Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Entertainment

November 26, 2012

Hobbits, superheroes put magic in NZ film industry

(Continued)

"New Zealand has a good reputation for delivering films on time and under budget, and Jackson has been superb at that," says John Yeabsley, a senior fellow at New Zealand's Institute of Economic Research. "Nobody has the same record or the magic ability to bring home the bacon as Sir Peter."

"You cannot overestimate the fact that Peter is a brand," says Graeme Mason, chief executive of the New Zealand Film Commission. "He's built this incredible reputational position, which has a snowball effect."

Back in 2010, however, a labor dispute erupted before filming began on "The Hobbit." Unions said they would boycott the movie if the actors didn't get to collectively negotiate. Jackson and others warned that New Zealand could lose the films to Europe. Warner Bros. executives flew to New Zealand and held a high-stakes meeting with Prime Minister John Key, whose government changed labor laws overnight to clarify that movie workers were exempt from being treated as regular employees.

Helen Kelly, president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, says a compromise could easily have been reached. She says the law changes amounted to unnecessary union-busting and a "gross breach" of employment laws.

"I was very disappointed at Peter Jackson for lobbying for that," she says, "and I was furious at the government for doing it."

Weta Digital's general manager Tom Greally compared it to the construction industry, where multiple contractors and mobile workers do specific projects and then move on.

Animal rights activists said last week they plan to picket the premiere of "The Hobbit" after wranglers alleged that three horses and up to two dozen other animals died in unsafe conditions at a farm where animals were boarded for the movies. Jackson's spokesman Matt Dravitzki acknowledged two horses died preventable deaths at the farm but said the production company worked quickly to improve animal housing and safety. He rejected claims any animals were mistreated or abused.

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