Writing for Bloomberg, Joe Karaganis describes the incredible subsidies that New Zealand provided to the film production for The Hobbit, and what a brutal screwjob those subsidies represent for Kiwi taxpayers.
But now you aren’t thinking like a studio. The real question is: How much taxpayer money can Warner Bros. demand from the government of New Zealand to keep production there (rather than, say, in Australia or the Czech Republic)? That answer turns out to be about $120 million, plus the revision of New Zealand’s labor laws to forbid collective bargaining among film-production contractors, plus the passage of three-strikes Internet-disconnection laws for online copyright infringement, plus enthusiastic and, it turns out, illegal cooperation in the shutdown of the pirate-friendly digital storage site Megaupload and the arrest of its owner, Kim Dotcom.
If you were a NZ taxpayer, you might say that this is a reasonable deal, given all the jobs and such that The Hobbit will bring to your country. Nuh-uh.
The U.K. government found this out in 2005, when Warner Bros. threatened to move “Harry Potter” productions to the Czech Republic. The government of Gordon Brown caved in to studio demands and passed new subsidies. In 2009, New Zealand also gave in and now faces demands for more.
The worst part is that, for most of the wannabe Hollywoods, it’s bad economic policy on every level. The productions bring in mostly low-end, temporary jobs, while the high-end jobs remain in Hollywood or New York. Call it the Curse of Harry Potter.