A Sign Full of Symbolism Goes Too Far for Hollywood

Not much is sacred in Hollywood. Classics are remade; final cuts are subjected to focus groups and re-edited.

But the Hollywood sign? That is sacrosanct.

Source: Wellington International Airport

Plans to erect a “Wellywood” sign mimicking the Hollywood sign in Wellington, New Zealand — part of an effort to promote that city’s growing film industry — have riled Hollywood insiders.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which holds the trademark to the sign, insists that Wellington Airport needs permission to use the image and is threatening legal action.

“Over the years, we’ve been contacted by a lot of people who want to mimic the sign,”

Leron Gubler, president of the chamber, said. “We usually tell them, ‘Do something of your own.’ ”

Since the blockbuster “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was shot in New Zealand, that country’s film industry has proved a boon to tourism, with foreigners eager to climb the peaks that served as Mount Doom.

Last year, New Zealand officials agreed to contribute special financing to ensure that the two movies based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Hobbit” would be shot there, and the Wellywood sign was supposed to boost “Middle-earth” affection further.

The Hollywood chamber is less amused by take-offs. In the past, the sign was a favorite target of vandals and pranksters, who would adjust it to read “Hollyweed” or “Jollygood.”

A fence and webcam now protect against vandalism.

The chamber first contacted Wellington Airport about the Wellywood sign last year, expressing misgivings and legal concerns. Until recently, it assumed Wellywood was dead. But last weekend, the airport issued a statement brightly asserting its intention to begin construction.

“I expect widespread support for the intent of the sign, even if a Wellywood sign isn’t everyone’s cup of tea,” Steve Fitzgerald, the chief executive of Wellington Airport, said in the statement. “Everyone benefits from increasing tourism for Wellington.”

But on Wednesday, a fight broke out in New Zealand that would put “Bridesmaids” to shame. Some Wellington city councilors urged the airport to reconsider, saying the sign would undermine the city’s reputation for cutting-edge creativity. Others called opponents “impetuous fools,” among other things.

More than 25,000 people have joined a Facebook group called “Wellingtonians Against the Wellywood Sign.”

“Tacky shame,” Meredith Biberstein wrote on its page.