New Zealand govt wants their money back on The Hobbit too

As is pretty much standard practice for movies filming anywhere but LA these days (and hardly anyone shoots movies in LA anymore), the New Zealand government hooked up Warner Bros and the producers of The Hobbit trilogy with some valuable subsidies and tax breaks to keep the production in the country. The $67 million in tax breaks surely bought a production that was a boon to the local economy, employing an army of locals to hot glue mo-cap sensors to the crotch of Andy Serkis’ leotards, in parts of the country where the biggest industry is normally library book late fees. But now, like a lot of us who gave money in exchange for The Hobbit, some Kiwis, including prominent politicians, want their money back.

“Now the first movie has grossed more than $1 billion, Warner Brothers should repay the $67 million subsidy the movie moguls sucked from Kiwi taxpayers,” [leader of the NZ First political party Winston Peters] said. [StuffNZ]

Specifically at issue was Prime Minister John Keys’ claim, when pushing the subsidies, that the production would create “3,000 jobs.” Peters has since uncovered correspondence between Keys and Peter Jackson’s production company that he says proves that the number was plucked out of the air. The emails are his “smoking plum,” in New Zealand parlance, where the secret to gunpowder has not yet been discovered.

“The Government claims that filming The Hobbit in New Zealand created an extra 3000 jobs and this was value for money to taxpayers, but documents from John Key’s office show this figure was plucked out of thin air. “Questions have to be answered about how many of these jobs existed prior to filming, how many of them will exist once the final film has premiered, and how many of these jobs actually went to New Zealanders.”

Aw, it’ll take a little advertising, but once the people in Hollywood learn that near-television quality production studios and an army of unskilled-but-super polite craftsmen is just a 26-hour flight away, all those jobs will return and then some!

But a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s office stood by the figure, saying 3000 jobs had been created. The spokeswoman said 3000 jobs was “a minimum” and did not count flow-on jobs created for businesses and communities that supplied and serviced The Hobbit.
“The Hobbit production team took 6750 domestic flights, paid for 93,000 bed nights, and hired 1800 rental cars and 1650 work vehicles.
“The production spent more than $9m on construction materials and $1.5m on local food suppliers.”

Including 750K at Red Robin, New Zealand’s only non-bed-and-breakfast eatery, the place where New Zealand’s jet-setters and bale barons go to see and be seen.

The spokeswoman cited Statistics NZ figures which showed the local film industry employed 15,500 people in more than 23,000 jobs in the year ending March 2011. “The Government stands by its commitment to attract and retain the film industry in New Zealand in order to reap these significant economic benefits.” [NZHerald]

Yeah, WB and The Hobbit producers probably made out better on the deal than New Zealand did, but that’s the nature of the game. There are no take-backsies in tax agreements, especially after it’s already been clackied into law by the council of exalted ewes. Plus at the time, New Zealand had to compete with all those similarly-developed countries that might offer a better deal, like Bulgaria, or The Seychelles. Now, if by some miracle New Zealand did get Warner and Peter Jackson to pay back some of their tax subsidies, I can only hope it would only be after a stern speech by Mickey Rooney chiding them for their greed, and followed by the film studio employees slinking back to Hollywood, “where people treat each other right.”

[banner pic via NZ Herald]