Threat to shift Rings premiere to LA - Revised cost of refurbishing Embassy to go before council

Wellington's premiere challengeWellington's premiere challenge

Wellington will lose the world premiere of the third Lord of the Rings movie unless the Embassy Theatre is refurbished to a world-class level, the trilogy's owners warn.

Contingency plans are being made to move the world premiere of The Return of the King to Los Angeles, after Wellington City Council withdrew its $7 million backing this week for the theatre's renovations.

Rings executive producer Mark Ordesky, of New Line Cinema, said yesterday it was "committed" to premiering the third movie in Wellington.

"However, we have an expectation that the venue will be of a standard analogous to the Odeon Leicester Square in London and the Ziegfield Theater in Manhattan (where the two previous Rings world premieres were held)."

Neither theatre was new, but both had been well maintained and were world-class venues, he said. "The Embassy is not currently at that level."

Speaking exclusively to The Dominion Post, Mr Ordesky said that if New Line could not get assurances that the work would be done, Wellington would lose the world premiere. It would host only the Australasian premiere.

New Line was not interested in how much was spent on the refurbishments and would not specify exactly what work needed to be done, he said. But the Embassy would need to be up to a standard appropriate to The Return of the King.

"This is our cherished film and it needs to be showcased appropriately. Not only is the Wellington premiere important for Wellington and New Zealand - that's a given - but we plan to have VIP guests from all over the world. It reflects on New Line, it reflects on the film-makers and it reflects on the city and the country."

He met Mayor Kerry Prendergast yesterday to inform her of New Line's concerns. He would not say when it would make a final decision on the world premiere venue, but he expected the issue to be resolved in the next few weeks. He had discussed the matter with Rings director Peter Jackson, who "accepted" New Line's point of view.

Asked whether New Line would consider contributing to the Embassy's refurbishment, Mr Ordesky said it was not in the business of theatre refurbishment. There were other costs involved in a world premiere and New Line would pay its share of those.

The Embassy Trust has estimated the cost of refurbishments required for the premiere at $5 million and hoped to find sponsors for the work. The council's underwrite would have been used to meet any shortfall.

Embassy Trust chairman Bill Sheat was taken aback when he was told of Mr Ordesky's comments. "That's not what they told the mayor in Los Angeles, is it?" The fate of the world premiere was now "entirely in the hands of the council", he said.

It was unlikely that the trust would be able to raise the $5 million needed, so some level of council backing would be required.

The council voted to withdraw its underwrite behind closed doors on Wednesday. The decision was made after Ms Prendergast met New Line executives - but not Mr Ordesky - in Los Angeles last week. She said they had made it clear that New Line had made no demands for any refurbishment work and it was not required to guarantee that Wellington would get the world premiere.

Ms Prendergast stood by those comments yesterday after her meeting with Mr Ordesky. But she said she had assured him that the Embassy would be "in a world-class condition" for the premiere.

Her position on whether the council would help pay for refurbishments appeared to be softening. "If the (Embassy) trust was to come back at a lesser amount then the council would be prepared to consider that."

It is estimated a world premiere would be worth $10 million in new spending to Wellington and $25 million in worldwide advertising.

Revised costings for the refurbishment of the Embassy Theatre will be submitted to Wellington City Council today as efforts continue to sort out the row over the third Lord of the Rings world premiere.

The Embassy Theatre Trust held an emergency meeting yesterday after it was revealed that Wellington could lose the world premiere of The Return of the King unless the Embassy was refurbished to world class standard by December.

Trust chairman Bill Sheat said it had worked through the multimillion-dollar refurbishment plans at yesterday's meeting.

"The figures are being checked by our professional advisers and will be submitted to the council on Monday afternoon."

The trust has estimated the cost of refurbishments required for the world premiere at about $5 million. It hoped to find sponsors for as much of the work as possible but wanted the council to meet any shortfall.

The proposed refurbishments include new seating and toilets, the installation of a lift, air-conditioning and heating, remodelling of the proscenium arch and earthquake strengthening.

Deputy Mayor Alick Shaw, who is also on the trust board, said the trust would put "a proposal" to the council, but would not reveal any details.

He expected the council would meet next week to debate the matter.

He said the council would consider its position in light of the possibility that Wellington could lose the world premiere, estimated to be worth $10 million in new spending to Wellington and $25 million in worldwide advertising.

Rings executive producer Mark Ordesky, of New Line Cinema, said on Friday that contingency plans were being made to move the event to Los Angeles in case the Embassy was not in a condition to suitably showcase the movie.

The row erupted after the council revoked an earlier decision to underwrite the refurbishment for up to $7 million.

Mayor Kerry Prendergast said New Line executives had told her they had no demands for refurbishment work and it was not required to guarantee that Wellington would get the world premiere.

However, Mr Ordesky was not at that meeting and it is understood that the executives she met were not familiar with the the Embassy's condition.

By the time of the 2001 premiere of the Ring's trilogy's first film, The Embassy's facade had been restored and repainted.

A range of renovation work was also carried out inside the building.

--By Ann-Marie Johnson / The Dominion Post


 

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