The hobbling of The Hobbit – or how to drive a movie project to some other country

How do you kill the goose that laid the golden egg and turned our capital into Wellywood?

Very quickly, when you bring in the bloody trade unionists.

NZ Actors Equity has allied itself with Australia’s Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance , which has called for a boycott of The Hobbit films.

Other actors’ unions around the world are supporting that call.

Crazy.

Alf thought New Zealand was on to a good thing, with the movies Sir Peter Jackson was making in this country (and if Sir Peter did very nicely thank you from his enterprise, then good for him).

Alf also thought the people who worked on these movies as contractors had enough gumption to work out for themselves if they were being offered an agreeable deal.

If not, there would be no agreement – would there?

And then they would go and work for someone else.

But nah, it’s not as simple as that because a bunch of bolshie unionists has got itself into the picture.

The result has been to turn fantasy into farce.

Under the influence of the unions a meeting of actors in Auckland agreed overwhelmingly not to accept work on The Hobbit until a collective agreement is negotiated.

But actors at a meeting in Wellington – according to Radio NZcould not reach an agreement on how to proceed.

And Sir Peter is supposed to bargain with this rabble?

They make it even harder when they turn down his offer to talk to them. Or with them. Or whatever.

For some time the unions had been howling for a meeting with the producers.

Alf hears that the producers – including Sir Peter – contacted the MEAA and NZ Actors Equity yesterday morning with an offer to attend the Wellington meeting in the hope of finding a solution to the dispute.

They sent several requests asking for a response.

In the upshot, the producers were finally told “no” shortly before the meeting started.

According to the Radio NZ report –

Sir Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens were shut out of a union-organised meeting in Wellington on Thursday night about their film, The Hobbit.

The union, Actors Equity, says it had offered Sir Peter a private meeting but the gathering was for performers only.

Now there’s every chance the movie will be made elsewhere.

This would scuttle the jobs of writers, assistant directors, other local producers and so on as well as actors.

Morning Report had Sir Peter saying Warner Brothers – the money bags for his produciton of The Hobbit – are considering six possible shooting locations outside of New Zealand.

The decision to bail out of New Zealand looks like a no-brainer to Alf, although he has hesitated from writing to Sir Peter to give him this advice, because Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee says his priority is to make sure New Zealand does not lose filmmakers.

Gerry would be apt to very grumpy if he heard that Alf was urging Sir Peter to get on with The Hobbit in some other country.

But what are the film-makers supposed to do?

Oh, and let’s note that Sir Peter has replied to claims that he pays low wages.

He reckons New Zealand actors in supporting roles would be paid more than Screen Actors Guild members in the United States.

He also said that over the past 10 years, the fees paid to actors have been fair and generous and those working on The Hobbit would have been the first in New Zealand to receive ‘residuals’ from a film – known as profit participation.

But that, and thousands of New Zealand jobs were now at risk because of the dispute.

He said that by blacklisting the film, the union is making it impossible to produce in New Zealand, and so Warner Brothers, its financial backer, may be forced to move the film offshore.

He said the studio is considering six locations outside New Zealand.

Alf is persuaded by Sir Peter’s contention that the MEAA is just using The Hobbit to bring publicity to its own cause.

Sir Peter points out, moreover, that New Zealand’s Actor’s Equity has lost its union status- so he questions why it is accusing The Hobbit of being a non-union production.

Alf’s mate Gerry Brownlee is bang on, of course, in saying demands being made by the union representing actors are outrageous.

He says working as a contractor rather than an employee is part and parcel of the film business.

Mr Brownlee says applying heavy tactics in this situation will mean actors end up losing work in the future.

The union meanwhile will be working out what to do next based on the collective views of its Auckland and Wellington members.

Alf is willing to give them the benefit of his profound wisdom: butt out.

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