One of the biggest obstacles Peter Jackson has faced in his battle to make The Hobbit — and there have been many — is his feud with members of New Zealand Actors’ Equity, who claim that Jackson refuses to organize fair deals for the actors he’d be employing. Though Jackson threatened last month to move his two-film production out of New Zealand in response, it’s been widely assumed that a deal would be worked out, especially now that a high-profile cast is beginning to come together for a February start date (since other guilds including SAG are standing in solidarity with the smaller union, it’d be awfully tricky to entice working actors without a settlement in the offing).
So, do the recent announcements of progress on the project indicate that Jackson has come to an agreement with the New Zealand union? Decidedly not, according to a blistering, typo-laden press release from Jackson and executive producer Fran Walsh that was just obtained by Vulture.
The lifting of the blacklist on The Hobbit does nothing to help the films stay in New Zealand. The damage inflicted on our film industry by NZ Equity/MEAA is long since done.
Next week Warners are coming down to NZ to make arrangements to move the production off-shore. It appears we now cannot make films in our own country - even when substantial financing is available.
The spectacle of NZ Actors’ Equity suddenly cancelling their Wellington meeting, because film workers wanted to express to them their concern at losing The Hobbit, exemplifies the pure gutlessness of this small, self-centred group. They don’t appear to care about the repurcussions of their actions on others, nor are they prepared to take responsibility for decisions made in their name. NZ Equity constantly refer to ‘good faith’ discussions but they have never acted in good faith towards our film.
Four weeks ago NZ Equity, represented by the Australian trade union, the MEAA, urged several international actor’s unions to gang up on our production in an attempt to bully us into illegal collective bargaining. MEAA’s representative, Simon Whipp, admitted in a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, that it was his intention to use The Hobbit as a way to ‘unionise other productions’ in the New Zealand film industry - presumably whether we want it or not. This unilateral decision, made by an off shore union, we assume with Equity’s blessing, is the reason why our film industry is now in dire jeopardy.
NZ Equity’s unjustified industrial action against The Hobbit has undermined Warner Bro’s confidence in New Zealand as a stable employment environment, and they are now, quite rightly, very concerned about the security of their $500m investment. Unfortunately lifting the blacklist does nothing to help the situation. This will be the start of a domino effect, as word of NZ’s unstable employment environment, registers with film investors and studios, world-wide.
Nobody denies Equity’s right to represent their group of actors, but incredibly, this industrial action was taken without consultiation with their own membership. These clumsy, heavy-handed tactics have put at risk the livelihoods of thousands of workers and jeapardized a potential investment of a billion plus dollars into the NZ economy.
Seemingly overnight, NZ Actors’ Equity shredded the reputation of a burgeoning industry, which has been over forty years in the making.
Remarks on television by Helen Kelly of the CTU, demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the film industry. Nothing she had to say about The Hobbit and film financing was remotely factual. Why she has suddenly become the NZ Equity spokesperson is unclear, it appears to be a case of the blind being lead by the even-more-blind.
We will continue the fight to keep the film in NZ, but ultimately this decision belongs to Warner Bro’s. We are however, hugely heartened by the incredible show of support from Wellington actors, technicians and crew. It is a reflection of the terrific pride NZ film workers have in their industry and their very real fear of losing their jobs.
So, that looks like it’s going well, then.