MEAA union demands are illegal

September 30th, 2010 at 9:52 am by David Farrar

I blogged on Monday that the demands being made by the Australian are illegal. Russell Brown covers this issue and a lot more at Public Address.

Today the Herald reports that has also advised that the MEAA demands are illegal.

So consider this – we face an international boycott which may destroy the NZ film industry, and the demands are illegal. Isn’t there a name for that?

Yesterday, Mr Finlayson said in a letter to the studios – which was also copied to Sir Peter and Ward-Lealand – that legal advice from the Crown Law Office confirmed the Commerce Act prevented ’s producers “from entering into a union-negotiated agreement with performers who are independent contractors”. Section 30 of the act, which deals with price fixing, “effectively prohibits” such arrangements, he said.

I don’t think this is about wages and conditions – they can be negotiated. This is about trying to increase MEAA membership.

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63 Responses to “MEAA union demands are illegal”

  1. Murray (8,842 comments) says:

    Economic terrorism?

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  2. redqueen (522 comments) says:

    In which case is the MEAA not advocating and commissioning a crime? At what point will the Crown prosecute them, if they are actually attempting to coerce others into a criminal act?

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  3. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    A couple of the people behind this are Steve Chadwick and Keith Locke. Says it all really.

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  4. freedom101 (481 comments) says:

    Labour’s unionist supporters of MEAA might want to ponder the tried and true approach taken by statist socialists:

    “If it moves, tax and regulate it; if it stops, subsidise it”.

    No doubt the film industry will come cap and hand for more tax concessions!

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  5. m@tt (612 comments) says:

    What bullshit.

    “Crown Law Office confirmed the Commerce Act prevented The Hobbit’s producers “from entering into a union-negotiated agreement with performers who are independent contractors” ”

    There is no need for them to be independent contractors, that just suits the production company.

    Go to any job site and you’ll find offers off fulltime, temporary work which would covered by an employment contract that ends on a specified date. No one is asking that the production company to break the law.

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  6. Murray (8,842 comments) says:

    Hey matt here’s a goose that lays golden eggs, get your axe out.

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  7. Guy Fawkes (702 comments) says:

    Which Union are the Union officials in? Surely they should have their own and strike whenever they don’t get their own way?

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  8. Graeme Edgeler (3,277 comments) says:

    And if Jackson engaged them as employees, it wouldn’t be a problem.

    There may be problems with what is going on – e.g. the Union being de-registered – but this is not one of them. It is only an issue because Jackson’s production company wants to hire actors as independent contractors rather than employees.

    [DPF: Who says the actors want to be employees? They lose the ability to claim certain expenses if they do]

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  9. m@tt (612 comments) says:

    Hey Murray. Sorry to point out the obvious but movie production companies aren’t geese.
    If they were then the goose would consume a load of golden feed, lay the golden egg, chip of a fleck to leave at the door then scarper home with the rest.
    Or do you truly believe the production company is here because they are just really nice guys that want to give us all their cash?

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  10. redqueen (522 comments) says:

    I hate to be a pedant, but the idea that it’s just a matter of saying someone is a ‘contractor’ versus an ‘employee’ is actually untrue. There is a difference between a contract for services versus a contract of service. You can’t just go, ‘Oh, wait, we’ll just change their title and this will be legal’. Actors provide services which are far closer to that of a contractor than an employee, particularly surrounding the control which the employer has over them (as compared with, say, an office worker). Also, it’d be really amusing if you did change the nature of their employment: you’d have ‘actors’ who can be compelled to perform to the standard and way an employer specifies and can face disciplinary action if they fail to comply. Is this really what you want?

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  11. Tom Gould (141 comments) says:

    Crown Law is not a court. Its legal opinion is simply that, an opinion. The demands are not “illegal”. That is yet to be determined. The issue is now political, hence its appearance on this blog. The overnight polling must be strongly pro-Jackson.

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  12. redqueen (522 comments) says:

    Tom, if it’s only an ‘opinion’ should it still not be tested in court? If Crown Law is saying that it constitutes an illegal act, ought we not test this before a court to justify the claim?

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  13. Bevan (3,965 comments) says:

    There is no need for them to be independent contractors, that just suits the production company.

    Or maybe it is their choice to be independent contractors. Not everyone wants a union negotiating for them.

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  14. david (2,554 comments) says:

    It would make you wonder how many of the hundreds of short term extras are named Charles (or Christine) Ash while on set.

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  15. Graeme Edgeler (3,277 comments) says:

    Also, it’d be really amusing if you did change the nature of their employment: you’d have ‘actors’ who can be compelled to perform to the standard and way an employer specifies and can face disciplinary action if they fail to comply. Is this really what you want?

    It doesn’t matter what I want, it matters what the actors want. And I’d imagine there would be similar terms in their contracts as well. If the actors suddenly started acting really poorly, I’d like to think the production company could do something about it!

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  16. bhudson (4,736 comments) says:

    “There is no need for them to be independent contractors, that just suits the production company. ”

    The production company is quite within its rights to engage only contractors if it chooses (and, of course, if it can find enough contractors.)

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  17. Matt (224 comments) says:

    Isn’t it about time that the government starts cracking down on these union shenanigans?

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  18. Rick Rowling (823 comments) says:

    Why settle for the MEAA when the actors could get PPTA representation, and insist on all actors being on the same pay scale – so “2nd man walking across road” is treated as fairly as (say) Christopher Walken.

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  19. Fot (252 comments) says:

    Dear Mr Jackson.

    Please tell the union scum to F off.

    Take the film to Europe, it will mean that I do not have to subsidise these third rate ‘actors’ any longer.

    Kind regards

    FOT.

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  20. k.jones (210 comments) says:

    anyone here know the “mexicans with cellphones” story from newline when LOR was being being scoped?

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  21. lyndon (330 comments) says:

    If anyone would prefer a less lively opponent on the technical issues than Mr Edgeler, here is the actors’ legal advice

    Not necessarily saying Simpson Grierson > Crown Law, but I suspect the question Finlayson asked may have been rather specific. Anyone got a copy of his letter?

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  22. Ed Snack (1,801 comments) says:

    Is this a demand for a closed shop ? If so is that illegal ?

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  23. Brian Smaller (4,028 comments) says:

    But this dispute isn’t about money, but about ‘working conditions’ apparently. What is so onorous about being an actor? Do they want five extra groupies each per week or something?

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  24. expat (4,048 comments) says:

    Tom Gould: Of course the overnight polling is strongly pro-jackson, generally NZ’rs are sick to the back teeth of contrived political spoiling tactics by the activist arms of the Labour party. While I agree they is a need for worker representation to come into a production mid stream and try and fuck it up for benefit mostly to the union is duplicitous and dirty.

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  25. redqueen (522 comments) says:

    Graeme – You’re missing the point: to compel actors into such an arrangement, on the basis of political factors, is absurd. The statement is not that we should want actors to be employees, but that such a proposition that they ‘should’ be employees, as compared with contractors, is compulsion and absurd. In the case, for instance, of a running television show treating actors as employees may have advantages, the same as for movies contractors may be more suitable, but such an arrangement is purely voluntary and should not be imposed by union interference. To then say that this is just because they’re being called contractors, rather than employees, misses the substantial difference.

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  26. wreck1080 (3,817 comments) says:

    Can the MEAA be sued?

    Or, alternatively, why is anyone taking this seriously.

    You gotta laugh though. To me, it seems like the actors are trying to be greedy.

    They might get nothing now. Ha ha.

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  27. scrubone (3,090 comments) says:

    One of the best things about our film industry was the lack of heavy handed unions.

    Seems like those days are over.

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  28. burt (8,037 comments) says:

    Of course this is only about increasing MEAA membership. The Labour govt would never have agreed to pour tax payers money into LOTR if it didn’t expect to effect a transfer of tax payers money to the Labour party via increased union membership.

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  29. k.jones (210 comments) says:

    Ok, the story goes…

    Pete, Fran etc had hosted the first wave of New Line execs in NZ, and they were now back in the states trying to convince “Mr New Line” to fund Lord of Rings. Mr New Line is going thru costing, risk analysis etc, and asks “what’s the labour force like?”. One the junior execs who’d been out to NZ said ‘Sir, they’re just like mexicans, but with cellphones”….

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  30. burt (8,037 comments) says:

    Perhaps we could introduce tarrifs on imported movies. Sort of hark back to the good old days of protected markets to make the unions happy. Perhaps watching a NZ made movie in the cinema could be $3 and watching a movie made off-shore could be $1,000. Likewise renting a DVD made in NZ could be $1 and renting a DVD made off-shore could be $300.

    Oh hang on – I forgot how protected markets work – all movies would be $1,000 in the cinema and $300 to rent. The unions would however call it a success that nobody in NZ is being employed without a collective agreement. They would just forget to mention that nobody in NZ is employed making movies since they won their case to protect local workers. The tax take would be fantastic and only the rich could afford to watch movies… Sounds like the good old days of car manufacturing, white-ware makers, TV’s and the like – the good old days the unions loved so much when compulsory unionism was the bees-knees.

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  31. davidp (3,558 comments) says:

    What is the Labour Party’s position on this? Are they backing the international unions or the NZ film industry? I’ve been over to Red Alert and there doesn’t seem to be a single mention of the issue.

    It is a gutsy move by NZ actors tho. They’re willing to risk perpetual unemployment for the chance that their Australian and American brothers benefit. It isn’t often that a low paid person would risk their job so that a foreign multi-millionaire could receive a pay increase.

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  32. burt (8,037 comments) says:

    davidp

    The labour party position appears to be that it was good to chuck tax payers money at PJ when Labour were doing it but now that PJ has a private jet and National are in power he should pay people more.

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  33. Brian Smaller (4,028 comments) says:

    It seems the actors union would rather have 100% of nothing, than a smaller percentage of something.

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  34. burt (8,037 comments) says:

    Brian Smaller

    Most people who have no idea of how buiness and markets work fail to understand that parasites harm their host.

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  35. Bevan (3,965 comments) says:

    About time we made militant unions illegal in this country.

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  36. david (2,554 comments) says:

    Hard to work this out. No casting has been done for the Hobbit apparently so there is no-one contracted for the Union to cover. Are they trying to corner the market on labour contracts and effectively create a closed shop (anyone who is not a member but gets the “union conditions” will be a scab and will be heavied out) or are they saying that if PJ picks any of their members, here is a set of conditions we want to set for them?

    It is all conveniently fuzzy and surprisingly fact-free but the fact that it has been made into a public shitfight is interesting as everyone is taking a side purely on ideological grounds.

    People who worked on LOTR claim that they were “very well paid and treated” but there are no numbers around what “very well paid” means and we don’t know what the Union is really asking for. In fact actors have said that they have no gripes over previous treatment so hard to pick throughthe shite to find what is really driving this thing.

    Very strange and too vague for it to become an issue that decides the future of an industry.

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  37. James (1,338 comments) says:

    Hah! Jackson the lefty is getting bite back….and getting it good.Maybe now he may think harder about his politics a bit more…

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  38. burt (8,037 comments) says:

    James

    Its probable that he was only a lefty via the media. Hard to have so many photo’s taken with the snagger-tooth monster and claim to be a hard market driven capitalist while accepting tax payer money with the only condition being photo op’s for the self serving queen of the arts.

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  39. Murray (8,842 comments) says:

    Why don’t you just go rob the production company matt becuase you’re too fuck thinck to work out that if they get pissed around too much they’ll just take the film somewhere else.

    Go look up metaphor and allegory before you pull the stockign over your head as well. We’ll get to harder concepts like similes when you’ve mastered these.

    Fuckwit.

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  40. jcuknz (704 comments) says:

    I remember when I was young and wanting to get into the industry, in the UK then, but to get a job I had to have a union card, to get a card I had to have a job. The only chance was if no union member wanted the job [ perhaps working in a processing lab like a friend had got, a kiwi on OE] … So I came to NZ and when TV started got a job. I’m pro unions but not when they get restrictive and obstructionist.

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  41. burt (8,037 comments) says:

    jcuknz

    I’m pro unions but not when they get restrictive and obstructionist.

    So you are pro the concept of unions but yet to see an implementation that delivers on the intent….

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  42. Rex Widerstrom (5,330 comments) says:

    Graeme Edgeler says:

    It doesn’t matter what I want, it matters what the actors want.

    I would imagine that’s the crux of it. So can someone enlighten me as to what the actors do want? The working stiffs, I mean, not the union mouthpieces who claim to speak for them.

    I guess I could (at the outside, with one eye slightly closed and your head tilted the right way) be classed as an “actor” at times in that I’m often paid to read commercials and voice overs for corporate and documentary stuff. On rare occasions they even throw good taste to the wind and have me appear on screen.

    I certainly wouldn’t want the union negotiating for me but at the same time would defend the right of someone else to choose to do so. I’d guess most actors would feel the same… wouldn’t they?

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  43. burt (8,037 comments) says:

    Rex

    I imagine you are correct that most actors would feel the same. But without funding the actvist arm of the Labour party how will the political arm of the unions have money to convince us that everyone wants to be a union member.

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  44. Tom Gould (141 comments) says:

    Redqueen, yes. Crown Law is simply a bunch of bureaucrat lawyers. It seems there is a contrary ‘opinion’ from a bunch of corporate lawyers. The Court is the place to test both. Frankly, it is unlikely to get to court and even if it does, it is unlikely to solve the problem. Nor are threats to take the ball and go play elsewhere. It would be helpful, however, to see an objective explanation of the issue, from both sides.

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  45. Bevan (3,965 comments) says:

    I would imagine that’s the crux of it. So can someone enlighten me as to what the actors do want? The working stiffs, I mean, not the union mouthpieces who claim to speak for them.

    EXACTLY!

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  46. Fot (252 comments) says:

    Can one of the union apologists explain to me why I have to sit down and negotiate with the unions if I am considering bringing my business or company to NZ?

    As long as I obey employment law and the other laws of the land I fail to see why I should have to give up my time to chat with the union parasites.

    It seems fairly simple to me, I am offering employment, you will be paid $X dollars and these are the employment terms, if you don’t like it then don’t bother applying for a job.

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  47. Rich Prick (1,635 comments) says:

    The industrial arm of the Labo(u)r Party just doing what it does best, fucking it all up.

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  48. Tom Gould (141 comments) says:

    Fot, that approach may be okay for short term projects like making a movie, but if you were indeed thinking of bringing your business or company to NZ, and you want your business to be successful, then you may have to take a somewhat wider view of employee relations and corporate culture that ‘here’s your money, now get on with your work, and if you don’t like it, fuck off and I will get someone else.’

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  49. Steve Wrathall (261 comments) says:

    I tolds you they was tricksie. I tolds you they was false.

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  50. MyNameIsJack (2,415 comments) says:

    Fot’s 2:22 shows why it is not now, and never will be, an employer. Probably rubs shoulders down at WINZ with Red Russell. Live in Tauranga, Fot?

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  51. RightNow (6,844 comments) says:

    Peter Jackson’s statement includes this:
    “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.”

    So what the MEAA are trying to do is negotiate a contract that will cover performers currently not MEAA members – in other words, people they currently have no authority to represent.

    It’s worth reading the whole thing http://www.reelmovienews.com/2010/09/the-hobbit-comes-under-union-fire-peter-jackson-sounds-off/

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  52. wreck1080 (3,817 comments) says:

    Actually, had an interesting experience with unions in Germany.

    We were making changes to the IT systems of a largish German company. However, we had to get union approval to make the changes.

    It was not up to the business owners as to whether we could make the changes, it was up to the union.

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  53. burt (8,037 comments) says:

    Fot

    Can one of the union apologists explain to me why I have to sit down and negotiate with the unions if I am considering bringing my business or company to NZ?

    Because the funding arm of the Labour party have managed to influence employment law in their own best interests and as an employer you have to pay the ticket clippers. Think of it as a handbrake on innovation that is required because monopoly state providers don’t want to loose market share to agile enterprise.

    As long as I obey employment law and the other laws of the land I fail to see why I should have to give up my time to chat with the union parasites.

    You would think it was that simple wouldn’t you. But no… The unions as the funding arm of the Labour party have sufficient influence over govt policy to ensure that their best interests are put before the employees and the employers. Typical tail wagging the dog sort of stuff – a comparable situation would be ticket clippers on the commuter trains dictating the journey price and timetable to protect their own wages and preferred working hours.

    It seems fairly simple to me, I am offering employment, you will be paid $X dollars and these are the employment terms, if you don’t like it then don’t bother applying for a job.

    Ah, yes… people also wondered why they needed to pay protection money to the Mafia in Chicago if they wanted to sell alcohol as well. Of course the politicians getting kickbacks from the protection rackets had incentives to keep prohibition status quo – same with the Labour party and the unions. I’m sorry but to do business in NZ you do need to make allowance for the union elite who have staggering influence over employment law and that’s just the way it is.

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  54. James (1,338 comments) says:

    What Fot said…thats all that is and should be required in a civil country that respects property rights and the rule of law.Just how did unions get the power to bypass these things and be able to issue threats and use force against employers?

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  55. burt (8,037 comments) says:

    wreck1080

    Sounds like our situation with education standards.

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  56. burt (8,037 comments) says:

    James

    Because we let them.

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  57. virtualmark (1,522 comments) says:

    I have a bit of insight into this via a friend of our family who is a fairly well-known New Zealand-based actor. They have been offered a firm contract for The Hobbit, where they would be an independent contractor to 3Foot7. Their comment re the offer from 3Foot7 is that it was very well-paying. There seems little doubt that they will accept the contract.

    Apparently the main point the union is looking at is the level of residuals, particularly from DVD and online sales. The current 3Foot7 contract says the actors get to share 2% of the residual income, the union wants 4%.

    Apparently the union’s position is backed by six – just six – actors. So half a dozen actors are jeopardising a multi-million dollar business, threatening the income of hundreds of people who don’t appear in front of the camera, and threatening the huge spin-offs (from tourism etc) that New Zealand would receive from having these films done here.

    Astounding.

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  58. Fot (252 comments) says:

    Tom Gould

    So what you are saying is that I would have no option but to put up with union blackmail and stand over tactics?

    I guess that is the main reason why I would not bother, any business man who was considering bringing his business to NZ and had to rely on the goodwill of the union to be successful would be mad to do so if he was faced with that type of ultimatum.

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  59. RightNow (6,844 comments) says:

    Fot – you’re mostly right (in my opinion), excepting that it is possible the union thugs in NZ might not be as bad as the union thugs in the country of origin (of said business person). Also there may be kickbacks involved (courtesy of the NZ taxpayer) that make the proposition more favourable to said business person.
    But on the whole, one would have to be a) masochistic, b) very brave, c) void of alternatives, or d) very stupid, to be an employer in NZ.

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  60. lyndon (330 comments) says:

    Apparently the union’s position is backed by six – just six – actors.

    Um, they had a meeting last night in Ak complete with votes and stuff, think there’s one in Wellington today. NZ Equity making much politer noises than MEAA.

    But on the whole, one would have to be a) masochistic, b) very brave, c) void of alternatives, or d) very stupid, to be an employer in NZ.

    http://www.doingbusiness.org/economyrankings/

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  61. Bevan (3,965 comments) says:

    Oooooooo six actors had a meeting…….

    Watch the evil capitalist movie studios quake in fear.

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  62. lesterpk (27 comments) says:

    I did some work for a production company a few years back. Was for a TV commercial, had to fly a model glider thrown by the actor past the camera. Did a site recce one day, 2 days of filming, about 15 minutes ‘work’ each day. Got $400 a day plus 65 cents a KM travel (Auckland to Matamata 3 times) and $150 incidentals money. As an independent contractor I paid my own tax and claimed expenses as well. And the company gifted me one of the 2 models built for the job.

    Nothing wrong with my terms and conditions….

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  63. filmie wife (1 comment) says:

    As partner of one of hundreds of film technicians in Wellington who’ll be proud and grateful to work on the Hobbit films if they ever go ahead now, I’m disappointed with the actions of these actors who have clearly forgotten about the hundreds of other Kiwis who would be employed by these films.

    The actors appear out of touch with the realities of how difficult it is to get funding for a high stakes game like a major film even in the economic good times -let alone in the aftermath of the financial crisis. They need to remember that Peter Jackson didn’t need to stay in New Zealand and build an industry. I think he deserves heartfelt thanks for everything he’s done for the industry here and the decent wages he’s paid his crews over the years.

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