Hollywood's grip on Government

Last updated 07:26 11/11/2012
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Prime Minister and Tourism Minister John Key.

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Tourism NZ sought approval from Warner Bros for every aspect of its $10 million "Middle-earth" marketing campaign - even checking with the film studio over issues that did not directly concern it, official papers show.

The documents, released under the Official Information Act, reveal the extent of the company's sway over the government agency's "100% Pure Middle-earth" marketing strategy, as well as the influence of Peter Jackson's Wingnut Films.

The Government entered into a "long-term strategic partnership" with Warner in 2010 as part of the deal to allow The Hobbit movies to be made here. The first film will premiere in Wellington on November 28.

Labour leader David Shearer says it appears Warner is calling the shots around our tourism branding.

"We're spending our money but Warner Bros basically has all the sign-off on everything we have to spend.

"Like we have an independent foreign policy, we also should have an independent policy around dealing with multi-nationals to ensure we get the maximum benefit out of it. We shouldn't be beholden to them."

The deal with Warner involved $95m of subsidies and grants, including offsetting $12m of the company's marketing costs. The DVD of the films will include a trailer promoting New Zealand.

The Star-Times asked Tourism NZ for copies of board reports relating to promotional activity around The Hobbit. The agency checked with Warner Bros before releasing edited extracts.

The reports reveal:

At least four times this year Warner approved a list of "key messages" for Tourism NZ to "guide communication to media, trade and consumers".

Tourism NZ asked Warner and Wingnut for approval for its "overarching creative territory and scripts" for the Middle-earth campaign.

Tourism NZ asked Warner to approve a list of media and guidelines for pre-premier publicity.

The Middle-earth advertisement, which does not contain any film footage or direct references to the movies, was "signed off" by Warner and Wingnut.

A proposal by Tourism NZ to host a media welcome at Hobbiton was put to Warner for approval.

Tourism NZ asked Warner for approval to bring out three "significant international media personalities" before the premiere. They would be selected based on their influence, reach, and "existing affiliation with Warner Bros".

Tourism NZ's spokesman Chris Roberts said Warner held the rights for The Hobbit so any direct or indirect references had to be cleared with the company, but he admitted some of the matters raised did not require Warner's approval.

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"Considering how much value is in this 'brand', they have been very generous. So, in terms of maintaining good relationships, we have tended to share with them aspects of our campaign that might not strictly require their sign-off."

Roberts said Warner did not veto any aspect of the campaign. "They loved it." He said Tourism NZ had worked with Warner to identify the best media outlets to "meet their needs to promote the movie and our need to promote NZ".

Tourism Minister John Key was full of praise for the company, saying it had gone further than the contract with the Government required it to. "They're good partners."

Key said the company would spend $100m on marketing The Hobbit , which was a great opportunity to "cross-sell" New Zealand.

But Shearer questioned the value of the film to New Zealand tourism. He was surprised by figures that said only 1 per cent of people surveyed in 2004 gave The Lord of the Rings as their primary reason for coming.

"It does seem to be much less than what we're led to believe."

Other papers released to the Star-Times show that Tourism NZ has so far spent $4.1m of the $10m it plans to spend on the Middle-earth campaign. Most went on production costs, and the rest on international PR and events ($70,000), websites ($37,000) and "brand resources" ($59,000).

In a PowerPoint presentation to the board in June, Tourism NZ staff said they had to be mindful of the "trap" of promoting the film at the cost of the destination, using the example of the movie Australia.

Tourism NZ's chief executive, Kevin Bowler, said the Middle-earth campaign would be dumped if The Hobbit films were not successful.

Meanwhile, some tourism operators are angry that they are banned from using any reference to The Hobbit.

Reg Turner is refusing to stop saying in promotional material that his Song of the Tui Lodge in Golden Bay overlooks scenery used in The Hobbit, despite warnings by Tourism NZ.

"Taxpayers' money has been used to subsidise all these concessions given to Warners. I'm a taxpayer, what do I get? How can a film company start dictating to our citizens how they can handle their product?"

- Taranaki Daily News

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