Monday, October 25, 2010

The Hobbit Boycott Interview has posted a transcript and video of the exchange between Helen Kelly and John Barnett regarding the controversy surrounding The Hobbit actor boycott. Helen Kelly, president of the Council of Trade Unions, has become the public face of the boycott that New Zealand Actors Equity (NZAE) started. John Barnett is a managing director of South Pacific Picture and part of the film industry for over 35 years.

The main part of the exchange I found interesting is for the first time, the tiny size of NZAE was discussed, even if briefly. Barnett puts the number at around 135 and Kelly said no it was "over 600." Considering there are thousands of actors in the country, it pretty much proves without a doubt that NZAE does not represent an entire job class, but they have successfully sold that viewpoint to the world. Another aspect is Kelly takes credit for ending the boycott by following the advice of Peter Jackson of initiating a meeting with SPADA (guild of producers). What she failed to note was this was supposed to be the first step of the process with a boycott being the last. It is hard to quote choice sections so click here to read or watch the back and forth debate.

Make no mistake, NZEA's actions were not on behalf of all actors in the country. They were on behalf of themselves and their 135-600ish members only. If the Hobbit had unionized as NZEA demanded, that means only union members could be hired to perform speaking roles on the film. By default then actors would have to join the union or not get a role. This in turn would have then given NZEA the leverage to force other productions to go union (or force SPADA to revise "the Pink Book" to their specifications), in turn growing their numbers even more. With the Hobbit as a huge stepping stone, NZEA would have easily become the New Zealand equivalent of the Screen Actors Guild where all actors in the country would by necessity have to join the union if they wanted continued acting employment beyond a set extra.

The irony of the situation is while NZEA used The Hobbit and overseas actor unions to achieve their goals they in turn used the situation to their own potential gain. The current top two contenders of the relocation are New England and Australia. The only two major actor unions that have not revoked their blacklist of the Hobbit - UK's British Actors' Equity and Australia's MEAA. Even more ironic they claim the studio was trying to screw them but it is estimated that the tax benefits that UK and Australia are offering could ultimately save the production around $20 million if they move. If things shake out that way, NZEA loses and so do all the actors they claim to represent.

This turning of the tables would be hilarious if the consequences of their poorly thought out actions were not so dire. For all intents and purposes, so goes The Hobbit, so goes New Zealand's film industry and all the jobs and revenue that goes with it. It is truly tragic that a group of 135-600 members was able to potentially cripple an entire country's industry.

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