NZ to be rein-Hobbited as PM agrees to law change

New Zealand is so desperate to be the location for the new Hobbit film that it's changed its tax and employment laws...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 27 Oct 2010
While we're all worrying about cuts and growth here in the UK, down in New Zealand the fates of goblins and elves are at the top of the political agenda. There was an uproar in the Land of the Long White Cloud after filming of The Hobbit, the $500m prequel to the Lord of the Rings, was threatened by an industrial disputes involving actors’ union. But after two days of ‘crisis talks’ with Warner Brothers, the country’s Prime Minister, John Key, says filming has been saved - because he's agreed to relax labour laws and give Warner Bros a tax break. Call us cynical, but can you imagine that happening in Watford?

The terms of the original dispute are so complex they might as well be written in Elvish: apparently, the New Zealand branch of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance of Australia had accused the film's producers of refusing to give it the right to negotiate over pay for its members; but the government said the producers were under no obligation to do so under New Zealand law. So the union called on its members to boycott the film, while the film’s director, Sir Peter Jackson, threatened to move filming to another location (one of the suggestions being that well-known Middle Earth-esque beauty spot, Watford).

However, this caused uproar in New Zealand, with lots of outraged Kiwis taking to the streets in protest. Their eagerness to keep the films is understandable: the original $3bn-grossing trilogy has been a massive boon to the country's tourism industry (now its major earner), and has even created a film industry in the capital Wellington (or ‘Wellywood’, as it’s naturally known). So losing the Hobbit may have cost the country a fortune.

So, with admirable pragmatism, the NZ government has agreed to change its laws to accommodate the pitter-patter of tiny, hairy feet. There'll be new legislation to give greater protection to workers, a $7.5m tax break for Warner by way of thanks, and even a $10m government contribution to the marketing department. This might seem generous, but the country is clearly deseprate to protect two of its most profitable exports, and tell the world that it's very much open for (Hollywood's business). Something for the Coalition to think about there, perhaps...

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