The filming of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic has brought a multimillion-dollar boom to New Zealand’s capital.
Lord of the Rings brings riches to city
by David Cohen
The cafe chatter in Wellington may be dominated by talk of the new film version of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but New Zealanders are feeling a more tangible benefit from the shooting of the epic fantasy trilogy – a boost to their economy.
The three films – The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King – were shot back to back over 15 months in locations around New Zealand, one of the biggest ever projects of its type.
Principal shooting finished in late December but by the time post-production work on special effects for the last film is finished in 2003, New Line Cinema will have spent an estimated £300m on the trilogy.
That has translated into an economic boom for Wellington, a city of only 150,000 inhabitants. While property prices in New Zealand as a whole have declined by up to 12% in the last few years, the cost of property around Wellington has gone up by about the same margin.
In parts of Miramar, the tranquil suburb of tearooms and sea views where Mr Jackson works, rents have quadrupled.
And apart from the 300-strong crew and the 15,000 extras who will appear on screen alongside stars such as Elijah Wood (Frodo), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Ian Holm (Bilbo Baggins) and Liv Tyler (Arwen), more than 7,000 new jobs have been created in the New Zealand film industry in the last year.
New Zealand was chosen for location shooting because of the beauty of its landscape and because it is the home of the director, Peter Jackson, 39, previously best known for directing Kate Winslet’s first film, Heavenly Creatures.
“It has taken 45 years for film-making technology to finally catch up with Tolkien’s imagination,” he said. “We are fortunate down here to have both the computer technology and the natural landscape to bring the unique world of Middle Earth to life.”
The project has come as sweet relief to a domestic film business whose highly limited output to date has been described as adventurously low-budget or, alternatively, direly underfinanced.
The New Zealand Screen Producers and Directors Association has predicted that, on the strength of the ongoing work associated with The Lord of the Rings and other productions, national revenues from film production could again top NZ$1bn (£300m) next year.
Mr Jackson’s custom-built studio, WETA, will create some 1,200 computer-generated and model shots for the films at a fraction of the cost that Hollywood special effects houses charge.
While companies such as George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic sometimes charge up to £67,000 per special effects shot, Mr Jackson’s studio can sever a goblin’s head or conjure a jabbering hobbit for as little as £5,500.
Wellington’s mayor, Mark Blumsky, plans to lead a contingent of New Zealand businessmen and film industry bosses to the US next month to promote his city as “the home of The Lord of the Rings“.
He said that he hopes to persuade New Line Cinema to hold at least one of its world premieres for the trilogy in the New Zealand capital.
The first installment of the completed trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, is scheduled for British release next December, although teaser trailers have already been shown.
Mr Jackson promises that the work will be crafted for British audiences “with honour. I do want to make the kind of movie that Tolkien would have enjoyed.
“But to do it with integrity, for me, means making a Peter Jackson movie, my own very personal version of a passionate, classic British work.”
For the citizens of Wellington, though, the financial benefits have already been felt.