The Dominion
February 1, 2001

Soldiers' Rates as Film Extras 'Disgraceful'
Oskar Alley

The Defence Force was paid $205,000 by the producers of The Lord of the Rings trilogy for providing up to 300 staff as extras.

Figures obtained under the Official Information Act reveal that United States film giant New Line Cinema – which spent an estimated NZ$658 million on the three films – paid $205,666 for 10,459 days' work by defence staff.

NZ First defence spokesman Ron Mark denounced the cheap rates as a "disgraceful" under-charging for the army's expertise.

But the Defence Force defended the arrangement yesterday, saying that soldiers' involvement constituted training exercises in logistics and transportation.

About 300 defence staff, including 98 soldiers, were used each day as extras in battle scenes during filming at Mt Ruapehu and around Queenstown.

Mr Mark said that if each soldier worked an eight-hour day on the film, the payment worked out at $2.45 an hour per soldier.

Defence bosses should be held accountable for an "outrageous" under-charging of a "mega-rich" US studio that stood to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket sales for the three films, he said.

"The taxpayer must be told why, at a time when the Government can't afford to increase pay rates for junior ranks serving in East Timor, they are basically giving away soldiers' expertise to a film studio with deep pockets."

Mr Mark said he supported the Defence Force's involvement in the film project, given the films' tourism spinoff for New Zealand, but he could not believe how badly the Defence Force had undercharged.

A spokesman for Defence Minister Mark Burton said yesterday that the $205,666 payment was for meals, incidental allowances and transport expenses. It was inaccurate to calculate the payment into an hourly rate, because Defence Force staff involved in the project were paid their usual salaries while participating, he said.