One Question Quiz
A green image of the Wellington sign with Peter Jackson, tinted orange, above it. On the left is Gollum from the Lord of the Rings movies looking angry and on the right is Smeagol, looking upset

BusinessMay 21, 2024

Is a return to LOTR the best or worst thing for Wellington? An argument with myself

A green image of the Wellington sign with Peter Jackson, tinted orange, above it. On the left is Gollum from the Lord of the Rings movies looking angry and on the right is Smeagol, looking upset

Peter Jackson is bringing Lord of the Rings back to Wellington, producing two new Gollum films in the city. Madeleine Chapman (Gollum) argues with Madeleine Chapman (Smeagol) about it.

First of all, I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation. Of course it’s great news!

I don’t know, it gives me the ick.

Well your ick isn’t going to create jobs for dozens, probably hundreds, of local creatives. Peter Jackson almost single-handedly built up the film sector in Wellington and even New Zealand as a whole. And now he’s doing it again when the sector is in dire need of a win. I don’t get why you’d begrudge him that.

That’s my problem, no one should “single-handedly” be doing anything to that scale. It’s worrying that the Wellington film sector seems to live and die by Jackson’s whims. How is that possible?

Well, he is a very influential person, which is a good thing. Some random director wouldn’t be able to pull as many strings as him to get big production companies basing huge projects here. We need powerful advocates like that.

OK sure, but he only seems to throw his weight around when it suits him personally. And this project evidently suits him personally. Any benefits to other local creatives is merely a by-product in my opinion. 

Well that’s a very cynical way of looking at it.

I am cynical! Peter Jackson is a billionaire (do you know how insane I feel every time I think about a film-maker being a billionaire?) which means he could be doing soooooo much for local creatives without even needing to check his bank balance and yet the only times I see him in the news are when he’s promoting his own projects, buying more and more land in Wellington, or campaigning for mayoral hopefuls who agree with him on what should happen to Wellington land. 

Andy Foster and Sir Peter Jackson at Foster’s campaign launch in 2019 (via Facebook)

So what if he’s a bit selfish in his interests? Wouldn’t you be?

Well I’d argue you have to be incredibly selfish to be a billionaire in the first place but that’s another internal debate for another time. Why can’t Jackson do what Francis Ford Coppola did and just fund his own pet projects? If he funded his own movie and hired a bunch of local actors and crew to be in it, I’d forgive his property mogul status and accept him as a champion of the Wellington film scene. Or even just producing some films that aren’t so blatantly based on his personal interests (read: war, the Beatles, expensive effects). Imagine if Jackson chose to produce some low-budget films to give local writers and directors a shot? His name, as you said, holds a lot of power, so it would be great if that was used a bit further afield than Miramar Peninsula.

You’re splitting hairs. He’s still going to be hiring a bunch of local creatives and he’ll be doing it in a more sustainable way rather than as a pet project or a random scholarship or something. Two big-budget films is a lot of work for a lot of people for a long time.

That’s what you said about the Amazon LOTR series and look how that turned out.

OK that’s fair. But you can’t deny the impact the original films had on local tourism and particularly the Wellington economy. His movies have become more than just creative projects and the benefits extend beyond the film sector.

I’m not denying the impact but that was 20 years ago. How is it that 20 years later we’re still coming back to the same trick and the same person? Wasn’t the big benefit of the original trilogy supposed to be that it would launch the next generation of New Zealand filmmakers? 

Yes and it did, to some degree. But not everyone is going to become a world-famous director. Lots of crew from those movies have gone on to great and lucrative careers both here in New Zealand and overseas. These two new movies will be massive and, knowing Peter Jackson, will have a lot more involvement with local workers and businesses than some of the other big productions that have filmed here. I get why you’re opposed to the idea of rehashing history but unfortunately it works.

Does it, though? Look at the Hobbit movies. They made money for the production companies and were good opportunities for digital artists but hardly a local triumph for business and tourism. I’d argue the Hobbits and their stories is a classic case of diminishing returns. 

Would you rather have no returns at all? Amazon ditched New Zealand with its own LOTR show, leaving heaps of workers in the lurch. Fewer large-scale productions are choosing to film here thanks to more generous subsidies in other countries. This is at least something, even if we don’t really need two movies about Gollum.

All I’m saying is this all feels very trickle-down economics to me. Allowing literal billionaires to reap the majority of the benefits in the hopes that the rest of us get some crumbs as part of the deal. Remember when the Avatar workers were deemed essential in 2020 but no other creative workers were? And now James Cameron is saying he’s going to make all his movies here which is great on one hand but also makes me deeply sad on the other.

That’s called living in the real world. Good luck telling your friends who work in film that they should have fewer opportunities simply because you don’t like Peter Jackson or think rich people should get anything. Guess what, rich people will always reap most of the benefits in society so actually you’re not cynical enough if you expect any different.

OK, you literally wrote 7,000 words about how Peter Jackson has used his influence to change union laws and increase film subsidies that benefit his own work more than any other filmmaker. You really don’t feel icky knowing that we’re going to return again to basing our national identity around his favourite old books? Wellington deserves new and better heroes! Both fictional and in reality.

Look, he’s just making more movies, it’s really not that big a deal.

Oh but it always is. He met with Wellington mayor Tory Whanau recently (as did James Cameron). The reports said he was meeting about Shelly Bay (which he now owns, of course) but it seems every time he meets with a government, local or national, it’s followed by taxpayer investment in one of his projects. If Wellington City Council announces some sort of movie museum to house Jackson’s toys – which Jackson has been trying to get council to pitch into for years, or a Gollum tour or some other cringe shit, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Whoa OK you’re really annoyed about this huh. Let me guess, you’re someone who never thought the original movies were overhyped and now just don’t want to see any more of it.

I actually really love rewatching the original trilogy and think it’s incredible what he did. But I also think he hasn’t done anything as truly ambitious since. If Peter Jackson said he wanted to vacuum up all of our screen production grant funding on a single project and that single project was an original, local, scarily ambitious film project never seen in our time that would either transform the whole industry or burn it to the ground, I’d be far less of a hater.

So you admit you’re a hater.

Of course, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Keep going!