A big film production can – like any inward investment – have a major impact on the economy of a small nation.
The filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into New Zealand, through both direct payments from Hollywood and indirect benefits to the tourist industry.
No wonder the country’s Prime Minister intervened to make sure The Hobbit, the prequel to the trilogy, will also be filmed there after a particularly stupid attempt by local unions to assert their muscle nearly put Hollywood off. He negotiated in person with studio executives – people who could give Machiavelli lessons in ruthlessness – and had the deal confirmed by a law, which was passed with amazing speed by Parliament.
The law itself simply clarifies that those employed on the film are contractors, not employees. Since this only confirms what was always generally understood in the international film industry, it is in its own right a perfectly sensible law.
Yet the whole thing does leave a sour taste. It is another example of how governments – not just in New Zealand – bend over backwards to help wealthy outsiders while ignoring the needs of their own indigenous businesses. Local taxpayers can lobby for years in vain even for minor administrative improvements, but rich foreigners can get sovereign states to ignore the lengthy procedures usually associated with legislation after a couple of days of talk.
This is not to say that the Kiwi politicos were wrong. On the contrary, they deserve credit for swift and decisive action to secure a deal that may boost the New Zealand economy by an estimated $1,500,000,000.
It is just that it would be nice to have politicians who were always ready to do sensible things to help their country’s economy – not just on special occasions when a particularly big deal was on the table – and who understood that the continuing wellbeing of smaller businesses run by their own citizens is actually, in every sense, far more important to that economy than even the biggest investments from abroad.