They haven`t begun construction of a new Hollywood sign yet on the steep hills that encircle New Zealand`s capital city of Wellington, but it wouldn`t be surprising if they did. Wellington is hometown to Peter Jackson, the writer, director and producer of the mega-Middle Earth trilogy “The Lord of the Rings,” a special effects-laden retelling of the J.R.R.
Tolkien saga that first captivated millions of fable readers in the `60s, before Dungeons and Dragons and well before Harry Potter. Jackson, known for his stop-motion animation work and direction of fantasy-genre films such as 1996`s “Robert Zemeckis Presents: The Frighteners,” likes to work at home. He has made Wellington the production base for not one but three full-length “Rings” features, with the hotly anticipated first tome, “The Fellowship of the Ring,” set for release at Christmas in 2001, “The Two Towers” in 2002 and “The Return of the King” in 2003. No one can mistake the come-hither Hollywood sentiment of Wellington`s film-friendly mayor, Mark Blumsky. He reckons not just his city but this South Pacific country of fewer than 4 million people is poised to become an international moviemaking landmark. “We have to attract people to make films in New Zealand because it`s great value to do business here and because we`ve got the skills,” he told 300 film and TV industry figures at a function he hosted last month to celebrate the city`s 45% share of Kiwi film production. As an example of New Zealand`s developing

“world-renowned expertise,” he cited Hollywood interest in Jackson`s special effects company, Weta.

“On my last trip to L.A., Sony hosted me for half a day and showed me around the `Stuart Little` production. But what they really wanted to know was how they could connect with Weta. They were really aware of Weta and were hugely impressed with the work they`d heard WETA was doing.”