The Hobbit e-mails

February 27th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Hamish Rutherford at Stuff reports:

Sir Peter Jackson was so frustrated by a “snake” union official he was unable to think about The Hobbit for three weeks.

Documents released under order by the Ombudsman reveal the award-winning director said Cabinet minister Gerry Brownlee was “played like a fool” by Simon Whipp, a former director of Australian union Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA). …

The Government had “engaged with a snake, who now feels quite fearless”, Sir Peter said.

“I really can’t [take] much more of this toxic nonsense. All I want to do is make films! I haven’t been able to think about the movie for 3 weeks.”

The full e-mails are here. I think they show the incredible strain that Jackson was under, caused by one Australian union official aided and abetted by barely a dozen locals. MEAA is not an NZ union, and it controls the NZ Actor’s Equity which represents less than 10% of NZ actors. It was a classic case of destructive behaviour and you see what was really driving it was MEAA trying to establish a massive income stream for itself.

The e-mail from New Line Cinema is also revealing. They state that “momentum was growing to find alternatives – including New South Wales” and detail how there would be less risk there. Anyone who claims the films were in no danger of moving is dreaming.

Hooton on “good faith” industrial relations

November 1st, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

In the NBR (behind the paywall) Matthew Hooton wrote last week:

“Good faith” remains at the centre of New Zealand’s labour laws and, until now, has delivered relatively benign industrial relations.

The problem is that the Employment Relations Act’s authors couldn’t have anticipated a person such as Australian Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance boss Simon Whipp.

Australian unions are overbearingly powerful and notoriously corrupt, with historic links to organised crime. It was to people with that cultural inheritance that New Zealand’s actor unionists turned – implausibly, they claim, simply because they wanted a chat with the New Zealand Screen Production and Development Association.

In fact, Mr Whipp then conspired with other union bosses in Australia, Canada, the US and the UK to arrange a global boycott of The Hobbit, which would have cost more than 2500 highly-skilled, highly-paid jobs and unravelled an industry worth more than New Zealand’s entire exports of beef, butter or cheese.

But the problem has been solved, or has it?

Good faith is meant to be a mutual obligation, requiring parties to interact constructively. It covers the whole relationship between employer and employee, not just formal bargaining, and includes not only current but intended employers and employees – including those working under commercial contracts who want to become employees. …

Not even in their fevered imaginations could it be considered good faith to conspire with militant union thugs across the English-speaking world to organise a global boycott of a vitally important project which already pays above industry averages – and all without even giving prior warning to the employer of their intention to do so.

Actors aren’t alone in making a mockery of “good faith.” Similar conduct is under way in secondary schools from the PPTA, a union with a history of communist connections. It has no intention of dealing in good faith with the Ministry of Education because its true objective is industrial havoc in election year. The primary teachers’ union will no doubt also find a pretext for havoc in 2011, probably over national standards – a policy which, like few others, has received overwhelming mandates from parents and voters. Other unions plan to sabotage the Rugby World Cup.

So good faith seems to be rather lacking from the unions, Hooton says.

The government may also need to consider whether the law around “good faith” should be reviewed in the light of union antics. The provisions imposing good faith obligations on unions as well as employers could be strengthened. Or perhaps employers could be able to apply to the courts to have organisations like Actors Equity and the teacher unions proscribed and the requirement to deal with them in good faith removed. Or perhaps “good faith” needs to go altogether.

That would be a shame – but it would be Ms Walsh, Ms Ward-Lealand, Ms Malcolm, Ms Kelly and Mr Whipp who would be responsible.

By coincidence (or maybe not) I also had a phone call on Friday, saying that the laws around good faith need to be reviewed as the unions make such a mockery around them. Is it possible Mr Hooton is flying a kite for certain people within National who want to see change in this area? If so, they have certainly been given an opportunity to do so by not just the MEAA, but also PPTA and NZEI.

Like Matthew, I think this would be a shame. I think good faith is important in the employment realm. But it does need to apply both ways, not one way.

Threats are wrong but beware exagerrations

October 29th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Actresses and unionists have received threats, including some against their lives, during the heated row over The Hobbit movie.

Police have been called and private security arranged for some of those targeted.

Anyone making death threats should receive a visit from the Police – at a minimum. But I am sceptical of believing that death threats have been made, just because MEAA says so – they have a record of lying and exaggeration.

Remember Helen Kelly’s lynch mob – led by gentle Richard Taylor.

Remember the Matterhorn incident which was described as needing a Police escort, and turned out to simply be a guy with a video camera politely asking Whipp why he targeted the Hobbit.

Nowhere in the story do they quote an actual threat – just the MEAA saying they had received them. Why do journalists not ask for details to back up claims?

Finally I recall the words of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who could be called an expert on death threats – she has to live 24/7 with Police protection. She said that “I am coming to kill you” is a death threat while “I hope you die” is constitutionally protected speech. Now I certainly do not endorse the latter sentiments against any New Zealander, but even if people have said them – that is not a death threat.

Of course we can’t judge in this case, as we have no details – just MEAA claims.


October 29th, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

I don’t know if anyone out there actually still believes a word the MEAA or CTU has said re The Hobbit dispute, so this is probably flogging a dead horse. But the rebuttal of the MEAA newsletter by SPADA is so good, that it deserves a bigger audience:

1. MEAA Position:

“NZ Equity has also sought to bargain with the screen producers association SPADA. For a variety of reasons none of these attempts have been successful.”

SPADA Response:

It is surprising that these ‘variety of reasons’ are not specified in their newsletter to members. …

SPADA initially offered to meet with NZ Actors’ Equity in February 2009 to discuss the Code of Practice for the Engagement of Cast in the New Zealand Screen Production Industry dated 6 June 2005 (and more commonly known as the “Pink Book”). Subsequently SPADA offered to meet on a non agenda basis to have an open discussion in good faith.

However NZ Actors’ Equity would only agree to meet to discuss an industry wide agreement containing conditions of employment no less favourable than those in Australia to be negotiated by the MEAA. This was unworkable given SPADA, as has been confirmed by the Attorney General, cannot legally enter into a union negotiated agreement.

So MEAA all along has refused to meet or negotiate unless an illegal demand was met.

2. MEAA Position:

“All NZ Equity sought was to meet with the production and discuss the conditions under which performers would be engaged.”

SPADA Response:

All the polite chit chat about having a ‘cup of tea’ is a fantasy. The boycott (because that’s exactly what it was), began back in June. Well before the ‘cup of tea’ suggestions.

At a meeting believed to be n in June 2010, the FIA resolved as follows:

Resolved, that the International Federation of Actors urges each of its affiliates to adopt instructions to their members that no member of any FIA affiliate will agree to act in the theatrical film The Hobbit until such time as the producer has entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance for production in New Zealand providing for satisfactory terms and conditions for all performers employed on the productions.”

At this point the production had not issued any final performer’s contracts. Accordingly, neither MEAA nor FIA had any reason to believe that performers wouldn’t be contracted on “satisfactory terms and conditions”. They were prepared to boycott without any justification. Those terms and conditions have subsequently been found to be satisfactory by the NZ actors cast in roles.

So they resolved to have a boycott in June 2010, prior to even seeing a contract. And Labour and the unions dare talk about good faith bargaining.

3. MEAA Position:

“The Board formed the view that in the interests of harmony between cast and crew and for the sake of the NZ screen industry the commitments made in discussions with SPADA were significant enough to justify ending the dispute with The Hobbit.”

SPADA response:

What SPADA agreed recently is exactly what we’ve been trying to achieve for some time. What SPADA “committed to” is to meet. What MEAA have achieved is what they would have got if they had sat down with us over 18 months.

The inability admit they were wrong is staggering.

7. MEAA Position:

“In the past the conditions set out in the Pink Book have been completely disregarded by producers.”

SPADA Response:

Not true and no examples have ever been given by union.

This claim has been repeated by Labour friendly journalists, and others. Has anyone asked MEAA to cite examples? If not, why not?

9. MEAA Position:

“Our actions in no way jeopardised the filming of The Hobbit in New Zealand.”

SPADA Response:

Patently not true… and not believed by the NZ public as per public opinion polls

Simon Whipp would make a good President for Iran – I could just see him denying there ever was a Holocaust. He seems to be able to say the most false things with conviction.

11. MEAA Position:

“New Zealand performers approached this issue in a calm and professional manner and have every reason to be extremely proud of themselves.”

Oh that is just too funny by far. They should do stand up comedy!

The 17 August letters

October 28th, 2010 at 2:04 pm by David Farrar

I’ve now got a copy of the full release from Peter Jackson regarding the 17 August global boycott letter, and a copy of the letter itself. Read them both carefully and then try telling me this is not the cause of what happened.

Media Release – The Hobbit 271010

And in case one thinks Sir Peter is lying, here is the letter itself.

FIA 17-VIII-10_en

So Warners and co have had this boycott threat hanging over them for over two months.

Global boycott started in August

October 27th, 2010 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Martin Kay at Stuff reports:

Sir Peter Jackson today released a letter which he said proved the actors’ unions had already decided to blacklist The Hobbit before requesting a conversation with him.

The letter, from The International Federation of Actors, was sent to the US directors of production company 3 Foot 7 Ltd on August 17, warning that the federation had instructed its members no to act in the film until the producers had entered into bargaining with the union.

Sir Peter said that letter was the first time he had been made aware of the issue.

“It was the first time a meeting was ever requested and it was clear from the letter they had already voted to blacklist us, before even asking for one conversation with me,” he said.

“I am sick and tired of hearing [union NZ Actors] Equity say ‘All we ever wanted was a meeting’, because it’s disingenuous. They fail to add that from the outset, they had a gun to our head.”

“It just made me incredibly angry, I wondered how can a union behave like this? How could Simon Whipp [Australian union representative from the Media, Entertainment & Artists’ Alliance, or MEAA] initiate an international strike action against our film with no prior vote from the Kiwi membership?”

Sir Peter said he decided to release the letter after NZ Actors Equity circulated an email to its members yesterday saying all it sought was to “meet with the production and discuss the conditions under which performers would be engaged”.

“It amazes me that the executive officer of NZ Actor’s Equity can walk roughshod over our industry and the union itself fails to adhere to the most basic principles of democratic process,” he said.

“NZ Equity has given Simon Whipp absolute power and no one seems to care if he abuses it. He can threaten the livelihoods of thousands of Kiwis, jeopardise a huge financial investment to this country and he’s not held accountable. It’s unbelievable.”

So much for “We just wanted to talk”. What is also fascinating is there was no local vote in favour of a boycott it seems – Whipp instituted it presumably on his own authority, or the authority of his Australian overlords?

Sadly it looks like we will all pay the price for Mr Whipp’s actions, and end up having to give a greater subsidy to Warners. And there is absolutely no way at all that would have happened without the MEAA’s antics, as everything was set to start without disruption.

One could of course cut our nose off to spite our face, and refuse to do a sweetener to Warners. Part of me thinks we should, but really the price too pay would be far too high – we would not be losing one film, but an entire industry. I’d rather not having thousands more people unemployed and receiving welfare payments.

In a perfect world, the Government could just send MEAA a bill for the additional sweetener to Warners. They are the ones who incurred it.

The Hobbit v the CTU

October 22nd, 2010 at 2:35 pm by David Farrar

More developments today. First the Dominion Post editorial:

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. The full stupidity of the Actors’ Equity members who arranged an international boycott of The Hobbit is now apparent.

They used the nuclear bomb option in industrial negotiations. And nuclear bombs always have fall out.

What makes New Zealand unique in terms of film-making is that it is where Sir Peter lives and where, despite the blandishments of Hollywood, he has chosen to build his empire.

A film set is not like a meatworks or an old-fashioned cotton mill where workers are interchangeable. It is a place where individuals have a chance to make a difference and to be rewarded for their talents.

Members of the Australian-based Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance and its local offshoot, Actors’ Equity, who do not back themselves to shine are under no compulsion to offer their services to Sir Peter. If they prefer, they are at liberty to deliver one-person shows in empty provincial theatres. But they should not seek to deny others the opportunity to build film careers or to experience the excitement of working on a project that will be seen around the world.

I love the line about empty provincial theatres!

… the Government has no choice but to step in to try to repair the damage done by the actors’ union. It is not just the future of The Hobbit that is at stake, but the future of the industry that has grown up around Sir Peter. If that requires the Government to bump up the 15 per cent tax break already available to the producers of The Hobbit, Finance Minister Bill English should get out his chequebook.

The purity of the tax system be damned. The consequences of losing an industry that has revitalised Wellington do not bear thinking about.

Losing the film will lead to a massive loss of jobs, and the taxpayer will probably end up paying even more through lost tax income and higher welfare costs. Having said that, I would much prefer the tax break not be increased.

Some lunatics think that this was all manufactured so they could get a tax break. I’d really love to meet the evil geniuses that managed to infiltrate MEAA and get them to arrange a global boycott, just so that Warners can use it as an excuse to get a bigger tax break.

Perhaps the shortfall could be made up by cutting Creative New Zealand’s theatrical budget.

Is that on top of the $44,000 I already want to cut?

John Drinnan at the Herald looks at the media handling of it and notes:

To challenge a national icon you would think you would lay on a bit of charm – or just show some respect.

Kelly said: “There are still New Zealanders out there who believe that people have a right to negotiate.”

Maybe the handling of the Hobbit dispute will win the MEAA and CTU an activist award at the next Socialist International prizegiving.

But in this country they have turned a lot of people off.

Helen Kelly calling Sir Peter Jackson a spoilt brat was incredibly stupid. Peter Jackson has created more jobs for New Zealanders than possibly any other person. Once upon a time the CTU said they cared about jobs.

Tom Cardy in the Dom Post has the latest updates:

A furious Sir Peter Jackson will “fight as hard as he can” to keep The Hobbit in New Zealand – but is already listing key Kiwi staff to take if the two-part film goes overseas.

And the director hit back at Council of Trade Union president Helen Kelly’s claims that he had set up the actors’ union to take the blame if the US$500 million (NZ$667m) movie is lost.

“I couldn’t believe it. It was the first time I really got very angry.”

Asked if it was fingers crossed that The Hobbit would remain, Jackson said: “I don’t know what to cross any more. I’ve just got to get some sleep. I haven’t had much sleep in the past few days.”

It was unlikely he would be able to take more than 150 Kiwi crew – compared with a minimum of 2500 he could employ here – but did not yet “have the heart” to choose who.

Sir Peter is an unlikely target for the CTU to try and make out as the super villain. Almost everyone who has worked for him raves about him, and I would speculate that he probably routinely votes Labour/Greens.  He is not some uncaring distant Rupert Murdock type. So he is speaking very honestly when he says it would be heart-breaking to choose just 5% of people to take overseas.

I understand from those a bit closer to the action that he is personally very hurt by what has happened, as he has spent so much of his life creating jobs and getting better pay for NZ workers. He could have become far far richer by moving to Hollywood.

Ms Kelly cited a belief Warner had already decided to move the films for bigger tax incentives and lower wages, and Jackson – a “spoilt brat” – was trying to set the union up to blame.

Yes Sir Peter masterminded the MEAA into an international boycott to move the film overseas, despite having already spent tens of millions on preparing for the films to be shot in NZ.

With all respect Helen Kelly’s belief should be given as much weight as the beliefs of Scientologists.

Jackson described her as clueless. “Why do people like Helen Kelly have to be driven by rhetoric and playing some kind of role where she’s always got to be the victim and everyone else is to blame?

“She has tried every possible conspiracy theory. I’m expecting to be told I was on the grassy knoll in Dallas any moment now.”

Can he prove he was not?

Outrageous Fortune star and Actors’ Equity committee member Robyn Malcolm said yesterday she could not believe a request for a discussion around conditions was enough to derail the project. “We’re not even the coffee budget. Nobody wants Cate Blanchett’s salary …”

Oh you silly person you. You did not “request” a discussion. You initiated a global boycott. Do you not know the difference? It is rather huge.

Incidentally how many people were aware that the taxpayers have sunk over $48 million into keeping Ms Malcolm and others employed on Outraegous Fortune?

I’m a fan of the show, but I prefer them to do what Shortland Street does – become self sufficient after the initial years.

Remember those stories about lynch mobs and needing Police escorts. Well this video shows the lovely Simon Whipp in action, refusing to even talk politely to a questioner – definitely a violent lynch mob.

And finally the Young Nats ask about why the Wellington Mayor is missing in action. It is incredible that the new Mayor of Wellington has not been out to the media saying how crucial it is that the Hobbit be filmed here, and demanding that any obstacles to it be removed. The only person who has been even quieter than Celia has been Phil Goff.

Fisking the CTU

October 21st, 2010 at 2:45 pm by David Farrar

The Herald has the statements from Peter Jackson and the CTU here.

I was going to fisk the CTU statement, but Russell Brown has done it far better than I could. And yes, that is not a typo.

I do want to first touch on one aspect, quoting the CTU:

Facts on Hobbit

Helen Kelly, CTU President, said today that it is important that some facts about the union stance on the Hobbit are placed before the public.

• The union is seeking basic terms and conditions such as hours, breaks, overtime payments etc.

• The union has always been prepared to agree those conditions as an industry standard rather than a collective agreement.

This is both false and misleading.

First of all the union is not just “seeking” basic terms and conditions. It arranged a global boycott of the film. This is the nuclear bomb when it comes to negotiations.

And like any nuclear bomb, you can’t lob one into battle, and then say afterwards “Oh we’ll try and pretend we never did that and promise not to do it again”. The damage is done the moment it has happened.

The studios want certainty even more than lower cost. It may actually end up in a country where most actors are covered by a union. That is preferable to NZ, because they actually have certainty.

But a union with only 86 or so members that arranges a global boycott of a film is the opposite of stability. It signals run, run away from these lunatics.

Secondly let me quote from the global boycott:

Resolved, that the International Federation of Actors urges each of its affiliates to adopt instructions to their members that no member of any FIA affiliate will agree to act in the theatrical film The Hobbit until such time as the producer has entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance for production in New Zealand providing for satisfactory terms and conditions for all performers employed on the productions

Now re-read what the CTU says:

The union has always been prepared to agree those conditions as an industry standard rather than a collective agreement.

What bullshit. The global boycott was explicitly got a collective agreement. This is not just spin or distortion – it is a total lie.

Now let me quote Russell Brown:

Instead, since its takeover by the Australian Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Equity has been so feckless that it failed to file reports for three years, until it was struck off the register of incorporated societies. New Zealand actors have a decent case for greater power and security in their industry. Their union – and the Australian union that was supposed to bring in a new era of professionalism – has failed them.

Eighteen months ago, Equity refused an offer from the Screen Production and Development Association (Spada) to renegotiate the “Pink Book” code of conduct which covers actors’ pay and conditions and has been untouched since the MEAA moved in. Its precondition for any talks with Spada was that the existing system, which does generally work, be scrapped and replaced with collective agreements.

This shows the lies told by the CTU up even more. Not only did MEAA not seek an update to the industry standard, they flat out refused to negotiate such a thing.

There were other things wrong with the union’s strategy, if it can be called that. The way the first meeting in Wellington was run was a disgrace – while anyone who turned up and called themselves a performer was allowed to vote in Auckland, the rules were changed in Wellington after the vote had begun to exclude non-Equity members. One actor trying to read a statement from Jackson (who had been refused permission to address the meeting) was shouted down and couldn’t fnish.

Most notably, statements from organiser Frances Walsh clearly indicated it was seeking to negotiate a national agreement via The Hobbit (why else talk about wanting to negotiate rules on nudity in a film which features no nudity?) and Robyn Malcolm managed to say in successive sentences to John Campbell that they wanted “a fair deal for New Zealand actors working on the Hobbit”, but an agreement that was “not Hobbit-specific”. I’ve explained before why it would have been unethical for Jackson to put himself in that position.

And this is the real game – to try and force all NZ productions to pay the same as The Hobbit.

By the time they’d settled for far less – and finally agreed to talk to Spada without showstopping preconditions — the damage had largely been done. Yes, if Ireland gets the gig, it will be because of its more-generous-than-the-others tax breaks. But the film was going to be made in New Zealand. The door for other countries was opened when MEAA executive Simon Whipp authorised the SAG member alert that brought the production to a halt by banning actors from working on it.

If Warners thinks the industrial relations environment in New Zealand has become too risky and unpredictable, it has some cause for thinking so.

Again, it is not about the lowest cost – it really is about stability. Remember there are two films to be produced – they don’t want to finish one, and then have an unstable union call another boycott or strike to ratchet up demands on the second film.

Some people have a conspiracy theory that it is all about the tax credit, and that this issue is just an excuse. They should consider how much money has already been spent by Jackson and Weta preparing for filing it here – Hobbiton re-established etc.

But it was telling that the CTU’s Helen Kelly said on Nightline last night that the Equity meeting had been called for members to discuss “what they wanted in terms of terms and conditions”.

You’re saying that after all this — you still don’t know what you want?


It’s also generally not a good sign for a union leader, as Kelly did, to refer to the 1000-plus working people who met and marched in Wellington last night, most of them members of their own guilds and unions, as being in a “lynch mob” mood.

So Helen managed to insult hundreds of union members.

None of the other screen guilds have spoken in support of Equity, and they have privately assured both Spada and the government that they are on the side of the producers in this case.

They are the real victims. I’ll be minorly affected in that the NZ economy will take a dive, and that means more debt to be serviced by us as taxpayers. But the 1000s of people who will end up out of work are the ones I really feel for. It’s one thing to lose your job when it is semi-inevitable – in a fading industry etc. But to work in what was a growing healthy industry with a bright future, and to lose your job because of the actions of a few dozen individuals would really piss you off.

Even if the film can be hauled back here – and that’s the state of play – this will have badly damaged relations in the industry. And if the film really is lost, it will damage a lot more than that – the trade union movement included.

This is the part puzzling me. Putting aside ideological differences I have always regarded Helen Kelly as a pretty smart operator, and someone who does try to do the right thing.

But her involvement with this dispute has been disastrous.

Almost everyone involved with this fracas has said that MEAA’s Simon Whipp is the problem – the NZ Actors involved are lightweights. So Whipp is the Aussie bad boy that everyone was blaming (and fairly).

But what Helen has done is change the focus of anger from being the head of an aussie union, to the head of the CTU. She is associating all NZ unions with Simon Whipp’s campaign, and as loath as I am to give advice to the NZ union movement on how to protect their reputation, I have to say that this is a spectacularly bad thing.

The CTU has put out a press release which is factually incorrect and made themselves the target. Why on Earth did they not just assist behind the scenes (where they have done some good I hear), rather than become the de facto spokesperson for the MEAA?

How will the CTU have credibility about protecting Kiwi jobs, if the movies do go overseas?

Oh, and finally, on a related note – I’ve heard nothing on this matter from the temporary and future Labour Party Leaders – surely some journalist has asked Phil Goff and Andrew Little if they support the CTU’s defence of the global boycott against the Hobbit?

Workers protest against union

October 21st, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Weta Workshop’s boss Sir Richard Taylor last night said the New Zealand film industry was “at some level of peril”.

He said a $670 million US-backed production of Tolkien classic The Hobbit could be produced elsewhere if a union boycott of the project was not lifted.

“We are deeply concerned it may [go overseas].

“Our industry is being put in a very dire place by very few people who have nothing to do with the film industry in New Zealand.”

It is worth remembering that MEAA represents only around 80 actors in NZ – less than 5% of the total acting workforce.

Up to 1500 workers marched from Weta’s Miramar studios into central Wellington to picket an Actors’ Equity meeting being held at St John’s Hall.

Their jobs are at direct risk. This Australian union doesn’t care about how many people may end up out of work.

The Equity meeting – which was to discuss unrelated matters – was cancelled after union bosses learned the march was on its way.

Equity spokeswoman Frances Walsh said the union had “no choice” but to call off the meeting “because we are not going to expose our performers to harm”.

What? Did she think Sir Richard was leading a lynch mob that would burn the church hall down? Or did they just not want to talk to all those people whose jobs are at risk?

The Dom Post reports that things look grim:

The Hobbit seems set to be taken offshore, with the film’s producers due in New Zealand to begin preparations next week.

Sir Peter Jackson and the producers have been in a standoff with actors unions who have boycotted the Lord of the Rings prequels as they have agitated for a collective agreement.

There has been speculation that production could be taken overseas. Other countries had offered a one-off deal that is double New Zealand’s 15 per cent tax rebate for films.

Sir Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh said last night the lifting of the actors union’s blacklist “does nothing to help the film stay in New Zealand”.

“The damage inflicted on our film industry by [the actors unions] is long since done.”

The move has undermined Warner Brothers confidence in the industry “and they are now, quite rightly, very concerned about the security of their $500m investment”.

“Next week Warners are coming down to New Zealand to make arrangements to move the production offshore. It appears we cannot make films in our own country even when substantial financing is available.”

And remember it is not the fault of the unions:

Ms Kelly said union members would not be at fault if The Hobbit moved overseas. Instead, it was Warner Brothers seeking to gain greater tax breaks and lower wages.

Sure. Nothing to do with us at all. Helen sounds like the Vietnam commander – we had to destroy the village in order to to save it.

But Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said the crowd was “in a lynch-mob mood thanks to Richard Taylor, who has obviously wound them up like springs” and actors had to call the meeting off. “It was too dangerous.”

That nasty awful Sir Richard Taylor. How dare he organise a protest march. The CTU condemns people who organise protest marches and make fiery speeches to them. Such marches should be illegal – unless organised by the CTU of course.

I’ll make a prediction. If The Hobbit moves overseas, there will be another protest march. Not with 1,500 people in it, but 15,000 or more. And if you think you have seen anger already, you’ve seen nothing yet.

People should be angry when their jobs are at risk. NZ Actors should be angry that they will lose the chance to earn $5,000/week. Wellingtonians should be angry that a decade of investment into building a film industry here may all be wasted.

Who needs US$500m – NZ doesn’t

October 11th, 2010 at 6:30 pm by David Farrar

Michael Field at Stuff reports:

Sir Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit is set to be the most expensive film made, Hollywood sources reported this weekend.

The Daily Telegraph in London said The Hobbit will cost US$500 million (NZ$663m) to produce.

This would make it about $200m more expensive than the third part of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

It would also mean The Hobbit’s final price-tag would be approaching twice that of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which cost $281 million, the Telegraph reported.

Almost two thirds of a billion dollars – much of which would be spent in New Zealand. That would provide a lot of jobs for a lot of people.

But hey why not let a tiny group with just 87 members drive it off shore. Solidarity is more important than jobs – right. $5,000 a week is just slave labour and can not be tolerated.

Herald on Sunday on The Hobbit

October 3rd, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The HoS editorial:

But plainly the actors want to discuss a collective agreement – essentially unionising the workplace – in order to ensure that wages and conditions are protected. On the face of it, that sounds unexceptionable, but the prime mover in the matter is an Australian-based union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), which is not registered in this country and which, therefore, cannot legally negotiate an agreement.

And it is hard to read what is going on as anything other than a grab for membership by that group.

And if MEAA got re-registered a a union in NZ, there is no reason it can’t represent that tiny (10%) minority of actors who choose to be members in their negotiations.

But what is unacceptable is their attempt to force every actor to be covered by the MEAA through a collective contract.

Support for the MEAA from the guilds representing the behind-the-camera talent – such as camera operators, designers and lighting teams – has been conspicuous by its absence.

As they are the ones who will be screwed over by the consequences.

Film-making, even on a small scale, is capital-intensive and high risk. Hollywood productions have a long history of being held to ransom by unions. One of the reasons so called “runaway” productions choose to film here is that they relish the versatility and can-do mentality of local actors and technicians.

Many media have missed the point about why the movie may move. It isn’t about whether NZ actors get paid less than other actors (and I am not sure they are), it is about union ransom demands. What really cripples a film is when you are halfway through shooting it and the union calls a strike – holding the production to ransom.

Any move away from New Zealand will not be because of pay rates. It will be because of union tactics.

There is no reason that actors here should be exploited; but there is no evidence that is happening. We are already facing competition from countries offering bigger tax incentives than we do to lure runaway productions. Our actors may rue their disproportionate militancy sooner than they think.

Well remember it is not all actors. MEAA represents only 10% of actors. But yes, the MEAA may end up screwing all actors in NZ if the NZ movie industry gets wiped out.

But it will go even further than that, in terms of bad consequences for actors. Much of the local industry relies on government subsidies through NZ on Air, Film Commission etc etc. And can you imagine there being any political willpower to increase funding to the arts, after a group of actors succeed in destroying the film industry? God no. So there will also be fewer plays, TV shows and local movies for all actors.

If you want to avoid this outcome, consider signing the petition started by Wellington film-maker Chaz Harris, and Richard Whiteside, a Wellington actor. It calls for an end to the boycott. If you sign it, and are involved in the arts, state your involvement.

There are 1,365 signatures to date. That is seven times as many people as are members of the MEAA in New Zealand.

Actors only getting $5k a week

October 2nd, 2010 at 6:08 am by David Farrar

I’ve been saying since the beginning that the stoush over the Hobbit is not over wages,but about a union trying to force people who do not want to be in the union to join it.

The Herald reports:

MEAA national director Simon Whipp said actors could be let go with just one day’s notice, and there were concerns producers would not pay fees in standard union contracts, such as payments from DVD sales.

Sir Peter maintained the residuals on The Hobbit will be worth “very real money” to the Kiwi actors who are cast in the film.

“This is the first time ever NZ actors have had residuals, and we are proud that it’s being introduced on our movie. The level of residuals is better than a similar scheme in Canada, and is much the same as the UK residual scheme. It is not quite as much as the SAG rate.”

So the first ever time NZ actors will be paid residuals.

Sir Peter said fees New Zealand actors were paid favourably here compared to what they would receive overseas. An actor contracted to appear in a small supporting role would receive around NZ$5,000 per week, whereas the Screen Actor’s Guild of America’s published current minimum weekly rates for the same role is NZ$3,800, he said.

Gasp. $5,000 a week for a “small” role.  This is the reality of what is being offered, while some idiot is talking about how actors could be paid $1/day and forced to work 24 hours a day.

The New Zealand Actor’s Equity, who operate as an autonomous part of the MEAA, have since acknowledged the Commerce Act prevents a union-negotiated agreement with performers who are independent contractors, following advice from the Attorney General Christopher Finlayson.

“My knowledge of the producers is that they are people of goodwill. I am sure they would want to explore all lawful means by which these issues could be moved forward and resolved.” said NZ Actors’ Equity President Jennifer Ward-Lealand.

Well if there is goodwill, why not get the MEAA to call off the global boycott, which is explicitly linked to what they now acknowledge is an illegal demand?

MEAA refuses to allow Jackson to attend meeting

October 1st, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

NZPA report:

Sir Peter Jackson offered to go to an actors’ union meeting last night called over the Hobbit dispute, but was turned down.

Spada had attempted to meet with the MEAA to discuss actors’ terms and conditions for over 18 months, without success, he said.

The Hobbit’s 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.

After sending several requests asking for a response, the producers were finally told “no” shortly before the meeting started.

“It is pity we were not given the chance to have a discussion with the actors, who are the party most affected by the MEAA’s actions,” Sir Peter said.

God forbid that the actors attending the meeting hear his point of view.

Oh well, when we no longer have a NZ film industry, I hope all the actors can get jobs working in cafes or something, so they don’t have to go on the dole.

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 MEAA are illegal. Russell Brown covers this issue and a lot more at Public Address.

Today the Herald reports that Crown Law 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 The Hobbit’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.

The Australian union and the Hobbit

September 27th, 2010 at 8:04 am by David Farrar

I got sent documents over the weekend from a film industry source, detailing the outraegous behaviour of the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance, an Australian union.

It seems Disney has already made an unofficial decision, not to shoot anymore in New Zealand, because the union unreasonable blocks immigration permits.

But what is happening with the Hobbit is even worse than that, and may lead to the shut down of much of the NZ film industry – if the Hobbit moves off shore (as reported here as likely).

This union is thought to have less than 90 members in New Zealand, and is threatening the jobs of up to 3,000 people. How do they have such power?

The International Federation of Actors (FIA), of which the vast majority of performer unions around the world are members, resolved that the time had come for performers around the world to support their colleagues in New Zealand and seek a union contract for all performers on The Hobbit.

Yes, this Australian union has arranged a global boycott of the Hobbit.

And what are they calling for?

“Resolved, that the International Federation of Actors urges each of its affiliates to adopt instructions to their members that no member of any FIA affiliate will agree to act in the theatrical film The Hobbit until such time as the producer has entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance for production in New Zealand providing for satisfactory terms and conditions for all performers employed on the productions.”

And here is the irony.It is illegal for Peter Jackson to do what they call for. Why? Under the current law, only a registered union can enter into a collective contract, and the MEAA is not a registered NZ union.

The Employment Relations Act states a NZ union, must be an incorporated society under the Incorporated Societies Act 1908. The MEAA is not. Screen Hub reports:

NZ Actors’ Equity is a trade union in NZ, an affiliate member of the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) under its MEAA name. It was struck off the Ministry of Economic Development’s (MED) Register of Incorporated Societies last week under its registered name of Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance.

So there is no legal entity to negotiate with.

The union has called a meeting tomorrow to discuss their action. It is:

Tuesday, September 28 at 7pm, at Grey Lynn Community Centre, 510 Richmond Rd, Grey Lynn

I hope lots of media attend, and ask questions about why this Australian uion has arranged a global boycott of The Hobbit, on the basis of an illegal demand.

Peter Jackson makes the point:

In a four-page statement last night, the usually media-shy Jackson said he was a “very proud and loyal member” of three Hollywood unions and “not anti-union in the slightest”.

He always honoured actors’ union conditions if they were union members, and the MEAA had a clear agenda “based on money and power”.

“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.

“I feel 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 four years, [and] the hundreds of millions of Warner Brothers dollars that is about to be spent in our economy.”

And some useful quotes from Screen Hub:

According to one producer Screen Hub spoke to, the Equity/MEAA approach is akin to sending out suicide bombers. If inbound production diminishes or disappears from our shores, actors will lose work along with everybody else. Given the reliance on inbound production to sustain much of the industry in terms of day-to-day employment of contractors, “We might as well pack up and go home,” said one film industry lawyer.

If this Australian union manages to kill off the NZ film industry, where do you think some of these films may end up? Australian perhaps?