7 Unions Want to Boycott Hobbit; Jackson Responds
- Over the last 10 years our relationship with NZ Equity has been rocky -- whenever we cast an "overseas actor", we get a letter telling us why such and such Kiwi actor would be so much better in the role. In most cases we have already auditioned the actor in question, and formed our own opinions -- but what strikes me as unfair, is how this "helpful" service of suggesting better choices only includes the "Equity 200". If you happen to be a good actor who doesn't belong to NZ Equity (and many don't), you're automatically not good enough to be put forward.
-- What really does strike me as wrong, and this is my personal opinion, is the why that the MEAA is using NZ Actors Equity as a vehicle to represent the voices and opinions of New Zealand actors. A couple of years ago, the members of NZ Actors Equity voted to join some kind of alliance with the Australian MEAA group. At the time, there were voices of alarm at how this relationship could damage the interest of Kiwi Actors, but the merger went ahead - and now we're about to find out just how damaging it's going to be.
-- As far as I know, the membership of NZ Actors Equity was allowed into the MEAA, meaning that the Australian MEAA organisation represents 200 out of 2000 Kiwi actors. I don't believe it represents non-Equity NZ actors. It speaks on behalf of a tiny minority of our actors.
-- The management of NZ Equity are clearly happy to be used as a political football by the Australians -- but my sympathy goes to the 1800 New Zealand Actors who are not part of the "Equity 200", but who are going to suffer the fallout if this Hobbit thing goes nuclear.
-- I also feel a growing anger at the way this tiny minority is endangering a project that hundreds of people have worked on over the last two years, and the thousands about to be employed for the next 4 years. The hundreds of millions of Warner Brothers dollars that is about to be spent in our economy.
-- Why is this endangered? Because the "demands" of MEAA cannot be agreed to, or even considered - by law - and therefore the only options that remain involve closing the Hobbit down, or more likely shifting the production to Europe. It could so easily happen. I've been told that Disney are no longer bring movies to Australia because of their frustration with the MEAA.
-- The MEAA is demanding that the Hobbit production company (Warners owned, 3foot7 Ltd) enter into negotiations for a Union negotiated agreement covering all performers on the film.
-- I personally have a problem with any organisation who represent a small minority, but attempt to take control of everyone - but that's not the real issue. The complex web of NZ labour laws are the reason why this demand will never be agreed to.
-- NZ law prohibits engaging in collective bargaining with any labour organisation representing performers who are independent contractors, as film actors clearly are. The NZ Commerce Act claims it would be unlawful to engage with an Australian Union on these matters.
My personal opinion is that this is a grab for power. It does not represent a problem that needs a solution. There will always be differing opinions when it comes down to work and conditions, but I have always attempted to treat my actors and crew with fairness and respect. We have created a very favourable profit sharing pool for the non-Union actors on The Hobbit -- and now the Union is targeting us, despite the fact that we have always respected SAG conditions and residuals.
I can't see beyond the ugly spectre of an Australian bully-boy, using what he perceives as his weak Kiwi cousins to gain a foothold in this country's film industry. They want greater membership, since they get to increase their bank balance.
The conspiracy theories are numerous, so take your pick: We have done better in recent years, with attracting overseas movies -- and the Australians would like a greater slice of the pie, which begins with them using The Hobbit to gain control of our film industry. There is a twisted logic to seeing NZ humiliated on the world stage, by losing the Hobbit to Eastern Europe. Warners would take a financial hit that would cause other studios to steer clear of New Zealand.