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Monday, November 1, 2010

Good movie generates economic spin-offs

Monday Starters - By Soo Ewe Jin

THE Lord of The Rings trilogy was one of the first books I bought when I started earning a salary. It is a classic that any father would want to introduce to his sons the moment they could read.

Although my two boys were voracious readers from young, they were not the least interested in the book initially. My version was very thick and the print was very small.

Things changed when the first movie from the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, was released in 2001.

The marketing strategy included the books being repackaged into interesting versions and Tolkien soon became one of their favourite authors.

Now they not only know the Tolkien tale by heart, they can even remember the lines in certain scenes in the three movies. And I am the one struggling to remember who is Aragon and who is Boromir.

File pic shows Actor Elijah Wood is shown in a scene from New Line Cinema's "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," in this undated photo. (AP Photo/New Line Cinema) 
The reason I bring this up in the business pages is that a movie is not just about box-offfice sales but also the economic spin-offs that it can generate.

And the LOTR trilogy is an example of how New Zealand reaped the windfall because Peter Jackson decided to shoot the movies there.

Jackson and his team scoured New Zealand for the most beautiful and diverse areas. The rolling hills of Matamata became Hobbiton, while the volcanic region of Mt Ruapehu transformed into the fiery Mt Doom where Sauron forged The Ring.

The tourism figures after the first movie came out went up by more than 10%. Overnight, New Zealand became Middle Earth.

And that is not to mention the 2,000 people employed during production which included artisans including prop builders, set creators, make-up artists and costume designers.

The filming was done in over 274 days in more than 150 locations all over the country; so you can imagine the supporting industries that benefitted from LOTR.

So, it is no wonder that when Warner Brothers threatened to take the long-awaited prequel, The Hobbit, elsewhere after some union dispute, the government was quick to react.

It not only agreed to make changes to its employment laws but also offered additional tax incentives to convince the Hollywood moguls to film in the country.

Prime Minister John Key was quoted in The Financial Times: “Making the two Hobbit movies here will not only safeguard work for thousands of New Zealanders but it will also follow the success of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy in once again promoting New Zealand on the world stage.”

An economist estimated that the US$500mil to be spent on the production of The Hobbit could be worth an additional US$1bil to the economy, which could certainly do with a boost after the recent earthquake.

The Kiwis certainly understand the power of a good brand. They now have Middle Earth and the All Blacks.

Malaysia, likewise, is blessed with breathtaking natural scenes with quaint towns and kampungs scattered throughout the country, as well as a very developed Klang Valley.

We were the setting for movies like Anna and the King and Entrapment. But we could certainly reap more benefits if we are prepared to see movie-making for what it is – fiction rather than fact.

We cannot be overly sensitive if the script takes certain liberties; one needs to give some latitude for artistic licence. This applies whether a movie is local or foreign.

A good local movie, after all, can make waves internationally and bring in the economic spin-offs as well.

Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin, who has been told that the two countries closest to Heaven on earth are New Zealand and South Africa, still dreams of visiting Middle Earth.

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