Speculations on Openings, Closings, and Thresholds in International Public Media
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Blog written by Patricia Zimmermann, professor of cinema, photography and media arts and codirector, Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival
The New Hollywood of global corporations wield unchecked power to command changes in labor policy beyond the US.
At least, that’s the story in New Zealand, homeland of film director Peter Jackson and his Lord of the Rings franchise.
In the multiplexes, the New Hollywood of dazzling special effects movies with limited dialogue and lots of buff young males pumps out spectacles and pumps us up with CGI displays and loud, heartbeat pulsing soundtracks.
But beyond the screen and the popcorn, the story is not so dazzling.
New Zealand native Jackson—propped up by his global media backers at Warner Brothers, MGM, and New Line--threatened to pull the next two productions of Hobbit movies out of New Zealand. Film production and actors unions had complaints about wages.
In response, what I call the Hobbitistas—young New Zealanders who support the tentpole franchise and think labor doesn't matter in the film biz—mounted small demonstrations with signs that said “We Love Hobbits” and “New Zealand is Middle Earth.”
The unions launched protests across New Zealand. They threatened boycotts of Hobbit moviemaking. So Jackson played dirty. He called in the goons.
Jackson and his megacorporation SWAT team wanted labor organized their way—without rights. They wanted workers on their productions to be considered independent contractors—NOT employees who could unionize, have rights, and secure better wages.
New Zealand legislators got scared. Jackson and his hobbits bring in $1.5 billion—1% of New Zealand’s GNP.
Imagine this scenario in Wellywood (the term for the film industry there from the city of Wellington in New Zealand): Warners Brothers, MGM, and New Line hopped across the Pacific for a two day negotiating confab with the government. They won. 66 legislators voted to change the laws in order to stoke their relationship with the Hollywood transnationals. 50 Labor and Green Party legislators voted no.
If Jackson moved production of the Hobbit franchise out of New Zealand, PM John Key worried about the impact on---get this-- tourism. The deal provides more tax rebates for media transnationals, and more partnerships to promote New Zealand for tourism. If you think a blockbuster film is just a film, you're living in the 1960s. In the 21st century, a mega production blockbuster is a franchise, a commodity chain, an economic development engine, and... a travel agency disquised as a story.
It’s a new, gnarly, complicated—and disturbing-- form of neocolonialism from the TMCs (transnational media corporations). International filmmaking is tied to GNPs. And films are more than narratives—they sell mise en scene to tourists, another source of income in the global economy.
The recent Jackson/Hobbit/Warner Brother/NZ government juggernaut also cuts open how the New Hollywood, in its quest for better and better exchange rates through runaway production, non-union labor, and cheap locations, is reorganizing below-the-line production work, global flows, and now public policy. Those clueless hobbitistas are protesting to protect global capital not labor.
Jackson might carry a New Zealand passport, but his true identity is red, white and blue global Hollywood. Follow the money on this one, and you realize the New Hollywood has a lot in common with the US military: occupations of other countries.
More links on this game-changing Jackson/New Zealand/Hobbit nexus here: