7 Unions Want to Boycott Hobbit; Jackson Responds
I am not a lawyer, nor am I an expert in unions and how they operate - but I like to think I have a degree of common sense, and that's what I'm basing my observations on. Let me run over a few facts:
-- Personally speaking, I'm not anti-Union in the slightest. I'm a very proud and loyal member of three Hollywood Unions - the Directors Guild, the Producers Guild and the Writers Guild. I support the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). All these organisations (I must confess I'm not entirely sure what the difference is between a "Guild" and a "Union") do terrific work on behalf of their members.
-- Many Actors are members of SAG, but many are not -- especially younger actors and many Australian and New Zealand performers. MEAA claims we are "non-Union", but whenever we hire an actor who belongs to SAG, we always honour their working conditions, their minimum salary agreements and their residuals.
-- The SAG residuals is a small pot of money that comes from the movie's profits. The DGA and WGA have similar schemes. An agreed upon percentage of movie profits is placed in a pot, which is shared amongst the members of the guild who worked on the film in question. Despite MEAA claims that The Hobbit is "non-Union", our studio, Warner Brothers, is honouring these residuals, and making the profit sharing available to all the various Guild members - just as it did on The Lord of the Rings, and Universal did on King Kong.
-- These residuals can be worth tens of thousands of dollars to an individual if the film is successful - however the normal situation is that if an actor is not a member of SAG, they do not share in the profit pot.
-- This has always struck us as unfair, since most Kiwi actors are not lucky enough to be SAG members. For the Hobbit, Warner Brothers have agreed to create a separate pot of profit participation, which will be divided up amongst non-SAG actors who are cast in the film. This was not done because of any pressure from Guilds or Unions - it was actually Warners doing the decent thing, and New Zealand and Australian actors will be the principle beneficiaries. SAG members have their pot, and non-SAG members now have theirs. We have introduced the scheme to Kiwi agents and it's now part of all our Hobbit cast deals.
-- Whatever damage MEAA is attempting to do -- and it will do damage, since that's their principal objective in targeting The Hobbit - we will continue to treat our actors and crew with respect, as we always have.
-- As I said earlier, money and power lies behind this threatening behaviour from our Australian cousins, and to fully understand that, you simply have to step back and look at the greater picture in context.
-- It starts with "NZ Actors Equity". This is a tiny organisation that represents a small minority of New Zealand Actors. They are not a Union, and have none of the legal status of a Union. They are a ... well, a smallish group who have some New Zealand actors as members. How many actors are members of NZ Equity? They guard that information very closely, but various reports I've seen put their membership at 200, although somebody in the know swears it's nearer 100.
-- How many professional actors are there in New Zealand? Somewhere between 2000 and 4000, depending on just how you describe a "professional actor". Obviously most Kiwi actors have other employment too, but there's certainly over 2000 actors available to cast in a film production.
-- So taking the most generous numbers, NZ Actors Equity represents 200 out of 2000 Kiwi actors, or 10%. Perhaps I'm wrong, and if so, NZ Equity will no doubt reveal their real membership numbers.
- Now there's nothing wrong with NZ Actors Equity representing 10% of the actors in this country. It's great that they offer that service, and if an actor chooses, there's a supportive group they can join. Obviously the more actors that join NZ Equity, the better, since these organisations usually survive by taking a small percentage of their members acting fees. I'm guessing that Equity do something like that. Recently they have been part-funded by MEAA.