Wellywood sign to go ahead

'CLEAR NUMBER 1':  "The small learn to shout the loudest because they have to,'' says airport chief executive  Steve Fitzgerald. "It [the Wellywood sign] is that sort of concept.''
MAARTEN HOLL/ The Dominion Post
'CLEAR NUMBER 1': "The small learn to shout the loudest because they have to,'' says airport chief executive Steve Fitzgerald. "It [the Wellywood sign] is that sort of concept.''

A Wellywood sign to celebrate the capital's film industry will be built along the hillside next to the Miramar Cutting.

The Hollywood-style sign will be 3.5 metres high and 28m wide. It is understood to cost several hundred thousand dollars and is intended to be ready for the Rugby World Cup in September.

Veteran Wellington film director Geoff Murphy could barely stop laughing when told yesterday that the idea would proceed.

"We had a film industry well before this Wellywood bullshit was going on. I think it's f ...ing stupid. It is copying a foreign, bullshit glamour idea and it's the pits of what people can aspire to."

A branding expert called the sign crass, said it could hurt Wellington's image, and marked it as a city of try-hard followers.

Wellington International Airport, which owns the site, originally announced plans for the sign last March. It prompted multimedia company Skull and Bones to set up a site where thousands of people created their own, often uncomplimentary, signs.

The backlash was such that the airport put the Wellywood idea on hold as it considered other options posted on its Facebook page.

Chief executive Steve Fitzgerald said yesterday that the Wellywood option was easily the best.

"When we judged them against the things we were trying to achieve – to celebrate the film industry, making it clear it was in Wellington, and making it globally relevant – Wellywood was the clear No1."

A Hollywood-style sign saying Miramar was a "reasonably distant No2".

He said accolades such as Wellington being labelled the Coolest Little Capital in the World by Lonely Planet were not enough to entice people to visit from big markets such as the United States, Britain and China. "The small learn to shout the loudest because they have to. It [the Wellywood sign] is that sort of concept."

Branding expert Wayne Attwell, from Bold Horizon, said the city's overall brand was sophisticated and encompassed its culture and environment. "The sign is positioning the city as `We are Wellywood. We are a bit try-hard. We are a bit behind the times. We are a follower.'

"I think personally it is quite crass and it's going to downgrade the overall perception of Wellington as a sophisticated city. A big bold sticking-out sign will also look pretty trashy."

Positively Wellington Tourism chief executive David Perks said the Wellywood idea received global media attention when it was floated 15 months ago. "One of the things for Wellington is that the world talks about us, and the sign is a mechanism for that."

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said yesterday that she did not support a sign of any kind. "There are much more important ways to promote the film industry, and creative digital, than with a sign. But the airport did do a good job to see if there were other phrases that were an improvement."

Eastern ward councillor Ray Ahipene-Mercer said residents would have to live with the airport's decision. "They have made a call on it. There will be many people who will think it's fine and, as we know, there will be many who don't agree."

Economic portfolio leader Jo Coughlan, a Wellywood supporter, said: "It is all part of a longer-term plan to position Wellington internationally as a destination and it's got to be a good thing."

Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, owner of the trademark on the Hollywood sign, sought legal advice when the copycat Wellywood version was first suggested.

Mr Fitzgerald said that was driven "by opponents of the sign, rather than something the Hollywood folk had a particular concern about. We've got clear legal advice that we can do what we are proposing to do".

The airport received non-notified consent from the city council, which owns 34 per cent of the airport company. The council will not contribute funding to the sign.

The Dominion Post