Monday, October 04, 2010

Other Countries Vying for Hobbit Production

As the actor unions’ Hobbit boycott started by Australia's MEAA via its New Zealand Equity arm, other countries are looking to take advantage of the potential billions in financial impact the films could bring in if the studios decide they have to move production. One of those countries pushing for relocation is Australia. In an interview with New Zealand's National Radio's Nine to Noon show (recording), The Hobbit writer spoke about the boycott.
"I am concerned over some of the statements made... by New Zealand Equity that there is still a misunderstanding on the seriousness of what is involved here and what is at stake," she said. "That is very real and that has put at risk the livelihood of countless thousand New Zealand industry workers."

Scotland, Ireland, Canada and Eastern European countries had entered the negotiations in a "feeding frenzy" inspired by the threat of union action. "Get this, Australia, (are) making a huge play for this production," Ms Boyens said. She said Jackson had been given, as a courtesy, the opportunity to set-up The Hobbit in New Zealand.

The employment of thousands of New Zealanders had been put in jeopardy. Actors should have begun work a fortnight ago, she said. Ms Boyens said it was a lie to say The Hobbit was a non-union production. The problem was that New Zealand actors were independent contractors. "When this demand was made by overseas unions, instituted quite cynically by the Australian union, and not in consultation with New Zealand actors... I was gobsmacked. They never took a vote, they went for industrial action, they pushed the nuclear bomb, without a vote being taken by New Zealand actors," she said. "A lot of damage has been done to New Zealand's reputation."
As I wrote before, the NZ Equity, MEAA, and SAG demanded boycott as started with little or no explanation and has consistently failed to provide any real information on what their demands are and what they have to offer New Zealand actor's over what the Hobbit production is providing. The press, because it came from a "union", just accepted claims at face value without bothering to verify if the claims had merit. NZ Equity only represents about .05% of the total actors in country and recently lost its official status as a union. It starting to seem like the effort is an attempt to use the high profile production as a way to legitimize the group and try to force their represented actors to be hired by The Hobbit production as unions (even fake ones) are not in the habit of trying to get non-union members (the other 99.05% of the actors) jobs.

It does seem that the New Zealand government has started to recognize that despite its small size, the NZ Equity group managed to create a circumstance that could cost thousands of jobs. According to THR, Prime Minister John Key has has offered to have the government mediate the dispute between the two sides. This is a step that the New Zealand government rarely takes. It seems that the there is concern that NZ Equity's ability to get worldwide unions to support their cause could lead to Hollywood deciding that they could become the victim of similar extortion attempts in the future, effectively ending the countries successful film production that recently benefited from Avatar, Wolverine and Spartacus.

In an attempt to prove that NZ Equity has the support of the film industry, the non-union released a statement signed by 400 actors. It is unknown if those that signed it were actual New Zealand actors are from the various unions supporting their cause as I was unable to find a copy of it even on NZ Equity's website. A counter to that was a petition signed by 1,200 members of the New Zealand filming industry demanding they end their efforts.

A major player in this boycott, the Screen Actors Guild, has continued to refuse to comment on the controversy even though an argument could very easily be made that without SAG's support the NZ Equity/MEAA boycott would have been completely unsuccessful. Ironically, any actor that is a member of SAG (which would be most of the lead cast) would be signed under SAG dictated terms. In effect SAG has demanded its members to refuse employment from a production that meets its own guidelines.

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