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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 3:45PM   |  44 comments
Por-Hobbit Protester in New Zealand

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:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/26/business/media/26hobbit.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-11633724

http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118026543?refCatId=19&query=new+zealand+and+labor

 


44 Comments

If we didn't believe that money controlled the current film industry before, this example is indicative of the true motives of "red, white, and blue global Hollywood." This is important to research because it shows how much money means to global politics, New Zealand took a hit on their legislation and their labour control just to make some money. Also, this story shows how little people really know and understand about what is going on around them. The hobbitistas are more interested in the entertainment being produced and the fact that the money is good for the country than the people around them you are actually working in the industry.

This stresses the need for social media. These people are very supportive of the media, and I don't mean to sound manipulative here but if we can use this trust and support to teach them about what is relevant to their individual worlds. However, there is a question to be asked about the use of social media. We can see that people are so trusting of media, and even if the media is designed to help, if people are easily convinced by it is it the right way to teach and convince people of the different sides?

I don't think that anyone would doubt that the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movies were American films.However, how much were the LOTR films New Zealands films as well? Many believe that the beautiful environments of those movies were part of what made them memorable. However, the films were made with an international cast and American money, the films did use New Zealand crew and the films received a very generous tax break from the New Zealand government. Also, the LOTR films have caused a great many films to be brought to New Zealand, including Jackson's The Lovely Bones, the Chronicles of Narnia franchise, and James Cameron's Avatar. Undoubtedly, that must bring tons of cash into the New Zealand economy. So, while I entirely disagree with Jackson's treatment of New Zealand workers as the attempt the unionize, I also feel that the "red white and blue Hollywood" has been a benefit to the country.

Don't get me wrong, I do not wish to see Hollywood stamp out worker's rights or eliminate the native cinema of New Zealand, but I also feel that by completely ignoring the benefits that Hollywood movies do bring to the country makes you miss something important. However, I find it unacceptable for Jackson, and the New Zealand government, to ignore workers rights. It is completely unethical to not give workers the right to unionize. Yet Hollywood interest in the region, especially today when coproductions rule and money for a production doesnt just come from one country anymore, should not be painted as completely and utterly wrong. Whether the negatives outweigh the positives is a different question, but there are positives to be found.

I don't think anyone has had misconceptions about how money drives the film industry, but this article demonstrates that quite well. I agree with James in that I completely disagree with Jackson's treatment of the workers as well, but I also am not sure how beneficial the "red, white, and blue global Hollywood" has been for New Zealand.

We should look past the simple entertainment value and production to empathize with the workers that help bring them together. I totally agree with the point that films "sell mise en scene to tourists" because that is one of the most important parts of the LOTR series. However, I also believe that most people view the LOTR series as American, and therefore Hollywood. The issue of unionizing is complex, and I feel not justly dealt with by the New Zealand industry or Peter Jackson.

It shouldn't be a surprise that Hollywood is now extending its global reach to preserving things like tourism, yet I am shocked by how easily those lobbyists were able to get the government of New Zealand to sacrifice the rights of their people for a slice of GNP.

The importance of tourism to New Zealand, specifically that related to Lord of the Rings, has been satirized in American TV shows like Flight of the Conchords where Hollywood references were littered across promotion materials in Murray's office. Perhaps this was a prognostication of Jackson's actions.

What do you think Hollywood will occupy internationally next??

Shawn,
I definitely think they media can be informative and teach people about an issue. However, it would be idealistic to think that will be enough. It would be idealistic to say we live in a world where the media is bias, and if you simply listen to one channel, or read one newspaper, then you could learn the facts and find out what's going on in the world. We know and can easily see this is not the case. It takes a lot of research and effort to discover what's happening with different issues because there are so many bias sources of media. I strongly believe in the importance of making audiences aware of their relationship with the media because of how manipulative media can be.

But let us not forget how enlightening it can be.

^continuation of previous comment

Media let's people from across the world have access to communication. Since the advancement of technology and media, people actually are aware of things from around the world. 50 years ago, news on a an up-and-coming photographer in france, would not have been in American news. Now we hear about those sorts of things all the time.

I believe that as long as people are aware of the unbiasedness of the media, do their own research, and are responsible with it's use, then there are very little disadvantages to it. Again, this may be being idealistic.

Kind of reminds me of how filming of "Eat, Pray, Love" actually prevented Indian natives from visiting the temple that Julia Roberts' character meditates in. What is especially disturbing about all of this is that New Hollywood has deliberately tried to construct this image of cross-cultural cooperation when cases like this often boil down to blatant transnational exploitation.

But I wonder how indicative this is of New Hollywood practices in general. As I understand it, New Zealand is quite the hot bed of shoots for action movies, especially fantasy and post-apocalyptic films. Is it unfair to attribute this exploitation of labor to just Peter Jackson and The Hobbit? This sounds like the sort of thing that has been slowly developing for a while now.

I like the idea that movies sell mise-en scene to tourists, I had never really thought of it that way before. This reminds me of how the Twilight series (books and movies) brought so much tourism to Forks, Arizona. I don't even think Forks was shown in the movies, its importance to the story was enough to strongly affect it's tourism. A documentary was even made to show how Twilight has affected the people of Forks. I think the ability of a film to affect the way people view places is seriously amazing.

Classic example of pointing the fingers at the wrong people in this case. Not to mention, making mountains out of molehills. First, the attempt to demonize Peter Jackson as a man who willingly pushes aside the rights of workers is just ludicrous. The Hobbit has been in development hell for ages, MGM has recently declared bankruptcy, and Jackson is just trying to get this movie made. The Lord of the Rings series has always been a passion for him and at a certain point he is just getting fed up with unions attempting to dictate the way he makes his film despite the fact that he is extremely fair to his non-union workers (he encouraged Warned to set up a separate profit-sharing "pot" for non union workers similar to what SAG workers get). However, if the unions weren't going to let him make his film in NZ then he'd go somewhere that would, because he wants his film made. Its already scraping the bottom of the barrel for funds, the last thing he needed was to sit around for another year or two working out the paperwork.

This post also brings up a somewhat ridiculous point that unions are good by default, maybe in the early 20th century they served a point but in the modern day film industry they do more harm than good. People act as if the fact that some of the actors or crew aren't unionized means they are slave labor... and that is obviously not the case. In the modern day, unions generally exist to collect dues from members and force ridiculous conditions on filmmakers. The Directors Guild especially is notorious for not allowing members to follow their creative vision. George Lucas (who was once a great filmmaker) famously left the DGA because they wouldn't let him eschew the opening credits to his Star Wars films. Robert Rodriguez, a hero of DIY filmmakers, left the guild because they wouldn't allow him to credit Frank Miller as co-director on Sin City.

The way I see it, the debacle over the Hobbit production was largely a power play by some Unions trying to gain some members which put in jeopardy the employment of many, many locals.

For Jackson's take on this situation I encourage others to read: http://www.movieweb.com/news/NEdSUTnLk3tRhh

Really, I'm not seeing why Jackson's at fault; in fact, I believe he was correct for desiring non-Unionized workers. For one, no Union means that the workers on the set are allowed more freedom to collaborate, rather than follow strict, predetermined roles--not unlike Auteur Theory. Further, as Mr. Ogle stated above, Unions are outmoded in today's job market and, as Dr. Zimmerman pointed out, it is no longer the 1960's, and a modern filmmaker does not need a larger group to speak for them; rather, if one does not like what they are doing, they can seek employment elsewhere. A Guild is not need to shape one's future in the industry today. Such Unions can even be effectively harmful to both it's members and the filmmakers themselves, through a "mob mentality" that perhaps not all members agree with, or keeping people employed who may not be qualified to do so. Even if it does sound Darwinistic, the truth is that not all people in the film industry (or other Unionized industries) are not as good as other, and yet they are kept on, simply by their fortune of being a member--not by their own merits.

On a side note, I would also like to point out that a film, in this dawn of emerging media, is NEVER just a film, just like a novel isn't just a novel, a TV series just a TV series, nor a video game just a video game; rather, these distinctions are being blurred. Films based upon novels, TV shows and even games come out each year. so of them bad and some of them, like Jackson's own LOTR series, fantastic. If one thinks differently, if they do indeed think that a film can be JUST a film anymore, then obviously they are living in the past themselves. Due to the blessings of international communication and access to a wide pool of information that we have received from the Internet, we are fast approaching an era in which going to a cinema to see a film is only one of numerous ways one can enjoy it. Already we have online streaming and downloads via our home PCs; even our smart phones and music players offer this function. Who knows what forms of convergence will take place within the next decade? But, to return to the point, if a film is not just a film, but also portable media or an extension of narratives and ideas from other sources, is it not unreasonable to state that it, also, can be a form of tourism? If a person is a fan of a particular director or the production that person is heading, how is it necessarily a bad thing for them to want to see it "in action?" (especially if said production generates 1% of a country's GNP)

If my words sound offended, or perhaps aggressive, it is simply because I, myself, am offended by the content of this blog; that it, through its skewered viewpoint, provokes me to aggression. Perhaps it is that I am a "hobbitista" in my own right, and that Jackson's work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy is the source of my inspiration to be a filmmaker. If that somehow marks me as a fool, then I am a fool; but nonetheless foolishness is expected of me as a naive, young film student--not from a professor of film studies. I can understand bringing up a valid point (which has been done, to more or less of an extent) but to lace such an "intellectual" posting with poisonous words and phrases as "Jackson played dirty" and "the New Hollywood has a lot in common with the US military: occupations of other countries." But perhaps laced isn't a suitable word; rather, I believe the term "saturated" or perhaps "bloated" would be more appropriate.

I voice my displeasure, here, because I am studying film to understand it from multiple angles, NOT from a singular one. We are all entitled to opinions, yes, but I truly doubt that we I signed my student loans this past summer I was signing to be taught such a narrow viewpoint of the entire cinema industry.

Make no mistake; I understand the industrialization of Hollywood, and it's favoring of financial gain over artistic; however, need these things be separate? Can not a filmmaker such as Jackson make a large-budget, blockbusting film while still expressing some greater artistic quality, or narrative purpose? I say, he's done at least three times before; why can't he a fourth?

Alexander: Thanks for the info. This has been really informative and it's good to get multiple angles on this. While I empathize with Jackson's struggle to get this film made, I'd just like to make the point that transnational exploitation does take place in the film industry, even if it may not necessarily be the case here (see my example about "Eat, Pray, Love" above).

Jonathan: I appreciate your outrage, but nobody is implying that people who like "The Lord of the Rings" are fools. The issue here is whether workers and foreign labor is being unfairly exploited and whether certain heavily backed individuals are influencing unfair political and economic practices, not whether it's okay to be inspired by "The Lord of the Rings." I mean, I consider myself a fan of "Rosemary's Baby" (Polanskitista?), but if somebody told me that Roman Polanski was a sex criminal who has used his art-house street cred and his Hollywood friends to avoid popular stigmatization, I would not take that as a personal offense against me as a filmmaker. In fact, I kind of find it personally distasteful when individuals consider thinking a work of art is valuable and having a bad opinion of the artist are mutually exclusive.

But you bring up good questions, and I guess mine are the same. But I'd also like to ask along with them, even if the case here is not nearly as extreme as Zimmerman maintains (as Alexander asserted), How much does the artistic community regulate it's own moral integrity? I mean, I'm not saying every artist in Hollywood should have been calling for Polanski's head, but, in spite of how much I love his work, his position as a prolific cinematic figure made hundreds of individuals rush to his defense as if he should, you know, somehow be absolved of his crimes just because he feels kinda bad that he got caught. How often does this kind of transnational exploitation happen? And just to make sure that nobody thinks this is me just targeting big blockbuster Hollywood films by their favorite directors, I'm talking about so-called "artists," too. How often do filmmakers get away with practices that are quite simply unfair just because of their elitist perspective that their art calls for it? I understand that this specific case has multiple sides to it, but Zimmerman's point seems to be that we as audiences think that filmmakers and their producers just sort of make movies by magic, when, in reality, tons of people end up becoming stepping stones who are treated unfairly.

@Ian: Not to be a contrarian for the sake of being one (as I agree that exploitation can and does happen in the film industry) but I fail to see how the examples you choose really emphasize that.

The "Eat, Pray, Love" example is a good sound bite for disrespectful American film crews... but the same thing would happen in the US. If a large film crew was filming in a catholic church in Brooklyn, that too would be closed down to the people who usually frequent the church. Its just business as usual, not something they've adapted to foreign markets.

The Roman Polanski example makes even less sense to me and I think it is because you were trying to bring two different arguments together. Could you please explain how what he did was an example of transnational exploitation?

Also, we really need to sort of define "exploitation" in this context because it can be a very murky thing. Does it means that the actors and crew don't get paid or get paid very little? That seems unfair to me as that is how most low-budget features have to operate. Would you consider Rodriguez's approach to El Mariachi to be exploitive?

If we say that it has to do with being paid too little, that also opens up another can of worms. Poorer countries have much lower standards of wages and so salaries are likely to reflect that, same thing happens in the US. Cost of living is radically different between say.. my home state of New Hampshire and New York City. Its not exploitive to pay people from areas with lower living costs less.

I think it can be very difficult to define what counts as exploitation, especially "transnational exploitation"

To clarify the above: I am asking what actions did Polanski engage in at any point during his filmmaking process that would be considered transnational exploitation?

I am aware that he was taking advantage of non-extradition for himself, but I'm not seeing the connection between that and his films. They are two fairly distinct things.

@Ian: I understand your concern, here, but what you are implying (and I suppose this article as well) is that Mr. Jackson is both anti-Union and seeking to exploit slave-like labor, which simply is not the case. If you had read Mr. Ogle's posted link (I'll post it again here: http://www.movieweb.com/news/NEdSUTnLk3tRhh for your convenience) you would know this; to quote Mr. Jackson himself: "Many Actors are members of SAG, but many are not — especially younger actors and many Australian and New Zealand performers. MEAA claims we are 'non-Union', but whenever we hire an actor who belongs to SAG, we always honour their working conditions, their minimum salary agreements and their residuals." I would like to underscore the "minimum salary agreements" section of that, just once more, so that all who read this understand the pay actors (and crews members I am sure as well) receive is an agreed upon, predetermined amount. If this is so, and we have no reason to believe it not be true, then how is it unfair if said employee (for lack of a more universal term) to be paid less? If they understand and agree to the terms set forth from the beginning, I don't understand how anybody is being forced to participate or not.

I think Mr. Jackson sums it up best: "Whatever damage MEAA is attempting to do — and it will do damage, since that’s their principal objective in targeting The Hobbit – we will continue to treat our actors and crew with respect, as we always have."

Reading the article posted by Dr. Zimmermann and the subsequent, whether disagreeing or qualifying the article's opinion, comments, it can be inferred that films, though often seen as art and expression, are as much about money and politics as they are about expression and art. Peter Jackson and the new Hobbit films are a perfect example of this. Your average viewer is going to go into the theaters to see the new Hobbit films expecting to be entertained. Critics will expect Jackson's vision to be worthy of J. R. R. Tolkien's writing. No one is walking into their local Regal Cinema and worrying about unionized workers and fair wages for two and half hours while staring at the silver screen. As future filmmakers we should be worried about these things. Without unions, guilds, or other such institutions our future jobs aren't safe. Why would someone hire me for a livable wage, healthcare and reasonable weekly hours if they didn't have to? Most films care about pick-up deals, lowering production pricing to increase profits, and doing it as fast as possible. It is essential for people in the industry to be able to protect themselves. Whether Jackson's films are violating rights or not, it brings the important problem that faces the film industry today, to the forefront of peoples minds.

I completely agree with the points brought up by James Earl. I feel like if you look deep enough into any industry there will undoubtedly be traces of corruption or some small injustice. However this should not take away from all of the feats that industry accomplished. Just because Hollywood is corrupt in certain ways shouldn't demerit from the industry as a whole. Still worker's rights should be valued both in Hollywood and New Zealand. The right to unionize should be innate and it seems unacceptable to take these liberties away.

Alexander: Don't worry about looking contrarian, I get what you're asking.

On the topic of "Eat, Pray, Love," I'd just like to say that if an entire congregation of people that regularly attended a Brooklyn church were denied the ability to pray and take confession because of a film shoot, and especially if they were not somehow notified before the fact of this, I would be a little put off. In the case of "Eat, Pray, Love," it seems that both Roberts' own personal security and local guards were involved in denying natives entrance, which, to me, seems like an egregious case of favoring the interests of a rich star and her posse over the hundreds of people who themselves were suitably put off. As one 21-year-old said: "What is it that they are shooting that we cannot even enter our own temple?"

In the case of Polanski, I was using that more as a counterpoint to Jonathan's post, the later half of which seemed to be more about his personal offense to the article as a fan of "Lord of the Rings" and Peter Jackson. It seemed like he was more angry at the article for suggesting that "Lord of the Rings" and Jackson's "The Hobbit" was 'not a big deal' and that its fans were readily supporting Jackson without understanding the situation. In retrospect, it seems more understandable, but his implication that he himself was heavily inspired by to seek his field because of the "Lord of the Rings" made it look like his priorities were to defend fanboyism first and address potential human rights violations second.

Jonathan, if I misinterpreted where you were coming from, I do apologize. I would not want to stick words in anybody's mouth, and obviously, from your very helpful article, there are drastically different takes on this.

To address both of you, the reason I picked Roman Polanski was to point out that it's silly to get personally offended by accusations about filmmakers that may very well prove to be fact. Calling Roman Polanski a pedophile who has avoided proper authorities (and that recent HBO documentary - as full of crap as it was - has only solidified his mythology as a victim) would not make me feel outraged just because I was inspired by "Repulsion" and "Rosemary's Baby." In the same way, one shouldn't get personally offended if Peter Jackson ends up getting accused of some pretty heavy accusations.

Just because I have this link open (thanks again, Jonathan, this is really great stuff), I'd just like to address that, as much as Peter Jackson may very well be (and seems in all likelihood to be) the unfair punching bag of some particularly venomous union groups, there is always the possibility that a director could be full of shit. I mean, Robert Rodriguez has been riding his "indie director" street cred for so long that he's become a parody of his own obnoxiousness (I like his films, but I don't like him or the attention he gets). George Lucas has proved beyond a doubt that he simply does not understand his own films. Directors, no matter how visionary, are not the sole voice of reason when it comes to art struggling to get made.

I love how Jackson himself has the cojones to say that "It's incredibly easy to wave the flag on behalf of workers and target the rich studios." Since when? Has he watched American television in the last ten years? Okay, yeah, there's a lot of demonizing corporations and the rich, but there's also a lot of the RICH GETTING AWAY WITH SCREWING PEOPLE OVER.

Reading over the link, Jackson seems on the up and up about all this. But if I were to find out tomorrow that he really was full of shit and a lying exploiter, I couldn't say I'd be surprised (Somebody who willingly makes people sit through a three-and-a-half hour movie about a giant monkey can't be that nice, can he?) And while I've basically changed my stance to about 90% pro-Jackson at this point, I'm just going to say that hearing that a major studio was getting away with exploiting labor and that droves of fanboys were ignorantly defending it still doesn't sound utterly ridiculous.

I believe that labor unions are good in order to prevent low wages and unfair treatment. Much like the employees at the Ithaca Dining Services complaint at the low wages, the employees working with Jackson felt that their wages were limited. However, if these wages were disclosed to them previous to the job, they were not totally victims.
If you know a job is low paying, don't take it
Then again, change happens when people revolt
So perhaps this movement was good in the protection of wages for film employees if they had won.

In the end, money is power and the loss of economy was too great for New Zealand to lose.

Overall i agree with Jackson on the whole situation. I don't think his intentions were to unfairly pay his crew. Unions were a great happening way back when, but the key word here is "were". Like Alexander pointed out the unions limit the freedom the crew has, and Jacksons reason may be as simple as that. Sometimes people look to literally into things.

Wow. I'm not really sure what to make of this. My experience with Unions has always been bad. My father isn't able to fire incompetent workers because of the union of the United States Postal Service, and yet I see the point of a Union as well. I'm sure most of the individuals who are going to work on the Hobbit films love their jobs and enjoy doing them, but that doesn't mean they'll just do them for the love of the job. In this economy, money has become a hugely important thing and so has having a job. It's saddening to read this article though, and see how much money is controlling this project. Also how much the country is involved in the film, I always thought that the entertainment world was a separate entity, and most of it's members in it for the freedom, this article has been a huge shock to me and I will probably have to read it several times to take it all in.

I'm not sure about the pros and cons of unions, but I think it is very clear that the motive behind all sides of this story are purely economical. Jackson wants to make a greater profit by having cheaper locations, which is obviously supported by the U.S. organizations. The New Zealand Government wants to keep the Hobbit franchise alive in its country to continue making money from the tourism industry, and the workers want to unionize so they can make a better salary. It seems like capitalism and greed is revolutionizing New Zealand, and I'm not sure how I feel about that.

I remember talking briefly about this in Film A&A class and it is equally disturbing to hear some finer details. It is truly sad that such a powerful art form as cinema is being used to promote the work of petty Hollywood sellouts. Jackson obviously has New Zealand in an uncomfortable grasp despite his origins. And who is to suffer for the dealings of capitalist Peter Jackson and his ignorant assembly of Lord of the Rings fans? It is the laborers forced to work in digital sweatshops, the little guys on the totem pole, exploited for a desire to progress their careers. Shame on Peter Jackson for not remembering his roots.

Unions do seem a bit outdated at this point. Granted, I do not know a lot about them, but from what I have gleaned from these conversations is that they are not exactly needed anymore. I could very well be wrong, but if all they do is pose tons of restrictions on the crew they don't seem needed.
I am wondering about Zimmerman's tone of surprise in her blog when she mentions that John Key wanted to keep The Hobbit in New Zealand because of tourism. This does not seem strange to me in the slightest. Of course movies sell mise en scene to tourists! As stated before, much of the LOTR movies' grandeur comes from the scenery, and of course people who saw the movies would want to see it in real life. Tourism is a huge industry, especially in a place as beautiful as New Zealand. I am wondering about Zimmerman's tone of surprise in her blog when she mentions that John Key wanted to keep The Hobbit in New Zealand because of tourism. This does not seem strange to me in the slightest. Of course movies sell mise en scene to tourists! As stated before, much of the LOTR movies' grandeur comes from the scenery, and of course people who saw the movies would want to see it in real life. Tourism is a huge industry, especially in a place as beautiful as New Zealand.

It should come as no surprise that a large corporation such as Warner Bros wanted to make a film for less money. this is the basis of capitalism, a fundamental part of society.
It is a shame that Jackson didn't sympathize with the workers, especially with the national identity connection. Its also a shame the New Zealand government couldn't reach a compromise between the workers and WB.
I don't usually find myself arguing for the large corporations but shouldn't the New Zealand production crews and actors have already organized they're unions and had wages set at the beginning of filming.
Why did they still agree to work for Jackson after the legislations decisions?
It seems to me that should only outrage them more.

It seems to me that many of the people who are posting here are missing the fact that film corporations are, just that, corporations, who's goal is to make money. If it is cheaper to hire non-union workers, then what motivation do they have to hire union workers who would cost more money, and demand better working conditions, effectively raising costs even higher.
Quite often there is no other spokesperson other than unions to represent worker's rights, as well as voice concerns. In my experience without some kind of organization there is quite a lot of room for exploitation to happen, often quietly and on the side. As Caitlyn points out, there are drawbacks to unions, however without them it seems like exploitation is quite rampant, and often hard to stop.

As far as unions go, I had no idea that this went on and it disturbs me. However, money is money and it is needed to survive. I agree with Caitlyn that the people who worked on the Hobbit films might not have loved their jobs, but had to do it in order to survive. I also agree with Ethan that no one is going to see a movie and worry about unions. They are going to the movies so they can be entertained and escape their own lives for a short bit of time. In New-Hollywood, money is power and without it, you will not be successful. It does not suprise me that New-Hollywood is expanding internationally, as well as increasing tourism in random places.

The fact that Jackson's films bring a massive amount of economic benefits to New Zealand can't be overlooked, These may be huge Hollywood productions, but one cannot bypass New Zealand's contribution to the success of the LOTR franchise, and as New Zealanders state in their protest signs, New Zealand has become Middle Earth.

What I would really like to hear are statements who have worked on Peter Jackson's crews. Has there been any claims of being treated unfairly? If the answer is no I think the MEAA is jumping into action to quickly about an issue that may not even really exist. Don't get me wrong I don't think it's okay for big names in Hollywood to take whatever they want when they want it, by means of ignoring commons workers rights, but in this case it seems as though none of the crew members have been wronged or mistreated. I feel as though the positives that the LOTR franchise give to the country outweigh the negatives. If mistreatment of the crew begins to be a problem than it may be time to take action, but hey if it's not broke don't fix it right?



I do agree with many of the comments that Unions can be seen as outdated and have more negative impacts in the work force, but I feel that the heart of this article isn't exactly about unions so much as it is trying to get readers to see that New Hollywood is more then just creating films for the love of it. Most people know how "blockbusters" have become a business but I found it really interesting when the article mention "And films are more than narratives—they sell mise en scene to tourists, another source of income in the global economy." You never really think of the potential for propaganda that films hold, however when you view a film you are viewing way more than just the story.

As for the controversy over underpaid/mistreatment of the workers on the film set of LOTR I think that this is an issue that Jackson needs to work that out with the New Zealand government and Hollywood shouldn't really have much of a say in with what goes on. There has been and always will be arguments about labor vs. pay and Hollywood should focus on what they know, which is the art form of film.


If Jackson pulls the productions of his next two Hobbit movies out of New Zealand, the film series will be altered dramatically. The scenic shots of New Zealand make the films beautiful. Without them, it would take on a completely different aesthetic. These aerial shots are not only establishing shots, but they also create the tone of the film by displaying how vast the land is. The mise en scene provided by New Zealand cannot be replicated. If Jackson were to pull his production out of New Zealand, he would alter the film series completely.

Not too long ago, it seemed everyone was under the impression that Middle Earth was going to be reinvented under the direction of renowned Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro. In a similar manner, the Middle Earth of The Lord of the Rings would be completely changed with a move outside New Zealand. I agree with what Emily Sprague stated above considering the replication of this mise-en-scene. Without New Zealand serving as the setting and source of mise-en-scene, the already constructed universe imagined by Peter Jackson would be disrupted.

It seems as though New Hollywood, like nearly every mega-corporation, is a dangerous machine whose fuel is money, whose purpose is to make more money, and who plays on the ignorance of some and the greed of others to perpetuate its existence. Its unfortunate, not only for the nation of New Zealand, but truly for humanity that it does not recognize when it signs away its rights for the almighty dollar. A block-buster movie, though it does many things (like attracting tourists) does not increase standard of living as well as worker's rights do. It is a shame that yet again, in the history of business, the rights of the poor/weak are compromised for the betterment of the rich and the powerful. Hopefully one nation, or one group will one day stand up to new Hollywood as some groups are standing up to big business here in the USA.

I agree with a lot of the previous commenters in saying that it's important to remember that Hollywood is a business. While Jackson's films are art, they are also made to make money. He comes across as a ruthless businessman because he is determined to get his project made, which is understandable. His films have done a lot for the tourism of New Zealand, and I feel like even if The Hobbit were not made there the tourism would still be strong. The beautiful backdrop is forever captured in the DVDs that hundreds of thousands own, so I don't think the country would lose as much as it seems if this film were not made there. While the country will continue to benefit from the LOTR franchise being shot there I feel like The Hobbit would be lacking if it didn't have the same mise-en-scene as the others. New Zealand adds something special to these films and it would be a shame if unions were to prevent that from happening.

This is fascinating. Peter Jackson and Co. bullying the smaller workers in the New Zealand film industry does seem vaguely ironic considering the movie series in question.

However, the fact is that New Zealand is much better off with these mammoth movies getting made still shines through. Making the movies in New Zealand is great for their film industry, business in general, and ultimately, as you said, tourism. Yes, it is bullying. But it really is an economic favor being done, and ultimately capitalism will be ruthless like that. It's not fair, but it's how Hollywood works. To me, there are worse things to be worried about around the world, even relating to film, than film crews not having rights. Better to have a job with no rights than no job at all, which would be likely if The Hobbit movies weren't filmed in New Zealand.

Let's be honest here. A hollywood, Wellywood, Bollywood, or anything -wood epic requires millions upon millions of dollars to make, and whoever is spending the money should be able to spend it in whatever way they please to complete the motion picture in/under budget. I don't think that Peter Jackson was intentionally trying "exploit" anybody, he just wanted to shoot within budget. In the Variety article posted, the problems were resolved by extending tax breaks for the film and everything is fine now with the unions. No one was hurt, no one is loosing money, NZ continues to get tourism and money, everybody leaves happy. This article is making mountains out of molehills, and if you look at other sources, it was the unions that were trying to take advantage of Peter Jackson. This blog make America and Peter Jackson sound like the Devil, in my opinion, and that is not right.

This is exactly how we prove the power of the film industry in America. Power given by money. It is kind of obvious the fact that Hollywood would find a way to produce a film for a cheaper price, even if that involves no rights for the workers. What is surprising here, is that Jackson sold his soul to the Hollywood film industry even when the workers are from his own country. We should value how beneficial is the production of these films for New Zealand.

This a very interesting story that I think highlights the disparity between large hollywood productions with projects that receive less funding. One of my good friends was born and raised in Auckland and moved to the United States when he was 15. The two things he says Kiwi's are most proud of is their world class rugby team and Peter Jackson and the "lord of the rings trilogy". People in New Zealand know how vital the franchise is to not only their economy but to their film industry as well. Yes it is a scary thought that one film franchise could attract so much national attention and persuade the government to change laws, but without the trilogy, whose to say where New Zealand would be.

A few interesting points in this post. I feel that all film makers, both beginning and experienced have rights in the industry. If jackson wants to walk out, then let him walk out. The primary worry of New Zealanders is in their tourism. Until I read this blog I had no idea that LOTR had been shot in New Zealand, I figured it was just some completely CGI'd land on a giant green screen set in hollywood. What I mean is that just because Peter Jackson isn't shooting a movie there, I still want to visit the beautiful scenery. Honestly if I were in the position of the New Zealand government, I would have some faith in my people and the beauty of my country, and tell Peter Jackson and his disrespectful, disgusting film team to pay my incredible people better or get the heck out, cause we don't need you here, but you seem to need our beautiful country.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jackson has fallen in love with this franchise. Think about this carefully. Jackson took on an overwhelming challenge when he decided to create all three LOTR chapters at once. It is unmistakable that that sense of ownership has it's dues. This is Jackson's legacy now, his responsibility to complete this story. Of course he isn't going to want to take it out of New Zealand. If I were working on a story for this long I would not want it leaving the country. New Zealand became Middle Earth. If The Hobbit were to be filmed in different locations then the mise-en-scene would not be coherent and therefore the aesthetic nature of the film would be compromised. Would the film still be as powerful to the viewer if it weren't shot on location in one of the most beautiful islands in the world?

I think the comparison to the U.S. military is disturbing, yet true. Hollywood is like just another huge corporation that is only concerned with making money. It is sad to see such a declined interest in creativity and beauty within Hollywood, but this article epitomizes the death of it. Maybe I'm biased because I am a fan of the movies and Peter Jackson himself, (except King Kong of course), but I was especially shocked by his actions. It is wrong to franchise movies, because that is all they should be: movies. There should not be a huge scheme of toys, amusement park rides, video games, and countless other paraphernalia behind big time movies. I am getting ahead of myself, because this business only applies to select blockbusters. I just do not think that it should exist at all, because not only does it single out the blockbusters, it also disregards all the other great potential films.

I completely agree that a blockbuster film today gets construed as a tourist trap. Last year while living in Savannah, Georgia, every which way is a sign with crowds of people surrounding it. When I first saw this, confused, I then learned that it was a site for the shooting of "Midnight at the Garden of Good and Evil", a 1997 film starring John Cusack and Kevin Spacey. The surrounding restaurants also receive a great deal of business from this as well. It just goes to show how much impact a film can make on its actual shooting site.

I agree that blockbuster films today are tourist traps. They make for good business to the areas around the outdoor and location sets. The locals tend to find this annoying, because towns sometimes advertise themselves on the film(s) that was/were filmed there.

I agree with Ian. I think the notion that Peter Jackson is exploiting these workers is far fetched. He is simply a director trying to make budget. Also I agree with Andrew when he explains that NZ should have faith in it's countries beauty. If LOTR is a major source of tourism then something is wrong with their tourism department.

Wow. This one certainly got everyone fired up.
I've got to agree that this entry seems to unfairly castigate Jackson. I mean, I've yet to be provided with the exact nature of this purported exploitation at all. I know that it's difficult, nay, seemingly impossible, to separate the artistry and the profitability in major motion pictures nowadays.
But has this class really taught us to discriminate a film or its maker on the sole basis of the work being a Hollywood production? That seems absurdly biased to me. It doesn't change the fact that Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings is a damned good trilogy, and one of the few--if not the only--respectable series to be made within the High Fantasy genre. And there's no denying that the films have boosted New Zealand's economy. Also Jon and Alex certainly make some good points regarding the questionability of the role of workers' unions in the present day..."union" does not automatically equate "good guys."
By no means am I trying to cover up any sort of exploitation of workers' rights; I'm merely suggesting that I've yet to see any proof that any workers' rights were exploited at all....? And that Jackson, as far as I can see, is an honest filmmaker trying to put out the prequel Fantasy fans have been eagerly awaiting.

This blog sure prompted a lot of argument! I agree that Peter Jackson is probably not the evil, greedy villain that he seems to be. The unfortunate truth of any commercial film is that the filmmaking has become a business that must bend to the will of the free market and budgeting. Like any business man, Jackson is just trying to make a maximum profit. The true villain here is the system controlling the whole film industry, even abroad. Of course, I am talking about Hollywood. I find it sad that Hollywood has such power over the movie-making franchise that it can take exploit other countries' needs for business to lower worker rights and get what it wants. I think that New Zealand tourism really does depend on the Lord of the Rings movies, and this weak point allows Hollywood to take advantage of the country.



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