NewsWire: Defence force role in Rings under fire -

Do you think the NZ army should be making money out of working on this film? The taxpayers should definitely know... full disclosure is necessary, but even with that I can't imagine that there would be any anger or ill will towards a production that is putting New Zealand into a prominent position on the world media stage.

Defence force role in Rings under fire
October 26, 2000

Defence Force involvement in Lord of the Rings has ended but some are asking if using soldiers as extras gave the film-makers a cheap deal at taxpayers' expense.

Defence Minister Mark Burton has said up to 250 Defence Force staff played as extras during North Island shooting, while up to 100 took part in South Island filming.

The Defence Force charged for meals, incidental allowances, the provision of temporary camp accommodation, and transport from home to film-set locations, he said.

But the number of manhours and the full cost of the Defence Force's involvement in director Peter Jackson's trilogy, reported to have a budget of $675 million and rising, would not be known until "Operation Token" was completed.

However, New Zealand First MP Ron Mark said that was not good enough and taxpayers had the right to know the details.

"I support the Lord of the Rings and I actually support the military being involved," he told NZPA. "I can't wait for the movie."

But taxpayers had the right to know if the Defence Force was "making money out of this and if not, why not?"

"I'm aware that the army is stretched in terms of manpower to meet its obligations and commitments. I'm also very aware that they're cash-strapped," Mr Mark said.

Defence Force staff, all volunteers, have been involved mainly as extras. Last year army engineers helped build an access track to a filming location in the Waikato.

Spokesman John Seward told NZPA Defence Force staff became involved 18 months ago and finished work on the films two days ago.

Production Company Three Foot Six was satisfied with the work the Defence Force did and working on the film was an extraordinary experience for everyone involved, he said.

National MP Max Bradford, who as former defence minister approved the deal to supply the soldiers, told NZPA the decision was the right one to help ensure the films were made here.

"We stretched a hand out to the company in its formative stages."

Jackson was able to assure his American backers that "the New Zealand Government's standing behind me to make it easy for us to do it here".

Jackson was also offered immigration advice on getting skilled overseas staff into New Zealand and on Department of Conservation access for construction sites in remote areas.

"But...the one thing they said they did want was, at various points in the filming, big numbers of people who were used to operating with a degree of discipline," Mr Bradford said.

The Government made it clear it would not provide Defence Force personnel simply to lower the film-makers' costs but to make it more "hassle free for them to operate in the New Zealand environment".

Asked about Mr Mark's suggestion the Defence Force could have made money out of the work, Mr Bradford said soldiers' salaries were already paid by the taxpayer and the deal was that costs over and above usual defence spending were met by the film company.

The engineering work was carried on "pretty much a full cost basis".

He hoped the Defence Force's contribution would be noted in the credits when the films were completed.

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