NewsWire: Burton silent on Lord of the Rings army contract - The Dominion
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Burton silent on Lord of the Rings army contract
The Dominion - October 25, 2000
The veil of secrecy surrounding the filming of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings ha sparked a political stoush over the use of about 250 army soldiers on the project.
Defence Minister Mark Burton, tackled by politicians about the extent of defence staff involvement, is refusing to divulge full details, prompting claims that international film company New Line Cinema has been gifted the army’s significant support for a song.
NZ First defence spokesman Ron Mark said yesterday that cash-strapped defence bosses had blown an excellent money-raising opportunity by allowing soldiers to be used to build roads and star as extras in the film trilogy.
He had tried to obtain details from Mr Burton about the costs and man-hours spent on the trilogy but Mr Burton refused to answer, citing a confidentiality agreement with the film producers.
Mr Burton’s limited answer reveals that up to 250 soldiers a day would have been allocated to the film project, which the defence force had dubbed Operation Token. The budget for the film trilogy has reportedly swelled to about $645 million, but the producers are getting the army’s services for just the food, incidental allowances and transport costs incurred.
Mr Mark, a former soldier, said he did not have a problem with the army’s involvement. But he said defence bosses had blown an excellent opportunity to charge for what was, in effect, a massive commercial role being filled by the army.
"It’s amazing. The army is so cash-strapped and yet they are giving away this important service, basically for nothing," he said.
"Maybe it’s called Operation Token because they only gave token consideration to the taxpayers’ concerns."
It was also unacceptable for the Government to refuse to supply an MP with valid requests for operational information, Mr Mark said.
But a spokesman for Mr Burton said the minister was hamstrung by the confidentiality provisions, which had been agreed to by the previous government.
"This thing was signed, sealed and delivered by the time this Government got in," the spokesman said.
National MP Max Bradford, the defence minister who oversaw the deal, dismissed Mr Mark’s concerns as "silly" yesterday.
"I think it’s a very silly complaint. What we tried to do was make it as easy for these guys [the film producers] as possible. The economic windfall from this project is huge and the soldiers would have been paid anyway.
"We didn’t oppose their secrecy provisions because we didn’t want to make a song and dance about it. End of story," Mr Bradford said.