we’re starting to see more films made in NZ, if we are able to continue that trend or increase it, it can only do us good. It really is, in effect, free advertising for the country. And NZ scenery speaks for itself, so if it can speak through films such as this, it will just add so much value to what we’re trying to do."
In the Ruapehu district, Mayor Weston Curton is also counting the short and long-term benefits of filming LOTR:
"We were guessing that it was in excess of a million to a million and a half dollars – that is yet to be determined. But we know that there could well be up to 200 people in the area at any one time, and a lot of people are flying in on a daily basis. Certainly it is giving a real boost to the area, a morale boost for a lot of the operators, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, when it doesn’t duplicate the likes of the ski season. Where it had been quite lean for many of these operators, it turned out to be a good cash input."
Mr Curton also believes that the area has a good future for further film productions, but he’s concerned that Department of Conservation restrictions could have stopped the whole plot.
"A month or two ago there was a British film company coming over wanting to do a documentary, and once they saw the management plan and talked it over with DOC, they walked away from it. And even though it wasn’t public, that really reflects what has happened in the past, that people come and go. I think it’s astounding that here we are trying to progress as a district, trying to get people interested in the world heritage park, but only to be told that they can only do it under certain criteria."
Paul Green from the local conservancy of the Department of Conservation disagrees:
"There are some people in the community who perhaps don’t fully value the principles of the management plan and the sort of values that the national park indeed can bring to the community, over being there in its most appropriate form for hundreds of years."
The Management Plan, like any other of the national parks, has a list of restrictions which apply to anyone using the area. In addition, LOTR had to agree not to use any helicopters or horses. Had they not done so, it was a real possibility that filming there would have been canned.
It’s widely acknowledged that Peter Jackson’s commitment to NZ made the filming of LOTR a reality here. So has the local infrastructure, and the local skill base, been up to it?
[extract from BBC LOTR]
Of the many demands of the production, finding thousands of extras to play elves, hobbits and orcs, turned out possibly to be the most straightforward. Robert Bruce runs a talent agency in Auckland, and says he was inundated:
"The phone was running hot all the time. I had a lot of ex-pat kiwis calling me from the other side of the world".
Chris Watson, film lecturer at Massey University’s English Department, says lots of his students have been involved as extras:
"For many of these people, it’s never going to be their life’s job, but it gives them an insight into how film works. Anything like that greatly increases their understanding of what you‘re telling them, so it’s of huge benefit in learning terms."
Alison Enwright from the union for actors, Actors Equity, says while the supply of actors has not been squeezed for LOTR, that’s not true for crew.
"What happens for actors is that they tend to work for only a very short period of the overall production, whereas your photographers and gaffers and set-makers, they tend to work for the entire length of production, so it’s been more of a problem for crew."
"Lord of the Rings is using in excess of 300 crew in quite a wide variety of craft areas; that’s everything from the accounts department through to camera, lighting, sound, the art departments. In NZ features films we have a crew of 20-45 people."
If crew have been stretched in terms of numbers, their kiwi ingenuity wins them praise from Rings producer Rick Porris:
"Kiwis are an ingenious group. I’m finding it pretty great. If there’s a problem there’s always a good quick lateral solution to it. It’s not like people get dumbfounded very often, so that’s been cool."
The local skill base is also improved. David Madagan, from the Technicians Guild:
"LOTR has provided a great opportunity for the technicians, particularly in Wellington, to get a good substantial amount of work and that also means that they’ve had the ability in some of their craft areas to also build up their infrastructure in terms of equipment."
No matter how good kiwi ingenuity is, though, it cannot provide complicated skills from scratch.
[Elijah extract from preview]
Weta Digital, of which Peter Jackson is a partner, is responsible for the elaborate visual effects demanded by the trilogy.
[PJ extract from preview]
Weta Digital was created for the 1993 film, Heavenly Creatures, but for LOTR has had to employ at least 25 extra specialist staff, many of whom are from overseas. Producer Rick Porris:
"It just becomes a numbers game, when you’re doing as many effects as we are. For as great as the labour force is here in NZ, there are occasionally only so many people, and that goes well with Weta Digital – you can’t have the complete company working just with kiwis because there aren’t enough people who have had that level of experience, worked on big digital effects movies.
Another significant input to the local film infrastructure provided by the LOTR has been the purchase of the national film unit from TVNZ by Peter Jackson.
"Peter effectively had to buy the film unit – I’m sure he didn’t particularly want to own the film unit, a lab and a post-production facility, but the risk was that it would be lost to NZ, and he couldn’t afford to take that risk, because he needed it to be able to make his film here." (Ruth Harley, the Chief Executive of the Film Commission.) Without the purchase, local film-makers would have had to finish their films in Sydney.
Until the recent announcement of a $22million film fund, domestic film-makers have always conceded they will struggle financially. Ruth Harley says the filming of LOTR hasn‘t changed this, but may have changed the climate for local film-makers:
"LOTR doesn’t in itself produce that money, but I think that it does marginally improve the international climate for NZ film-makers raising money, and I think that it has undoubtedly improved the vertical climate for NZ film-makers."
The talent agent, Robert Bruce, who has placed at least eight actors in LOTR, says the pay-rates for the trilogy are good. This, he says, compares with local production where pay has either stood still or declined The NZ Film and Video Technicians’ Guild says that although pay-rates for crew members on LOTR are lower than for Vertical Limit, they are pleased to be working on the project because it’s a long-term engagement. However the Guild’s president, Robert Madagan, believes that elsewhere there is some criticism:
"We’ve had some indications from some people who aren’t our members that there are fringe areas where people aren’t really being paid particularly well. I suspect they are more in the art department areas – costume manufacture and prop-making and things like that, and it’s quite probably that people are finding that that is actually very hard work, and the rewards aren’t that great.
With more than 3000 people required for the filming, has that made it harder for local productions to gain access or hold onto human and technical resources? Ruth Harley, the Chief Executive of the Film Commission, does not believe so:
"At the moment there are four NZ films shooting – by NZ films I mean small-scale indigenous films -- in NZ at the moment. I don’t think that there has ever been four films shooting simultaneously in the past ten years! And that’s at the same time as LOTR, so show me the problem!
With few negatives while the filming is going on, the problem could be when it stops. Paul Frater, the director of Innovation Systems at BERL, says that the end of production is going to be a wake-up call for the communities that have seen filming, especially Wellington. But he says there could be knock-on effects:
"What we have seen is that a whole lot of other production companies in Wellington have been winning more work as well, and the city has identified film as an industry in which it wants to make its mark and become a recognised international centre. So this is one of the things that adds to the multiplier, if a city starts to build extra capacity, extra studios etc then obviously the multiplier is stronger, and that has happened in Wellington."
Walking through the centre of Wellington it’s not immediately apparent that it’s attractive as a film centre. But Mayor Mark Blumsky says attitude is as important as location:
"We’re very much being as film-friendly in our policies and our parking, and our street opening, just to list a few of the ways we are being very useful and helpful to the film industry."
Other regions have also recognised the economic benefits of attractive film productions. The Queenstown/Lake Districts council, and Enterprise Waitakere are another two councils which have film-friendly policies.
Shirley-Anne Evans, in charge of special projects at the Queenstown local authority, says that although there’s been an understanding that the film industry is big business, there hasn’t been a lot of understanding yet of how it works:
"It has probably taken us longer than it should. But I think that what’s happening now is that some good research is going into it, people are having some understanding of exactly what the film industry means, and also it’s become – sorry to use the word – but we’ve become very sexy, the film industry has become very sexy. We’ve had two very big productions in NZ, with LOTR and Vertical Limit, and everybody’s wanting to find out how these things work, and how they can actually make some money out of it."
The Queenstown Council is now involved with the NZ film cluster, an informal grouping of Wellington City Council, Enterprise Waitakere, Dunedin City Council, and Christchurch, which according to Film NZ, generate 98 percent of the film location work in this country. Mark Blumsky, Wellington’s mayor, says coordination, rather than individual jockeying for overseas film productions, is essential:
"Wellington becomes a bit irrelevant in the scheme of things – it’s New Zealand. And if we get NZ film right, we get NZ as a film location, then we, because of the work we’re doing on our infrastructure and our film friendliness, we will naturally pick up more than our fair share."
Shirley-Anne Evans from Queenstown/Lake District council says LOTR and Vertical Limit will make people predisposed to the region:
"We are developing a critical mass, and yes I think that there will be a positive spin-off, but I don’t think that major movies like this come along very often. If we get another major movie like Vertical Limit within the next 5-10 years in Queenstown I think we’ll be lucky. Sure we’ll get some small ones, but not big big ones like those two."
The potential for attracting more films to the regions had a boost with the announcement by the Prime Minister, Helen Clark of the film fund. She believes the $22m will encourage the local film industry:
"As well as having the foreign films come in to be filmed here we’d like to build up the local industry, and we really do see in this area, as in the popular music area, huge commerical potential for export earnings."
Jane Wrightson, the Chief Executive of the Screen Producers’ and Directors’ Association, or Sparda, is also predicting bigger and better NZ movies:
"In short it’ll make more movies. It’ll make more movies and bigger budget films. It will allow producers and directors to do second or subsequent films much more simply, and the domestic injection means that it will then be easier to go offshore and get the balance in foreign funding."
The filming of LOTR has already been significant for local businesses, and has prompted local councils to make film-friendly policies. Now with the film fund offering the promise of more productions around the country, those connected with the industry are brimming with optimism:
"We’ve got strategies in place that hopefully will encourage other movies to be made here, whether they be the size of LOTR, or the $100m mark, which would be neat, or even the $4-$5m NZ ones, which we’re quite excited about, creating the infrastructure for them."
"Nationally we seem to be recognised as a place where we have a film identity, we tell a certain type of story. It augurs well for the opportunity to get into this kind of entertainment industry."
"It makes a difference in terms of what NZ film-makers can aspire to. It makes a difference in terms of what the NZ film-makers who have left NZ might see as the opportunity to return to NZ. And I think it makes an enormous difference to the way in which offshore financiers and studios see NZ. They now see NZ as having a cast and crew base of sufficient talent that NZ becomes a viable option for them, whereas previously they probably didn’t know where it was, most of them".
[extract from preview]
Sharon and Beren, thank you very very much!