The Hobbit stoush has been a Hollywood production, sadly a million miles from the New Zealand that once seemed so perfectly suited as the real world home of hobbits. It doesn't feel like we can trust anyone in this picture

As a teenager, I used to debate with friends how the JRR Tolkein movies should be made and who should play the lead roles. I wrote extensively and happily about The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the New Zealand Herald when I worked there. Yet after days and days and days of debate, The Hobbit films now leave nothing but a bad taste – pun intended – in my mouth.

The debate has been disturbingly vicious and nothing in it has made me proud to be a New Zealander, something that Sir Peter Jackson’s Tolkein films have done so well in the past.

Business New Zealand Chief Executive Phil O’Reilly made the point well on Q+A this Sunday, when he said the movie industry “is now part of us”.

This isn’t just any old industrial dispute, this is about a trilogy of films that achieved something that New Zealanders crave – international relevance and attention. Sir Peter’s Tolkein movies have become this generation’s Everest summit or All Black ‘Originals’; a source of national pride and identity. We all feel like we helped make them.

Yet New Zealand’s famous good faith, self-deprecation and can-do attitude has been notably absent from this debate. Rather, it’s been befitting a Hollywood blockbuster, with real motives obscured by smoke, mirrors and special effects. Everything that looks real is a façade, the timing has been carefully stage-managed and everyone is trotting out well-rehearsed lines.


This is the start of my post at To continue reading, click here. But feel free to add comments and debate below.

Comments (18)

by Bruce Thorpe on October 26, 2010
Bruce Thorpe

Great start Tim, but I cannot find anything at the other end of your link.

by Tim Watkin on October 26, 2010
Tim Watkin

Sorry, it's not up at TVNZ yet. I was a bit premature, so please taiho for a bit. Ta.

by Tim Watkin on October 26, 2010
Tim Watkin

In the interim, let me offer a mini-post to chew over. It's something I've been pondering over the weekend... perhaps I'm drawing on a bit of my inner Chris Trotter or Matt McCarten here, but this dispute is a classic battle of capital vs. labour, and it's very clear which one has the public's sympathy these days.

Labour is there for the taking... everyone wants to be an orc or the third hobbit from the left. Most actors just wants it on their CV, anyone else would just about pay for the experience. Which makes it tough for people trying to bolster terms and conditions.

Capital, on the other hand, is scarce. Dangle $700m in front of this country and we ask "how high did you say again?" Actors, crew, production companies, caterers, tourism operators and even our government are desperate for the yankee dollar.

We are labour rich and capital poor – as the Capital Markets Taskforce and others have pointed out – and so capital wins every time.

New Zealand is money hungry and what's more we ain't afraid to show it, which puts even a cash-strapped mega studio in a position where it can dictate terms.

I wonder what Karl Marx would make of that?

by Robert Winter on October 26, 2010
Robert Winter

Marx might have said the following: Labour as concrete labour is fixed, in the sense that it not freely mobile, has ties, cam be played off, one group against another, spatially. Capital seeks abstract labour (that is, that quality of labour that displays the capacity to be turned into concrete labour, when so mobilised by Capital. Thus, Capital is able to play off labour forces globally. Now, where have I heard something about that recently?

by Mr Magoo on October 27, 2010
Mr Magoo

Great half post Tim. Whet the appetite for more I see...very cunning. ;)

Somewhat pre-empting your  conclusions:

I think that key's latest statements show that their prime motivators are not just about the union negotiations. (if they ever were) They are about exchange rates, tax breaks and the recent employment law testing case where a contractor was labelled an employee.

None of these have anything to do with the union negotiation. Now it would be hard to argue it had no effect but if one actually crunches the numbers as others have done one can see that the thing most important here are the above.

I think the union has been used in a nasty little three way. (pun also intended)

- The government wanted to bash the unions along with all the other anti-union initiatives/negotiations it is undertaking

- The producers and movie industry wanting to reduce cost

- The overseas unions wanting to help assimilate another weak union movie industry country




by Tim Watkin on October 27, 2010
Tim Watkin

As I say, everyone seems to be a much bigger and different game from the one they're claiming in public. So let me ask these questions:

Why is it appalling and "destructive" (Sir Peter's word) for a union to opportunistically try to get a better deal, but perfectly understandable, even smart business, for a movie studio to do the same?

And how is it politically tenable for the government to last week deride in the strongest terms anyone suggesting that Warner Bros. was angling for better tax breaks, and then put better tax breaks on the table this week?

And how is it good negotiating to publicly say you'll consider a financial sweetener? As soon as you say you'll consider it, you've effectively given it.

This whole thing just feels rotten to the core. As a taxpayer I feel I'm getting played.

Which reminds me of the movie, The Player. Sound about right?


by Tim Watkin on October 27, 2010
Tim Watkin

Righty-ho, the link is NOW ACTIVE and will take you to the full post. Sorry about getting ahead of myself.

You'll note too that now has a flash new look. BIG improvement.

by Claire Browning on October 27, 2010
Claire Browning

Righty-ho, the link is NOW ACTIVE and will take you to the full post ...

No, it ain't and it don't ...

by Mr Magoo on October 27, 2010
Mr Magoo

Unfortunately in the end it is not how it is but how it spins that is important.

With as media the way it is (present company excluded) this one can only see this being a clean sweep for ol' "guy smiley". Bash unions, give tax breaks to industry without backlash and look like a hero.

I felt the globs of PR salivation flying from here...


One contract to rule them all and in the darkness bind them!

by Dr Jon Johansson on October 27, 2010
Dr Jon Johansson

Great (partial) post Tim. May I add one question that has preyed on my mind. You're put in charge of a US$500 project. When you sit there at your whiteboard, fleshing out the scope of the project, identifying your resources, your risks, and so on, you don't think to have a box marked 'industrial relations?'



by Mr Magoo on October 27, 2010
Mr Magoo

For $500 you are getting a couple of paper mache hobbits, a handycam and me doing a voice over.



by Dr Jon Johansson on October 27, 2010
Dr Jon Johansson


$500 million

by Tim Watkin on October 27, 2010
Tim Watkin

Ok, this time. REALLY. It's there. Honest. Promise.

by Tim Watkin on October 27, 2010
Tim Watkin

Hey Magoo, I'd watch that... And isn't that how Jackson started?

by Mr Magoo on October 27, 2010
Mr Magoo

You may watch it but you may not enjoy it.

Good article. I think that is a very balanced viewpoint. You should be fired. :)

by Joel on October 28, 2010

Luckily for the thousands of us that rely on, and love the industry, the magic is just about to begin.

by Tim Watkin on October 28, 2010
Tim Watkin

So Joel, serious question... as someone in the industry, who played whom in this and who lied least/most? Do you find it normal/ok for leaders in your industry to behave as they have?

by s.a.m. on November 18, 2010

i'm so glad our choice's never made it to the big screen tim - i would've been chewing my arm off to get out of the theatre... no, i will not say who they where...

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