October 25, 2000
Burton Silent on Lord
of the Rings Army Contract
The veil of secrecy surrounding the filming of Peter
Jackson's Lord of the Rings ha sparked a political stoush over the use of about 250 army
soldiers on the project.
Defence Minister Mark Burton, tackled by politicians about the extent of defence staff
involvement, is refusing to divulge full details, prompting claims that international film
company New Line Cinema has been gifted the army's significant support for a song.
NZ First defence spokesman Ron Mark said yesterday that cash-strapped defence bosses had
blown an excellent money-raising opportunity by allowing soldiers to be used to build
roads and star as extras in the film trilogy.
He had tried to obtain details from Mr Burton about the costs and man-hours spent on the
trilogy but Mr Burton refused to answer, citing a confidentiality agreement with the film
Mr Burton's limited answer reveals that up to 250 soldiers a day would have been allocated
to the film project, which the defence force had dubbed Operated Token. The budget for the
film trilogy has reportedly swelled to about $645 million, but the producers are getting
the army's services for just the food, incidental allowances and transport costs incurred.
Mr Mark, a former soldier, said he did not have a problem with the army's involvement. But
he said defence bosses had blown an excellent opportunity to charge for what was, in
effect, a massive commercial role being filled by the army.
"It's amazing. The army is so cash-strapped and yet they are giving away this
important service, basically for nothing," he said.
"Maybe it's called Operation Token because they only gave token consideration to the
It was also unacceptable for the Government to refuse to supply an MP with valid requests
for operational information, Mr Mark said.
But a spokesman for Mr Burton said the minister was hamstrung by the confidentiality
provisions, which had been agreed to by the previous government.
"This thing was signed, sealed and delivered by the time this Government got
in," the spokesman said.
National MP Max Bradford, the defence minister who oversaw the deal, dismissed Mr Mark's
concerns as "silly" yesterday.
"I think it's a very silly complaint. What we tried to do was make it as easy for
these guys [the film producers] as possible. The economic windfall from this project is
huge and the soldiers would have been paid anyway.
"We didn't oppose their secrecy provisions because we didn't want to make a song and
dance about it. End of story," Mr Bradford said.