The battle for Middle Earth: New Zealand's bid to save The Hobbit

Todd Bridgman, Colm McLaughlin
  • GSE Research Limited
  • DOI: 10.9774/gleaf.978-1-909493-90-2_6

What is it about?

In September 2010 the International Federation of Actors (FIA), which represents performer unions in 100 countries, placed an international boycott on the filming of The Hobbit. Two Hobbit films, estimated to cost NZ$670 million, were to be filmed in New Zealand but the FIA, under the advice of an Australian-based actors union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), were unhappy that the production company was refusing to negotiate a collective agreement with local actors. The boycott incensed the film’s director Sir Peter Jackson, an icon in New Zealand’s flourishing film industry. Jackson was revered for both his creative talents and his success in attracting Hollywood film studios to New Zealand, providing investment, jobs and boosting tourism, which had overtaken agriculture to become the country’s biggest export earner. Jackson accused the MEAA of undermining New Zealand’s reputation as a desirable location for Hollywood studios, while the MEAA argued that New Zealand actors had struggled for years on non-union contracts. Local film production workers came out in support of Jackson and public opinion was firmly on his side. Pressure on the MEAA increased when Jackson announced that New Line Cinema and Warner Bros executives were coming to New Zealand to make arrangements to move The Hobbit offshore. After meeting with Prime Minister John Key, it became clear that the removal of the boycott would not satisfy their concerns. They wanted a change to New Zealand’s labour laws to prevent any future trouble as well as additional tax breaks and government grants. Following two days of meetings, Prime Minister Key announced a deal had been struck to keep The Hobbit in New Zealand. Parliament would be put into urgency the following day to pass a law preventing film production workers from negotiating a collective employment agreement and the government would provide another $NZ33.5 million in financial incentives. The dispute revealed that Jackson’s films meant more to New Zealanders then jobs and investment – they had become a symbol of national pride for this small, geographically isolated nation.

Why is it important?

Suggested courses and course type This case would be suitable for a range of courses across different levels of undergraduate and postgraduate studies. It could be used on various management courses, including general management, organisational behaviour, business and society, business ethics and any other course which explores the actions of business in the broader political economy. The case could also be used on courses in labour and employment relations, international relations and politics, as well as public policy and public management. In essence, this case could be used for any course which looks at how governments make policy and how multinational corporations, labour organisations and others seek to influence the policymaking process.

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The following have contributed to this page: Associate Professor Todd Bridgman