The Hobbit Hoohah

November 6, 2010

Little Jack Warner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said, What a good boy am I!
   
         Trad.(almost)

 Warner garnered an extra subsidised plum or two and some early Christmas presents after meetings in Wellywouldbe two weeks ago to discuss the production locale for the The Hobbit, Parts I&II due for release in 2012 and 2013.

Forbes, a US publication for the financially well endowed, headlined Prime Minister John Key’s announcement   “Labor Dispute Resolved, New Zealand Economy Saved”.   Certainly the $630 million movies were worth keeping, but are subsidies the way to save the economy? Farmers and manufacturers might have a different view.

On the surface the hoohah was more Extras than Star Wars and Andy Millman would have had a field day.  JR Tolkien, now third on the current deceased entertainers earning list, would be somewhat surprised to have his children’s book in the middle of all the hoopla-and even more surprised at being treated like royalty with his latter day royalties  (Michael Jackson 1,  Elvis 2, Elvish 3).

The talent for the parallel B movie HamsTo Be or not To Be,  shot in 1D and black and white was  a line up of the usual celluloid goodies, baddies and uglies.

 Slimdog millionaire Sir Peter Jackson scored the twin roles of St Peter and a cameo reincarnation of Elliot Ness  from The Untouchables;  Robyn Malcolm aka Cheryl West was cast-and then outcast- as a gangster’s moll after she tried to crack the Whipp and get a more equitable status for her non luminary colleagues; while Helen Kelly, President of the Council of Trade Unions, played first her own father, with her personal “spoilt brat” attack on Peter Jackson, then Ginger Rogers, with her backwards  fancy  fast  footwork. Prime Minister John Key was cast as his former self, a consummate dealmaker and gladhander after coaching in how to avoid fluffing his lines.

But were bit part actors really in danger of being paid an outrageous fortune? Or as Malcolm delicately put it, no doubt harking back to her own acting roots,   “Would I really, in the words of Cheryl West, want to root my own industry?”   

It did all look a little incestuous for a while. The Government  and key industry players were afraid that the movies would go west-or maybe east-depending on the size of the filmic inducements offered. On all sides the truth was stretched further than a Hollywood limo. On TV1’s Hobbit poll the Hoi polloi was split virtually 50/50 over the Government’s hobbledehoy  approach.

Labour couldn’t be too critical. They’d been big Lord of the Rings patrons. Pete Hodgson, one time Minister of LOR, could still land a role in Hobbit I as the Wizard of Was without the need for any makeup.

It was not just multinational Warner versus battling Kiwi actors. The union boycott also had an international aspect too with the temporary presence of Australian actors union import Simon Whipp who tried to whip up a frenzy using the high profile target of Peter Jackson. All he did was provide a convenient whipping boy for the government.

It was hard to be immune to Ian Mune’s  grizzled actor charms in a post-Paul Henry Breakfast  appearance. His Chicken Little piece put the industrial relations issue into perspective. The sky was not going to fall if there were good faith discussions on pay and conditions and on getting a fair suck of the residual royalties sav.  The players needed to be wary of being outfoxed (or, in this case, outwarnered) while clutching their heads and running for cover.

The game of chicken was suddenly halted  but it was too late. The attempted union boycott had handed Warner the plump plum duff on a plate. They wanted and got a guarantee that future industrial action would not jeopardise the Hobbitt productions. The law change from employee to independent contractor was faster than Burt Munro and suited the chief suits if not the thespian Indians.  But other factors, especially the higher kiwi dollar and subsidy sweeteners, weighed more heavily in the likely balance sheet . The main creative talents  of Hollywood  are exhibited by accountants and their legal sidekicks. It’s all about the money, stupid.

Given to quick decision making, Jack Warner once commented, “If I’m right fifty-one percent of the time, I’m ahead of the game”-a sentiment with which our dealmaker  PM would be quick to concur. The film industry is worth about $3 billion a year and could have sunk like the Titanic if the Hobbitt production been shifted, though Titanic producer James Cameron has just announced that Avatar 2 is set to be filmed in New Zealand.

All this helps the tourist industry, all though just how much and in which ways, is debatable. Middle Earth at the bottom of the globe (or the top, if you refer to the Wizard of Christchurch’s upside down map) will attract new tourists to have a gander at parts of wan Gondor land as well as some remnants of Gondwanaland.

The DVDs of the two Hobbit movies will have an NZ tourist promo. At least there will be people in both even if the long and the short of it is that some will be vertically challenged.  But even a population of hobbits is in stark contrast to some of the pristine people-less 100% Pure New Zealand avid advids which have sublime sets but no human stars, let alone any extras.

Of course, in an age of computer generated special effects  live actors and natural scenery are being augmented and in some cases replaced digitally. The film industry  provides young IT people with a marvelous mix of creative projects and deadline discipline at Weta Workshops and elsewhere working on big budget movies with a high quotient of digital visuals.

This burgeoning  industry must have been a big if unstated factor in keeping the Hobbits here and points to the real salvation of the New Zealand economy: productive innovation through teamwork and technology. The presence of such a creative and productive digital galaxy, built up through the LOR trilogy and other big budget blockbusters, is a great asset for the future-and not just for movies-when the Hobbits are history.

Now Secretary of State Hillary (not President) Clinton has come and gone, apart from the defence effects of the still unclear nuclear policy thaw, the big question is how far did the PM get behind the scenes  with advancing a free trade timetable? This is much more important to the country’s  future economic strategy than  domestic subsidies  piled on thick like a premiere red carpet.

Middle Earth has already done the deal with the Middle Kingdom but a free trade agreement with the USA would really be The Deal of the Century .

Perhaps the APEC meeting next weekend will get the Asia-Pacific free trade ball rolling faster.  Russia might even want to play.

Relevant Warner  Movies
The Country Kid meets the Gold Diggers,  The Big Shakedown  Dark Victory  Looney Tunes  Yankee Doodle Dandy  Damn Yankees , Dirty Harry  A Piece of the Action  The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu   Independence Day  Risky Business  Deal of the Century  Strictly Business  The Hudsucker Proxy  Godzilla Raids again  Free Willy 3: The Rescue  The Devil’s Advocate  Eyes Wide Shut  Looney Tunes: Back in Action  Superman Returns  Cop Out  Clash of the Titans   

  *BLINKS
The Hobbit, Part I (2012, co-production with New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films and Spyglass Entertainment)
The Hobbit, Part II (2013, co-production with New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films and Spyglass Entertainment)
http://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/film/4268360/Why-would-I-      want-to-root-my-industry 
http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/4279251/Jackson-I-feel-enormous-gratitude [see poll results]http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/4280779/Hobbits-its-all-about-the-money 

 #Lyall Lukey 6 Nov 2010
http://www.lukey.co.nz/  http://www.smartnet.co.nz
https://bluggerme.wordpress.com  My other blog

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