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The Evening Post
April 26, 2002

Rings Lifts NZ Film Ranking
Staff Reporter

Kiwi film crews are no longer just "Mexicans with cellphones".

That's what they've been derogatorily labelled in the past, but now a new study shows New Zealand's ranking for film-making ability may well have risen to a level to match the likes of Ireland.

And that's just one peg below Australia, says the report into the lasting effects of The Lord Of The Rings project, done by the NZ Institute of Economic Research study for the New Zealand Film Commission.

Rings film maker, Miramar's Peter Jackson, made available some data from the trilogy to give insight on how best to grow the film industry. It shows Rings production company Three Foot Six spent $352.7 million in New Zealand to March this year.

The report shows that in 1998 before work on LOTR started, New Zealand's film industry was perceived internationally as being little better than Mexico's.

However, post-Rings that perception appears to have changed, with the report speculating that our ranking may have improved to be relative to countries such as Ireland, which is just behind Australia.

It says with an increased international profile, New Zealand has reduced the perceived "risk" of being a distant and chancy production base and so would be more favourable to "runaway" productions - United States-backed films made outside of the US.

The Film Commission is striving to make an informed assessment of the effects of Jackson's LOTR project on the Kiwi film industry and the wider economy.

The report outlines three possible scenarios of growth for the film industry stemming from LOTR in the next 10 years.

Using a base of about $37 million a year for the value of the industry had LOTR not happened, the first scenario depicts an average increase in industry value of $20 million a year, the second $85 million and the third $120 million. A figure between the second and third options is being picked as the most likely scenario.

The study says there are two main influences on choosing New Zealand as a film location - entrepreneurship (film makers such as Jackson and Weta's Richard Taylor) and support service factors such as cost, local resources and helpfulness of government agencies.

Looking into tax incentives or rebates wasn't part of the reporting team's brief. However, Jackson has said the Rings trilogy wouldn't have been made in New Zealand if it hadn't been for the large tax break the project received. The Government has since closed the tax loophole the trilogy benefited from.

Associate Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage Judith Tizard said in the "tax issue" was something the Government was looking into through its agencies. But like Finance Minister Michael Cullen, Miss Tizard appears reluctant to offer tax carrots to lure overseas film investors.

"We want to make sure we have returns for New Zealanders. . . tax is one of the many ingredients in a film but I want to see an informed debate (on it) rather than what we have had in the past. This report is just the start," she said.

Spending of feature films in New Zealand increased dramatically with LOTR. A Colmar Brunton survey released last year showed that in 1999 feature film production was worth just $16 million; last year that had risen to $308 million.

In the same period, the number of full-time equivalent jobs in the film, TV and video production industry also grew.

In 1999 there were 2240 people in employment; last year 2860.

Post-production work on the next two Rings films, The Two Towers and The Return Of The King, has kept 350 people in full-time employment, most in the special effects departments, such as at Weta Digital.

The Rings report concludes there are seven main lasting effects from that project: it has raised the Kiwi film industry's international profile; upskilled Kiwis in the industry; established a foundation of creative entrepreneurship; changed attitude toward Kiwi writers, directors and producers; developed better infrastructure; had tourism spin-offs; and created a merchandising industry (Weta).

"Taking them together, the potential for success by New Zealand talent as creative forces in the film industry has significantly been enhanced. New Zealand is no longer just a scenery-based location."

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