The Hobbit boosts New Zealand film industry

Peter Jackson’s two-part fantasy epic The Hobbit helped New Zealand’s film industry contribute more than $2.4bn to the country’s economy in 2011, according to a new report.

Figures released this week by Statistics New Zealand detail a 4% rise over 2010’s headline figure. The Hobbit’s importance to the Kiwi economy was highlighted in October 2010 when ministers promised to rewrite the country’s labour laws and offer a $25m tax break to the Hollywood studio Warner Bros in order to ensure the Lord of the Rings prequel was shot on the same location as its predecessor.

Gisella Carr, chief executive of locations marketing agency FilmNZ, told the Hollywood Reporter the boost was not just about Jackson’s adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s childrens’ novel. “[It’s] everyone in the screen industry playing their part, whether they are working on international or domestic production, or both,” she said. “We could never have imagined the scale of these figures a generation ago. It is a testament to our screen entrepreneurs who are converting creative projects into economic headlines.”

Big-budget Hollywood films shot wholly or partly in New Zealand in recent years include Avatar, 10,000 BC, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Thirty five productions visited the country in 2011, contributing revenue of more than $563m – up 15% year-on-year. “We are holding our own internationally, the level of revenue is increasing from year to year – despite a global recession and despite the fact that much of the screen industry runs on a project basis with breaks between activities,” Carr added. “We are now starting to see trends over time, and what is emerging is a picture of consistent growth and sustainability.”

The figures, while encouraging, are still dwarfed by those of the US film industry, which generated $40.8bn in 2011. The world’s largest movie-maker is trailed by India, whose burgeoning industry is believed to contribute around $640m to the country’s economy. The Chinese film industry was worth about 16 billion yuan ($2.5bn) in 2010. The UK film industry is worth about £4.2bn ($6.7bn) annually.

The Hobbit, which will be screened in two parts, the first arriving in December this year and the second in time for the following festive season, has had a chequered path to production, prompting a steady stream of tabloid stories suggesting a “Hobbit curse”. Setbacks include the departure of original director Guillermo del Toro in 2010 after extended delays relating to studio MGM’s financial travails, a fire that destroyed a number of vital miniatures, an enormous row with a local New Zealand union which prompted the labour law changes, and Jackson’s own hospitalisation last year for surgery to treat a stomach ulcer.

The cast, including Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Elijah Wood, Martin Freeman, Orlando Bloom, Sir Ian McKellen, Billy Connolly and Stephen Fry, is now complete and the shoot for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey began just over a year ago at Stone Street studios in Miramar, Wellington, and on location around New Zealand.


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