Addressing the Innovation Conference in Christchurch on 7 March
2002, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark outlined her
government's ambitions for the nation's economic development:
For a quick grasp of the commercial principles driving the
government's vision and its implications for the New Zealand film
industry, consider the network of assumptions and associations cohering
in the Prime Minister's statement. In neo-liberal fashion, a
competitive business model is offered as the paradigm for other spheres
of activity, both collective and individual: the country best flourishes
when run like a company that carefully cultivates and manages its brand
image as its best asset. For, as Peter van Ham approvingly notes in the
context of international polity,
As CEO of New Zealand Inc., Clark favours a particular umbrella
strategy known as integrated branding. This differs from the thinner
concept of brand image in its reach and penetration of all elements of
organisational management. Under the integrated branding principle,
"all actions and messages are based on the value the company brings
to its line of business" (LePla and Parker 2). As Clark recognises,
this strategy requires "consistent" behaviour and vision. The
national brand should be "supported, reinforced and enriched by
every act of communication between the country and the rest of the
world" (Anholt 11, italics in original). It demands a high degree
of consensus regarding the central values maintained by "all our
industry sectors." The government spans public and private
interests: reduced to "arbiter ... [of] the repatriation or export
of the designs and commodities of difference" (Appadurai 307), the
government brokers contracts between New Zealand agencies and
transnational capital, leading to such curious spectacles as the Prime
Minister appearing on America's The Today Show and talkback radio
to promote New Zealand as a safe tourist destination ("I'm
Helen, Fly Me," in Philip Matthews' witty title). Creenagh
Lodge, whose company Corporate Edge engineered New Zealand's
"Orchard of the South Pacific" campaign in Europe, further
elaborates that "sophisticated markets increasingly want evidence
that there is a mind behind the brand and its offer: a collective and
conscious force which can be relied upon to keep the promise set out by
the brand" (384). It is thus not sufficient for New Zealand to
appear "clean and green" by nature, as the "100%
Pure" campaign launched in 1999 suggests (Morgan, Pritchard, and
Piggott); the national brand should also communicate human intelligence,
identified by Clark as innovation, technological capability, and
For our present purposes in this paper, Clark's vision of a
symbiosis between the creative industries and other business sectors
commands particular attention. Essentially, the New Zealand film
industry is envisaged as an instrument of cross-sectoral economic
development. Clark upholds The Lord of the Rings production team as role
models in the emergent "creative economy" that, following Tony
Blair's "Cool Britannia" lead, is integrating with the
"knowledge economy" as New Zealand's unifying national
aspiration. (1) The film trilogy's American financing and almost
exclusively foreign acting talent are elided in Clark's
representation, as will be discussed in more detail below. New Zealand
companies are encouraged to leverage off the mainstream film
industry's global reach by associating their products with The Lord
of the Rings. After all, in terms of international recognition,
"Brand Jackson" is far bigger than "Brand New
Zealand," given that The Lord of the Rings trilogy screened in
dozens of countries and grossed approximately $NZ4.6 billion ($US2.9
billion), comparing favourably with New Zealand's total foreign
exchange earned from tourism of $NZ4.2 billion in 2000 (New Zealand
Tourism Strategy 2). (2) The smart business strategist knows that
marketing agencies not only create brands but also increasingly rely on
international brands as their transactional medium. As Stan Sutter
notes, paraphrasing Coca-Cola Company COO Steve Heyer: "A brand
icon like Coke, with its global distribution clout, media buys and near
ubiquitous consumer presence, is actually a more powerful media network
than the ones offered by most, if not all, media companies" (Sutter
18). In a similar manner, by linking The Lord of the Rings with the
America's Cup Clark's policy statement validates film for its
qualities as spectacle and event, to which other foreign
exchange-earning events can be linked. Examples of such
"leveraged" initiatives include Ian Brodie's Lord of the
Rings Location Book (2002), now in its second edition but restricted by
Tolkien estate copyright to sale in Australia and New Zealand only; the
staging of the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King premiere in
Wellington on I December 2003; the mushrooming of fantasy tourism
operators such as Red Carpet Tours, Extreme Green Rafting and Hobbiton
Tours, offering adventures within the Lord of the Rings landscape; (3)
the publication of maps identifying New Zealand as Home of Middle-Earth;
Tourism New Zealand's launch of a Lord of the Rings-themed
advertising campaign; and the government's designation of cabinet
minister Pete Hodgson as "Minister of the Rings" and its $4.5
million contribution to the Return of the King premiere.
The New Zealand government's recent "discovery" of
the screen production industry thus owes more to dawning awareness of
cross-sectoral economic opportunities than to strictly aesthetic,
protectionist, or cultural nationalist concerns. Indeed, governments led
by Clark have given mixed messages to the industry. In 1999 the
Labour-Alliance coalition rescinded the tax incentives that had financed
one third of The Lord of the Rings production costs in New Zealand. In
May 2000 the same administration announced a cultural recovery package
of $87 million, including funding of $22 million over seven years for
commercially viable feature film production that includes significant
New Zealand content and attracts about 40% matching funding from
external sources (New Zealand Film Production Fund Trust). As of May
2005, the films financed and delivered under this scheme are Niki
Caro's Whale Rider (2002), Gaylene Preston's Perfect Strangers
(2003), Vincent Ward's River Queen (2005), Roger Donaldson's
The World's Fastest Indian (2005), and Glenn Standring's
Perfect Creature (2006). By 2002 the Labour-United Future coalition
appeared to signal the twilight of state-supported screen production,
with the Minister for Industry and Regional Development indicating his
wishes to "turn this cycle of dependency [on cultural subsidies]
into sustainable, independent growth which will showcase New Zealand
talent and creativity internationally, while growing new and existing
businesses domestically" (Minister's Foreword, Taking on the
World). However, in an apparent policy about-turn following intensive
lobbying--by Peter Jackson, the Screen Production Industry Taskforce
chaired by Julie Christie, and other New Zealand-based directors and
producers--the government announced a new large budget screen production
grant scheme on 30 June 2003. Any company spending $15 to $50 million on
production within New Zealand (where that amount equates to at least 70%
of the total production expenditure) receives a 12.5% rebate upon
completion of the project, from a maximum grant pool of $40 million in
the first year. Top-up funding to the New Zealand Film Commission of $10
million annually was announced on 10 November 2004, in part to cover the
costs of administering the scheme. Although New Zealand production
companies are not excluded from the grants scheme, budget constraints
mean that few solely New Zealand productions are likely to qualify. The
domain of independent film-making, meanwhile, remains in the hands of
the New Zealand Film Commission, which retains a legislative mandate to
promote films with a significant New Zealand content and has expressed
some reservations about commercially-driven screen production policy
(see New Zealand Film Commission, Taskforce Report: NZFC Response).
In this paper we unravel and evaluate the implications of the
government's branding drive for the New Zealand film industry, with
particular regard to its linkages with tourism and urban economic
development. The government seeks to kick-start a cycle of economic
growth: global entertainment productions are enticed to this country, in
turn serving as the vehicle for leveraged, worldwide promotion of New
Zealand's natural and technological capital, in turn attracting
further foreign investment. However, in retrospect Clark's
reference to the America's Cup defence was unfortunate, as Team New
Zealand's hopes literally crashed in the spectacular snapping of
its mast in race four, leading to a 5-0 drubbing by Alinghi, a Swiss
conglomerate. Does the government's most recent screen production
funding gambit stand a better chance of success? As a case study, we
describe one specific implementation of the economic policy outlined
above: Wellington City's self-promotion as New Zealand's
"creative capital" within intense national and international
competition for investment in the lucrative global entertainment
industries. As noted in a strategy paper for the arts commissioned by
the government in 2000, "more than any other city in New Zealand,
Wellington has demonstrated how to use strategic positioning to add
value to existing cultural assets and deliver economic, social, and
cultural benefits to the community" (Heart of the Nation 42).
"Adding value" here means integrating New Zealand cultural
production and regional economic development with the full machinery of
the global entertainment structure: merchandising, marketing, tourism,
leisure, education, and events. The economic risks of Wellington's
creative entrepreneurship have drawn comment in New Zealand's
media, and we will canvass the key positions in this debate, drawing on
international comparisons where possible. Finally, we argue that the
current branding-driven, export-oriented cultural policies open New
Zealand to further economic and cultural globalisation. Transnational
interests will increasingly shape the New Zealand screen production
industry, reducing national and local governments to the role of
managers of brand difference. We suggest, speculatively, that
collective, "integrated" identities in New Zealand will become
increasingly indistinguishable from the commercial imperative when, as
Finlay Macdonald has commented, "the studio backlot becomes an
entire country" (4).
The scale of the Lord of the Rings production based in Wellington
is unprecedented in New Zealand film history. With an estimated
production budget of $600 million, it was easily the most expensive
production filmed in New Zealand. Up to 15,000 extras were used (Grant
26) and digital effects innovations included 3D scanning of the
principal characters and their characteristic kinetic movements, and the
development of the Massive software for staging mass fight scenes. At
one point in the production, Jackson's Weta Workshop was the
largest special effects unit in the world. The Lord of the Rings
exhibition at Te Papa Tongarewa The Museum of New Zealand attracted
200,000 visitors and has toured London, Boston, Sydney and Singapore
("Exhibition Excitement"). Expenditure by the production
company in New Zealand to March 2002 has been estimated as high as
$352.7 million (although, as we discuss below, this figure is disputed).
As director Peter Jackson laconically anticipated during preproduction,
"I guess the Miramar dairy [convenience store] Owners are going to
be selling more pies at lunchtime" (quoted in Grant 27).
The location of Weta Workshop in Miramar, an eastern suburb of
Wellington City, reflects Jackson's professional commitment to the
city where he was born and where he shot his first film on super-8, The
Dwarf Patrol (1971). Jackson's coup in winning the production for
the city led to a new nickname for the country's capital as
"Wellywood." With its wobbling alliteration on "w,"
this affectionate portmanteau of "Wellington" and
"Hollywood" suggests a local appropriation of a global brand.
On the one hand, Wellywood suggests that New Zealand, too, can aim for
the big production and marketing budgets, international mass audiences,
and star-making machinery of Los Angeles. At the same time, like its
fellow neologisms Bollywood (the Bombay film industry) and
"Nakiwood" (the probably short-lived moniker for New
Zealand's Taranaki as location for Tom Cruise's star vehicle
The Last Samurai, shot in 2003), Wellywood implies that local
idiosyncracies might still be maintained in servicing the global
entertainment market from a New Zealand base. Indeed, the parodic humour
of an image circulating on the internet, showing the giant letters
"Wellywood" illuminating the city at dusk from the surrounding
precipitous hills, relies on just such a conjunction of local
aspiration, awareness of relative existence, and cheeky relocation of
the iconic Hollywood sign.
Several years prior to the Lord of the Rings explosion, Wellington
had already anticipated a programme of urban repositioning to entice
cultural production to the city with its tagline "Absolutely
Positively Wellington" marketed from the mid-1990s onwards.
Although cushioned by its immediate proximity to government--public
service activity accounts for nearly 50% of Wellington's gross
domestic product (Hansen, "The Edge" 62)--the city's
economy has suffered a steady bleeding of corporate activity offshore
and northwards, most recently the head office relocation of dairy
cooperative giant Fonterra to Auckland (Wellington City Council 36).
Like other deindustrialised cities of the West, Wellington now seeks to
develop new markets in services, including communications, marketing,
entertainment, and tourism--sectors which share an interest in the
consumption of images and so are often grouped under the label of
postmodernism (Page and Hall 31-32). To lure foreign-owned industry
back, cities have engaged in what Don Sherman Grant and Richard
Hutchison term "smokestack chasing," a set of supply-side
initiatives including debt financing programmes, geographically
targetted policies, labour market deregulation, and regressive tax
incentives. We suggest that the more appropriate term for comparable
inducements in the postmodern city should be "star gazing":
the scramble to attract "creative entrepreneurs" able to raise
investment finance and carve out niche markets in the global
While manufacturing moves offshore in pursuit of cheap labour and
economies of scale, and New Zealand's bulk commodity export sales
rely on delicately negotiated entry into the protectionist markets of
the European Union and the United States, the global entertainment
market beckons with impressive growth figures. UNESCO estimates that
international trade in cultural goods increased from $US47.8 billion in
1980 to $US213.7 billion in 1998, with the United States importing $US60
billion in 1998 (UNESCO v, vii). John Hannigan notes that in the United
Kingdom annual expenditure on leisure activities rose by 50% between
1992 and 1997 so that "by the end of the 1990s, British consumers
spent more on leisure and tourism than on food, rent, and local taxes
put together" (Hannigan, "Global" 20-21). In the United
States, the percentage of household spending on entertainment (5.4%)
ranks ahead of clothing (5.2%) and health care (5.2%) (20). Back home,
the cultural sector's proportion of New Zealand's Gross
Domestic Product (GDP) rose each year from 1992-1996 to an estimated 2.8
per cent in 1996 (Government Spending on Culture 9). At 16.3 per cent,
growth in the creative industries from 1994-1999 outstripped growth in
the general New Zealand economy over the same period at 11.2 per cent
(Heart of the Nation 9). Although Wellington has fewer cultural sector
employees than more populous Auckland, this number is greater as a
proportion of full-time equivalent positions in Wellington, and the
proportion of cultural sector workers is growing in both centres (Heart
of the Nation 13).
The Wellywood brand was thus recommended to the Wellington City
Council in 1999 by Vantage Consulting, which advised that
"Wellington needed to strengthen its film production
infrastructure, which was fragile compared with those of overseas film
centres" ("Blumsky'). Brand Wellington's central
proposition projects an urbane lifestyle: middle-class, cultured,
aspiring to the intellectual, left-leaning, and centered around the
cafe, the art gallery, the studio, and the urban village.
Wellington's promotional strategy emerges from, and reflects, its
relatively high average income and its homogeneous demographic, given
that "81 per cent of Wellington City's 164,000 residents are
European [in ethnic origin], compared to 66 per cent in Auckland
City" (Hansen, "Edge" 65). The brand tagline
"creative capital" puns neatly on "capital" as
surplus wealth put toward the creation of further wealth. This analogy
between financial and symbolic wealth is developed in George R.
Barker's monograph Cultural Capital and Policy (2002), and as
Gregory A. Waller notes, the phrase has become a key term in the New
Zealand Film Commission's 20012004 Strategic Plan and other policy
statements (Waller, forthcoming). Agencies rich in "cultural
capital" display particular skill in "produc[ing] and
sell[ing] meaning" (Lawrence and Phillips 431); that is,
monitoring, responding to, and preferably leading communities of style,
taste, and fashion. As product selection expresses lifestyle choice in
late capitalism, such symbolic value attaches to an increasing range of
goods and services, and innovators in the creative industries become
regarded as models to be emulated by other sectors of the economy (440).
With its urban chic, Wellington is relatively rich in cultural
capital but poor in financial capital compared to other cities in
competition for the global entertainment dollar. As Glen Searle and
Michael Bounds note, populous State capitals such as Sydney and
Melbourne are able to raise funds to bankroll capital-intensive,
large-scale events (Searle and Bounds 165-72), including the 2000
Olympic Games in Sydney and the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne,
for which Wellington had initially bid. Nor can New Zealand cities
command the capital injections flowing into the European Union's
[EU] featured cities, such as Liverpool, confirmed in June 2003 as the
EU's culture capital for 2008 and the United Kingdom's second
most favoured film production location after London.
Wellington's competitive advantage relies, instead, on
realising the ideal conditions for the demographic grouping that Richard
Florida has termed the creative class (Florida). Members of this class
lead enterprises in technology, entertainment, finance, high-end
manufacturing, and the arts and are estimated to make up 38% of
Wellington's working population (Wellington City Council 13). In
matters of urban design they favour heritage districts, established
neighbourhoods, community diversity, a strong gay presence, and
"street-level culture--a teeming blend of cafes, sidewalk
musicians, and small galleries and bistros" rather than generic
shopping malls (Hansen, "The Edge" 64). Creative City shares
the aggressive branding, theming, and modularisable entertainment of the
urban development that Hannigan terms Fantasy City (Hannigan Fantasy
City; Page and Hall 44-45). However, it does not undertake the
latter's "Manhattanization" of the cityscape through the
construction of large entertainment complexes, spectator venues, and
"tourist bubbles" that risk alienating inner city residents
(Hannigan, "Global" 32). Instead, Creative City manufactures
and manipulates the globally transportable space of virtual reality:
after all, it is not necessary to live in New York when that city can be
"recreate[d] in a paddock," as Peter Jackson has done in his
2005 King Kong remake made in New Zealand (Manson).
Brand Wellington implements Clark's integrated brand model at
the regional level through its tourism and business development
agencies, Positively Wellington Tourism (formerly Totally Wellington)
and Positively Wellington Business, and city council publications which
continually drip-feed press releases, such as the announcement of the
new Creative Achievers Programme worth $200,000 in 2003/2004 ("Our
Plan for Wellington"). Brand Wellington gives coherence to cluster
industry development aiming for synergies between film and television
production, telecommunications, and fashion design. The brand identity
has helped focus priorities for infrastructural planning, including the
development of telecommunications capability such as fibre optic
cabling. "Broadband brought this man [Tom Cruise] to NZ: Is there
no end to its powers?," hyperbolically announces the cover of
Topics magazine of the Telecom Users Association of New Zealand, both
winking at, and exploiting, the fan culture mentality that serves as one
of the global entertainment industry's most effective networks
(Carter). Wellington's vision has been rewarded with the
astonishing news from Young & Rubicam's brand asset valuator
study of 2000-2001 that New Zealanders rank Brand Wellington above All
Blacks rugby (Totally Wellington, Annual Report 2001/2 17).
Regional branding, in turn, allows commercial cross-marketing and
spin-off opportunities. Resene, which supplied the paint to refurbish
the Embassy Theatre for The Return of the King premiere, illustrates one
such marketing initiative with its launch of a new Lord of the Rings
inspired colour in the 2003 Range: "Aptly named Wellywood, this
colour is unique. Distinctive like Peter Jackson and a celebration of
NZ's claim to green, Wellywood is truly one of a kind" (Resene
Paints). The colour is a lime green. In addition to having an innovative
"angle," cross-marketing must be responsive, and New Zealand
seems to have seized the advantage over England, at least, in this
respect. The night after the London world premiere of The Lord of the
Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring the New Zealand Herald ran an article
entitled "NZ Rings gets flying start over squabbling British":
It is precisely because New Zealand marketers grasped the
virtuality of Middle Earth, abandoning any outmoded modernist attempt to
anchor it to any originary or historically legitimated location, that
they could so quickly and shamelessly assign Tolkienesque nomenclature
to every region of New Zealand where Jackson, aided by his location
scouts, applied his Midas touch. A second fine example relating
specifically to Wellywood's responsiveness and integration across
multiple distribution networks occurred during research for this paper.
We presented an early draft at the interdisciplinary New Zealand Studies
Association conference, a gathering of academics, ex-pats, writers, and
artists held on 28 June 2003 in the Penthouse of New Zealand House,
central London. To our surprise, a brief article entitled
"Wellywood paints the town green" was splashed on the front
page of Wellington's newspaper, The Dominion Post, the following
Monday: "Wellington's fame as a film-making centre and its
'Wellywood' brand are gaining international recognition, a
Massey University lecturer says," gushed the opening sentence. The
article selectively quoted the good news about brand Wellington's
global reach while filtering out more critical elements of our analysis
of the branding of New Zealand cultural production (New Zealand News UK
favoured the gloomier heading "NZ film loses out" [Ray]).
Although not formally affiliated to the Wellington City Council, the
Dominion Post thus functions as a cultural agency for the "creative
city" brand by helping to "talk it up," particularly in
gamesmanship with perceived rival Auckland City.
As one of the "display boards for the new energy and
expression in architecture, design, fashion and food" (Heart of the
Nation 20)--"shoppertainment," "eatertainment," and
"edutainment" as John Hannigan dubs these retail
pleasures--Wellington has been upheld as a blueprint for the marketing
strategies of other local authorities and cultural agencies. Meanwhile,
other New Zealand cities are debating whether to follow
Wellington's gambit. Waitakere City in the Greater Auckland region
has approved loan financing of $800,000 to convert a former apple
coolstore into a film studio, despite concern from some councillors that
the council is gambling ratepayers' funds on the high-risk area of
film making (Thompson). Following Gwynneth Paltrow's gracing of the
city during the filming of Sylvia, directed by New Zealander Christine
Jeffs, Dunedin is proclaiming its varied and versatile locations.
Christchurch-based line-production company Kuran assists Indian film
crews down under, capitalising on such Bollywood blockbusters as Kaho
Naa Pyaar Hai (Say I Love You, 2000), a "schmaltzy showcase of
Queenstown skifields, Christchurch trams and a New World
supermarket" viewed by up to 500 million Indians and credited for
the three-fold increase in Indian tourists to New Zealand from 1999 to
2003 (Nathan 30). To return to Jackson's quip, not only are more
pies being sold in Wellington, but also more Lindauer methode
champenoise in Waitakere, haggis in Dunedin, and samosas in
Christchurch. The economic size, distribution, and ownership of this
film production "pie," however, has attracted energetic
discussion in the New Zealand media, and we now turn to analysis of this
To date, public opinion expressed through New Zealand newspapers,
policy documents, trade publications, and current affairs programmes on
radio and television has tended to modify, rather than contest or
critique, the export-driven model of New Zealand cultural production.
The anticipated economic risks can be grouped into three categories. The
first factor queries the likely effectiveness of the policy drive to
shift the awareness of potential investors from the spectatorial
consumption of New Zealand landscape in cinema to its technical
production. The second set of risks clusters around the difficulty of
quantifying the downstream economic benefits of film production. In this
early stage of policy direction, it is still difficult to separate
reasoned economic projections from expressions of excitement,
"talking up," or hype pumping up the potential of the creative
industries as economic change agent. In particular, both local and
national government agencies have downplayed evidence from other
national industries that local screen production may suffer when
international runaways and co-productions dominate investment flows, and
this is the third risk factor that we discuss.
In terms of export profile and capacity, globalisation tends to
intensify specialisation as trading nations focus on products and
services for which they carry a comparative advantage. The New Zealand
tourism industry has exploited landscape as a distinguishing feature,
but as early as 1940 a leading British documentary maker advised that
the nation cannot live by scenery alone: "you may make very
pleasant scenic pictures but it just is not enough to appear before the
world as a mere tourist resort plus a butter factory" (John
Grierson, quoted in Conrich and Davy 2). The first two installments of
The Lord of the Rings made great copy for tourism blurbs urging
consumers to visit New Zealand as "best supporting country in a
motion picture," where "the set hasn't been taken down
yet." New Zealand was rewarded with Lonely Planet's
designation of "Hot Spot for 2003" (David Reynes, quoted in
"IMP Success Story" 8). In terms of brand development, The
Lord of the Rings furnishes the New Zealand landscape-as-commodity with
both the affect and narrative coherence of Tolkien's imagined
world. Vic James, a guide for Red Carpet Tours, expressed this idea when
he anticipated in 2001:
This internalisation of Tolkien's world increases the
emotional value of the New Zealand tourism product and allows the kind
of synchronicity between brand and vehicle that marketing gurus promote
as optimal for market reach. As Steve Heyer enthuses, companies now look
for "ideas that bring entertainment value to our brands, and ideas
that integrate our brands into entertainment" (quoted in Sutter
18). The marketing strategy here extends beyond mere "product
placement," in which companies pay a movie studio to feature their
merchandise on screen, now regarded as potentially weakening brand
integrity if the narrative context does not reinforce the entirety of
the brand value.
It is the limitation that landscape might simply become a touristic
product placement in Jackson's films that Helen Clark seeks to
rectify by "add[ing] smart and innovative" to Brand New
Zealand's "clean and green image." As Clark realises, the
onscreen consumption of the New Zealand landscape does not necessarily
translate, in the viewer's mind, to an appreciation of technical
mastery on the part of the New Zealand film industry, let alone other
sectors of the New Zealand economy. Scenery without full brand value
becomes the economic equivalent of a raw resource, exported without
added value. Or to put this concept into the language of screen
production, scenery risks being perceived as mere "raw talent"
in a pejorative sense, without cultivation or the application of
intelligence. At least one website gives evidence that the "clean
and green" image holds sway over the intended projection of
"smart and innovative": as the "Go Nomad" website
proclaims, the star of The Lord of the Rings is no hobbit or wizard but
New Zealand itself, "with no acting required" (Go Nomad). Rod
Oram cautions along similar lines that the New Zealand economy cannot
transform itself on the basis of one film trilogy. It is wishful
thinking by "Kiwi opportunists" that "Peter Jackson is
going to morph into Father Christmas before our very eyes" (41).
Cross-marketing "everything from wine to widgets on the back of the
films" is implausible (41), Oram continues, adding that the
representation of New Zealand as "mythically medieval" is not
likely to convince investors to "bankroll a sophisticated software
or biotech business here" (42). Helen Clark must be thrilled that a
photograph of her side-by-side with Elijah Wood, who played Frodo in the
production, beams through the entertainment media channels with a scenic
backdrop of the South Island high country (the picture appears in
Matthews 20). However, it is likely that in the eyes of the average
American investor, despite her larger physical stature, it is really
Clark who is the hobbit, quaint, otherworldly, and unsophisticated.
It is thus difficult to gauge whether The Lord of the Rings
trilogy, as a vehicle for Brand New Zealand, conveys to a potential
investment market the technological nous that national and regional
policy-makers hope for. Likewise, the possible economic returns of the
production remain difficult to quantify without an appropriate economic
model. The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) attempted
one such model in its report to the New Zealand Film Commission, Scoping
the Lasting Effects of The Lord of the Rings (2002),which estimated that
the production contributed $352.7 million of expenditure to the New
Zealand economy. However, its methodology was quickly and justifiably
fired down. As South Pacific Films CEO John Barnett points out, neither
New Line nor Jackson's own production companies released production
budget information to the NZIER. Not only did the NZIER base its data on
a speculative sum published in a newspaper report, it also overestimated
the percentage spent in New Zealand, almost exclusively interviewed
people with a vested interest in a positive outcome, and failed to take
into account the tax break in place prior to 1999 (Barnett "Shaky
Statistics"). This shelter allowed the Australian-owned Bank of New
Zealand to finance the production of The Lord of the Rings through a New
Zealand-based subsidiary company, which wrote off the expenditure as a
tax loss. Through a pre-arranged option the subsidiary was then sold
back to the overseas producer, meaning that New Zealand taxpayers
effectively shouldered one third of the financial risk of production
amounting to approximately $219 million in foregone tax revenue (Barnett
"Shaky Statistics"; Vaughn; Campbell "Lord of the
Deals"; Campbell "Planet"). Meanwhile, reported tax
revenues from around 600 film, video, and sound companies amounted to a
mere $7.6 million, or 0.17% of total net revenue in the 2002-2003
financial year (Clifton 15).
Floating beyond financial niceties, the world of brand management
deals not only in dollars, but also in units called "return in
media profile." To the uninitiated, this index presents a curiously
laputan mode of accounting. As the Totally Wellington Strategic Plan
2001-2006 states, the tourism body has increasingly "looked at
events from a perspective of not only economic return, but also
long-term media profile and positioning of the city" (12). Thus
branding exercises are not necessarily measured against economic
outcomes, reinforcing the syndrome that John Barnett, referring to the
New Zealand screen production industry, calls "the desperate quest
for good news" (Barnett "Shaky Statistics"). (4) Totally
Wellington's Annual Report 2001/2, for example, specifies one of
the key performance indicators for its Event Support unit as: "to
generate a minimum 20:1 Return in Economic Impact and/or media profile
from investment of the Events Budget" (20). By this measure the
invitation to Tiger Woods to play in the New Zealand Golf Open in 2002
returned a branding profit of 29:1, according to the Annual Report. The
event's private organisers, however, will record a financial loss
of some $3.3 million (Gardner). The accounting principle operating here
seems analogous to the VISA television advertisement in which a jilted
woman indulges in retail therapy to heal her bruised ego. A male
voiceover records the exact cost of each item she selects, but when she
flaunts her sexy new look at the next cocktail party the value of her
former boyfriend's reaction of surprise and regret
is--'priceless." Similarly, mundanities such as production
costs, box office take, and so on may be merely calculable, but brand
equity--the "values, assets, properties and perceptions of a
product, service, or idea" (Yadin 53)--is represented as literally
beyond fiscal calculation.
Critics of the New Zealand government's recently announced
financial inducements to runaways and international co-productions
question just what the medium to long-term price of the policy might be
for local screen production. Effectively, the policy further opens the
New Zealand economy to globalisation through a geographical split
between the location of financial ownership and profit, and the location
of production. As Greg Elmer notes, digital communications technologies
and differential production costs between economies allow the
"unbundling" or deterritorialisation of film production
processes, which in turn encourages capital to flow in--and out--of
sites offering low costs or advantageous conditions (Elmer 427).
Financing, creative direction, actors, and post-production units may now
be sourced from diverse quadrants of the globe, so that the divide
between so-called "above-the-line" and
"below-the-line" workers can become geographically
regionalised. "Above-the-line" workers, including writers,
producers, directors, casting crew, and actors carry the most cultural
capital and intellectual property in the production. Lower-paid
"below the line" workers--the bulk of the crew, such as
production assistants, set construction workers, prop department, camera
operators, caterers, and post-production team--remain most at risk of
industry cutbacks when budgets are tight (Elmer 427-28).
In the global entertainment industry, New Zealand risks
ghettoization as a service provider for runaway productions fiscally or
creatively driven from offshore. Some commentators caution that the New
Zealand film industry does not want to engage in a "race to the
bottom" to undercut rivals' production costs, particularly
given the tight margins within the industry belied by the relatively
rare box office blockbuster. "While revenues have escalated,"
notes media commentator Alan B. Albarran, "production and marketing
costs have soared, leaving operating margins [in the U.S. industry] at
record lows in both 1998 and 1999" (128). Pricing thus requires a
delicate balance. As Jane Wrightson argued in 2000, "It]he next
period for Wellington film will be important. We must not market
ourselves as a cheap and cheerful option" (quoted in Williams). On
the other end of the pricing scale, the Australian situation serves a
warning notice: domestic filmmakers now favour Melbourne and Adelaide
locations because Sydney's production costs have been bumped up by
transnational production demand.
The future sustainability of the New Zealand film industry thus
depends only partly on the creation of production skills and
infrastructure, which have been boosted by Jackson's commitment of
capital in the Wellington region. Securing control over distribution
networks and intellectual property are also pressing issues. In 2002,
the government targetted the creative industries in its growth and
innovation strategy, affirming the export-substitution and value-added
potential of the sector in reducing New Zealand's reliance on bulk
commodity trading (Growing an Innovative New Zealand 32). A blockbuster
production such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy provides the model
weightless foreign exchange earner for a nation located 2,200 kilometres
from its nearest export market. The film can be quickly distributed
through simultaneous multiple cinema releases, and it can be replicated
many times over. However, the entertainment industry is characterized by
"buyer-driven commodity chains," in which "large
retailers, brand name merchandisers, and trading companies play the
pivotal role in setting up decentralized production networks in a
variety of exporting countries" (Gereffi, quoted in Hozic 23).
Companies that exercise control at the point of consumption, rather than
production, benefit most from such economies of space, as starkly
demonstrated by comparing the disputed economic benefits of the Lord of
the Rings production to the New Zealand economy with New Line's
gross earnings. Recognising that "New Zealand has no well-developed
independent marketing and distribution companies," the Screen
Production Taskforce has given priority to improving the industry's
"market intelligence" (Taking on the World 21). (5) The
industry is clearly keen to ensure that distribution-based economies of
space do not collapse into production-based economies of time, such as
"low labor costs, unrestricted work hours, expediency and
efficiency of production, [and] micro-regulation" (Hozic 114).
International data also suggests that runaway filmmaking threatens
both the volume and content of local production if not controlled or
counterbalanced. From Canada, Elmer reports that Hollywood runaway
productions have restrained the local screen industry, noting that in
the period 1999-2000 the number of foreign production shootings grew by
37% compared to only 2% growth in Canadian productions (429-30).
Canadian television broadcasting productions between 1993 and 2000
averaged a mere 3% increase, and Canadian productions became
increasingly dominated by Canadian (rather than international)
production crews, raising "a host of questions about the possible
balkanization of the televisual industry in Canada" (430). In the
Australasian context, producer John Maynard states baldly that
"anywhere foreign productions increase, local productions
decrease" ("Filmz"). Indeed, the flush of media reports
applauding Oscars for The Lord of the Rings and international sales for
Whale Rider obscured more ominous voices describing the New Zealand film
industry as "very sick indeed" (Peter Jackson), "a
disaster ... in terms of telling New Zealand stories" (Vincent
Ward, quoted in Hansen, "Nakiwood" 19), and
"intellectually rundown [and] artistically impoverished"
("A Fran by any other name"). Two events particularly
emphasised the fragility of New Zealand film in 2002: the collapse of
the film production company Kahukura and resulting upsurge in industry
discontent with the New Zealand Film Commission, and the lack of films
to support a domestic Film Award ceremony. (6)
Ward's reference to "New Zealand stories" marks
fears that cultural globalisation will accompany economic globalisation.
While economic globalisation is perceived as threatening American union
interests, including those in the film industry (Elmer 424-26), cultural
globalisation more closely approximates the idea of Americanisation
through the homogenisation of cultural products to woo mainstream global
audiences. A unique New Zealand idiom may be lost or compromised if
government policy tends to favour film genres that suit reciprocal
leveraging arrangements across advertising, music, television, leisure,
interactive gaming, tourism, and education sectors. It is true that New
Zealand producers successfully niche-marketed "polluted
paradise" in the national cinema of the 1990s, as Ruth Brown
suggests (13), citing a series of films depicting New Zealand society as
sexist, homophobic, insular, and violent from colonial times to the
present (The Piano , Heavenly Creatures , Once Were Warriors
). However, disaster as the basis for an integrated brand is
difficult to imagine. What merchandise might have been sold in
association with these films, for example? A prosthetic finger with The
Piano, a half-brick with Heavenly Creatures? The examples may be in poor
taste, but the risk that New Zealand-based productions will increasingly
conform to established Hollywood genres is supported out by a number of
films currently in international circulation or production: blockbuster
epic (The Lord of the Rings); blockbuster horror (Peter Jackson's
King Kong; Stephen T. Kay's Boogeyman ); uplifting kidult
"glocal" tale (Whale Rider); comedy (Steven Brill's
Without a Paddle ); and animated fantasy (The Chronicles of
Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe ). Of course, the
New Zealand Film Production Fund provides a measure of protectionism for
local content. However, the small amount of available funds, and the
requirement to secure matching overseas investment, compromises the
extent to which local feature films will be able to challenge mainstream
CONCLUSION: SELLING IDENTITY
As Claudia Bell has remarked, in New Zealand public discourse
economic well-being is often conflated with national well-being (191).
Indeed one of the reasons for the current discursive power of branding
lies precisely in its point of intersection between the twin interests
of identity and commerce. An effective brand maintains sufficient
purchase on existing community self-perceptions to feel organic and
spontaneous to those who invest in it, emotionally as well as
financially. Although orchestrated from the top down by government and
corporate agencies (albeit through focus groups and other surveys), the
ideological reach of branding stems from its capacity to appear to have
evolved from the "grassroots" upwards. As Lodge notes,
national brand equity, defined as "those residual beliefs in
people's minds about a country which they believe they have adduced
for themselves," should generate self-confidence and pride (372).
(7) Thus the language of branding initiatives often approximates
cultural nationalist rhetoric, a point that can distract analysis from
appreciating just how fundamentally cultural policy has shifted in New
Zealand. Clark's well-known personal pleasures in the arts, her
assumption of the Culture and Heritage Portfolio, and her humanist
rhetoric supporting the arts as guarantor of national identity have led
Lydia Wevers and Mark Williams, for example, to complain that government
policy continues to "affirm traditional notions of the link between
culture and nation" (16). By contrast, what we hope to have
conveyed is the potential breadth and penetration of commercialisation
wrought through integrated branding strategies, effectively bringing a
"friendly face" to the economic globalisation of New Zealand
To place the government's June 2003 grant scheme announcement
in perspective, consider three overlapping, but more or less successive
perspectives that have circulated since 1984 on the role that the
cultural sector plays within the nation: as a tool of foreign policy (c.
1984-1991); as private investment (c. 1991-2002); and, in the presently
emergent discourse that we have highlighted, as instrument of economic
policy, particularly with respect to the role of the screen production
industry in regional economic development, tourism marketing, and
enticement of foreign direct investment. As Gregory A. Waller notes in
his invaluable historical survey of the establishment and shifting
policy objectives of the New Zealand Film Commission (1996; revised
version forthcoming), the Labour government of 1984-1990 exempted the
arts from its neoliberal economic programme of privatization and
devolution. Reflecting a bifurcation that would eventually split the
government between free market advocates and those favouring some
continued measure of state interventionism, then Prime Minister David
Lange identified film as the "third dimension in our foreign
policy." A flourishing "New Zealand feature film
industry" would "make statements about New Zealand overseas
which are worth immeasurable amounts to us in focusing attention on New
Zealand" (quoted in Waller 251). However, the incoming National
administration led by Prime Minister Jim Bolger effected a twenty
percent reduction in total funding for the New Zealand Film Commission
in 1991 (Waller 255). This funding squeeze continued throughout the
1990s, prompting arts agencies to recover costs through such avenues as
corporate sponsorship, increased sales, and rising admission prices.
Despite a large capital injection in 1995-1996 to fund the construction
of Te Papa, state funding for all national arts institutions except Te
Papa and the New Zealand Historic Places Trust fell in real terms from
1990-2000 (Heart of the Nation 62). (8) Labour's funding recovery
package of $87 million in May 2000 was a barbed gift, as the
government's renewed interest in the arts signalled its intentions
to submit the cultural sector (now increasingly termed the
"cultural industries") to the kinds of radical restructuring
implemented across the manufacturing sector, agriculture, education,
telecommunications, energy, and the public service in the previous two
Defenders of national branding present it as a means for small
states to make big statements in global marketplaces of products and
ideas. Where Naomi Klein's No Logo (2000) exposes corporate
branding as a form of false consciousness eliding the material
conditions of production in poor countries, Simon Anholt's Brand
New Justice (2002) anticipates a second phase in branding strategy, in
which economically marginal nations take on the first world at their own
game. National branding can emulate the mechanisms of corporate branding
to counter structural inequities, Anholt suggests. However, as Arjun
Appadurai more critically notes, small groups (we may include entire
marginal nations in this category) can thus become seduced "with
the fantasy of self-display on some sort of global or cosmopolitan
stage" (304). Peter van Ham goes one step further and urges states
to make brands not war, for state branding is "gradually
supplanting nationalism" and thus "contributing greatly to the
further pacification of Europe" (3). (9) Branding effects what
Anholt, following Joseph Nye, terms "soft power," the capacity
to make people want to do what their governing corporate bodies want
them to do (Anholt 13). In the New Zealand context, integrated branding
has already proven more populist and less divisive than the blunter,
budget-slashing, and sometimes hectoring reform tactics employed by the
National governments of the early to mid-1990s, as recorded in
contestatory accounts of market liberalisation such as Alister
Barry's documentaries Someone Else's Country (1996) and In a
Land of Plenty (2002), Bruce Jesson's book Only Their Purpose is
Mad (1999), and Jane Kelsey's Rolling Back the State (1993) and The
New Zealand Experiment (1995). Ruffle-headed Peter Jackson as
"poster boy for fast capitalism," in Thierry Jutel's
phrase (Jutel), is more likely to inspire an ethos of creative,
export-oriented entrepreneurialism in your average Kiwi than the
alienating figures of the corporate tycoon of privatisation's
heyday or the white-coated technocrat of New Zealand's
"knowledge economy" drive in the 1990s (Oram 45). Malcolm
Evans' New Zealand Herald cartoon of 9 May 2003 ironically alludes
to the absence of public resistance to the government's expenditure
on global entertainment events: a yachtsman holds a cheque for $30
million for Team New Zealand's bid to regain the America's
Cup; a Gollum-like figure likewise holds a cheque for $4.5 million for
the Return of the King premiere; but a blindfolded woman holds an empty
piece of paper for "a life ruined by pathology," referring to
fatal blunders within the New Zealand health system attributed to
cost-cutting. Public funds, Evans implies, could be more effectively
applied to essential infrastructure rather than what we have termed
national and regional "star gazing" to secure New
Zealand's profile in the global entertainment industry. Such
querying of financial priorities seems muted in Brand New Zealand's
seamless face of social cohesion as the country pulls together
creatively and entrepreneurially to achieve unity through sales.
We have put the case that the instrumentalising of film production
in New Zealand for exercises in national branding opens the industry to
what Jane Kelsey calls "globalisation by stealth." Noting that
by 2002 the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development ranked
New Zealand the OECD's most "transnationalised" country
(Crossroads 37), Jane Kelsey summarises Labour's "third
way" policies as a continuation of the "globalisation
agenda," albeit with a "social face," including
"protection for labour and the environment, ... [and] greater
consultation with business, unions and 'civil society'"
(38). She warns that government funding to culture-specific services,
such as New Zealand's education system and arts infrastructure, may
be further opened to international competition in negotiation rounds for
the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). In public perception,
however, integrated branding encourages what Appadurai terms
"production fetishism," in which a nation proudly appropriates
as "ours" an entity that is largely owned and controlled
overseas, creating an illusion of "local control, national
productivity and territorial sovereignty" that obscures the
transnationalism of a product (306). As the Heart of the Nation report
observes, what is often casually termed international
"investment" in New Zealand film "can be described more
accurately as the purchase of services and use of facilities (including
scenery). The principal return on this investment will therefore not be
represented by export receipts, but by the development of creativity,
skills, goodwill and new business opportunities" (68). While the
June 2003 funding package will create exciting new activity in local
screen production and serves as a tribute to the current
government's populism and economic leadership, it also maintains,
and perhaps furthers, the development of an expendable New Zealand
service industry for transnational producers.
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(1) Evidence that Labour coalition governments are positioning
creativity at the intersection of national identity, commerce, and the
arts can be found in numerous documents and policy moves, including the
publication of The Heart of the Nation discussion paper on cultural
strategy in 2000; the prioritising of creative industries, together with
biotechnology and Information Communication Technology (ICT), for
"focused policy intervention in relation to innovation and
growth" (Growing an Innovative New Zealand: 49); and the
appointment in December 2002 of Dame Cheryll Sotheran to the new
position of Creative Industries Director for Industry New Zealand.
(2) All budget figures cited in this paper are in New Zealand
dollars unless otherwise specified.
(3) Film tourism in New Zealand does not originate with The Lord of
the Rings, although the dovetailing of film tourism with a national
brand does. Animal trainer Rosie Miles has taken advantage of her
experience with the cult television programme Xena: Warrior Princess
through her business Xtreme Kiwi in which fans can participate in
horse-drawn chariot races on location at Bethell's Beach, West
(4) Ironically, as producer of Whale Rider Barnett finds himself
supporting "boosterism" in a recent National Business Review
exchange with David Cohen. Cohen suggests that the local media's
"commitment to patriotic boosterism at all costs" reflects an
underlying fragility, that the New Zealand consumer is unable to cope
with a negative response to our "great export mytholog[ies]"
(Cohen). Defensively, Barnett claims "[Cohen] must have read over
500 reviews [of Whale Rider] to find the five criticisms he has given
such prominence" (Barnett "Letter"). Interestingly,
Barnett also implies that Whale Rider's undeniable success at home
and abroad may derive in large part from the media's unrelentingly
(5) The poverty of New Zealand film's marketing networks was
brought home to me when the Kombi Nation van was parked outside my house
for a week in Auckland. Grant Lahood's film, released in 2003,
appears to have been advertised by driving the van across the country.
(6) Larry Parr's Kahukura production company folded in 2002,
leaving debts of $1.5 million, including $180,000 owed to Peter
Jackson's Film Unit (Campbell "Hats off to Larry"). In a
public spat, Jackson's request to the New Zealand Film Commission
to meet the bill was declined. Two of the four films left stranded have
now been completed: Grant Lahood's Kombi Nation (2003) and Larry
Parr's Fracture, formerly titled Crime Story (2004). The crisis at
Kahukura coincided with a dry year in New Zealand film-making, with no
film contenders for the 2002 New Zealand Film and Television Awards.
(7) For a visual ethnography of the branding initiative supporting
the establishment of Te Papa Tongarewa The Museum of New Zealand, see
Anna Cottrell and Gaylene Preston's documentary Getting to Our
Place (1999), which we allude to in the title of this paper. While
gently mocking market research processes, the film also shows genuine
institutional and personal struggles to articulate national values.
(8) The government publication Government Spending on Culture
1990-1999 (June 2000) records a different story, highlighting an
increase of 54% in public expenditure on culture between 1990 and 1999
(9). This figure, however, is unadjusted for inflation. It also includes
$290 million spent on early childhood education in 1998/99 and funding
of $17 million in 1998/99 for Te Papa, which did not exist in 1990/91
for a viable budget comparison.
(9) Van Ham's optimistic perspective is modified by the fact
that terrorist organisations also undertake branding initiatives. As
Ireland's Sunday Independent reports, Sinn Fein is "leveraging
the [Irish] republican brand" by advertising Irish Republican Army
memorabilia for sale and so "making IRA violence pay in cash
terms" with products such as a T-shirt emblazoned with the logo
"Sniper at Work" ("Murder becomes a brand image").
We will be working with the private
sector to develop a consistent brand
image of New Zealand across all our
industry sectors, so that we add smart
and innovative to the clean and green
image! Currently we are also investing
millions of dollars in leveraging
benefit for New Zealand off the release
of the Lord of the Rings--filmed
in New Zealand and made by New
Zealanders, and the second defense--by
New Zealanders--of yachting's
premier trophy, the America's Cup.
Both events can help promote New
Zealand as technologically advanced,
creative, and successful--and our
many other innovators can leverage
off that brand. (Clark 18)
[t]he traditional diplomacy of yesteryear
is disappearing. To do their jobs
well in the future, politicians will
have to train themselves in brand asset
management. Their tasks will include
finding a brand niche for their
state, engaging in competitive marketing,
assuring customer satisfaction,
and most of all, creating brand
New Zealand has grabbed the upper
hand in a tourism battle for the [sic]
Middle Earth as Britain dithers over
just where author J. R. R. Tolkien set
The Lord of the Rings ...
"In a few weeks visitors can explore
the regions used for filming--a road
trip that will take them from mountains
and volcanoes to farmland and
forests," Tourism New Zealand publicity
released in Britain stated....
In contrast, British Tourist Authority
attempts to cash in have been stymied
by a dispute over where Englishman
Tolkien set his blockbusting book.
For years, genuine Lord of the Rings
fans have adopted the story as their
own, and they reach for it daily as a
reference.... When the filming was
done, they adopted the actors as part
of their extended family, too [...] I
think that when the movie comes out,
they will then add New Zealand as
their Middle Earth. So, to complete
that whole picture for them, they will
want to make a pilgrimage here.
(quoted in Campbell, "Planet" 19)