Calling in more favours
Prime Minister John Key makes no secret of his fondness for fostering our film industry. He likes to hob-nob with movie moguls, too. Explaining his round of calls to major Hollywood studios last year, he said he aimed to keep this country at the forefront of US investment. That's no bad thing, depending on the magnitude of the concessions he makes to attract and keep the Hollywood heavies here.
Mr Key has highlighted the economic benefits that flow from the grants and tax breaks dished out by his government, saying the New Zealand film industry supports more than 2700 businesses and contributed $3 billion to the economy in 2011. Indeed, a Statistics New Zealand survey showed 35 feature films were made here in 2011 and the industry's overall turnover was up 4 per cent from 2010 to $2.99b. This included $1.2b of television broadcasting, however, and the production and post-production sector's $1.4b of revenue included another $494 million of television work. More than $200m of state grants and subsidies was sloshing around, too.
But Mr Key has gone further than providing grants and tax breaks. Our labour laws were changed in 2010 to clarify the distinction between independent contractors and employees after Warner Bros threatened to take The Hobbit overseas because of an Actors' Equity boycott. This was enough to mollify them and keep The Hobbit here.
Warner Bros now wants more favours. It has warned the Government that future film investment will be jeopardised if "sensitive information" in 18 documents about The Hobbit deal is made public. Ombudsman David McGee has ordered the documents to be released nevertheless, insisting they contain no commercially sensitive information. Hence, their contents are likely to be of the embarrassing variety, perhaps showing the negotiations had not been conducted in a proper or professional way.
The Government could exercise a power of veto that has never been used. But Mr Key has said the Government is "quite relaxed" about releasing the paperwork and he expects it to happen. Here's hoping it does and that all mysteries are resolved. The Government and film-makers, for example, portrayed the militant actors as the villains of the 2010 drama. The documents may cast them in a less knavish light.