UPDATE: There’s still unease even though SAG and AFTRA rescinded the order to stop its actor members from working on The Hobbit because of a request from sister union New Zealand Actors Equity. The labor settlement doesn’t mean Peter Jackson will move the pictures back to the New Zealand locations that are home to Mordor, Minas Tirith, Isengard, and other Middle Earth locales. Because of all the hard feelings that the local unions created, Warner Bros has been exploring other options, and while Jackson will have a say, the studio could decide to make a move if it gets a better deal someplace else. Now New Zealand prime minister John Key is reaching out for a meeting with Warner Bros to try and keep the films from shooting in another country.
Peter Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh were clearly furious about the aggressive tactics used by the New Zealand Actors Equity and the Australian Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance. Yesterday, between 1,000 and 15,000 technicians and actors opposed to Equity’s actions picketed Equity headquarters last night, and moved that protest to Parliament. Polls conducted by local TV stations and newspapers in New Zealand showed little support for the union tactic, and high level ministers in government came out in support of Jackson. I’d say it’s unlikely that the films actually leave New Zealand. Jackson’s visual effects headquarters and stages were built there using Lord Of The Rings trilogy money. But clearly this is serious stuff. He and Walsh issued this incendiary release last night, before the unions tried to bring the agitation to a halt:
WELLINGTON – Thursday, 21 October 2010: 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.
EARLIER: SAG and AFTRA have rescinded their order that guild-repped actors shouldn’t work on what they called the “non-union” production of The Hobbit, the $500 million two-part film that Peter Jackson will begin directing in February for Warner Bros and MGM for distribution in December 2012 and 2013. The unions issued the warning as a show of solidarity after complaints were lodged by New Zealand Actors’ Equity and its Australia-based umbrella The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance. Those entities demanded that Jackson and the film’s backers negotiate a contract providing minimum guarantees on wages and working conditions, residual payments and cancellation payments to actors engaged on the production. Jackson responded angrily to the grandstanding order, charging that the Australian labor union was using his film as a way to widen its membership and galvanize power within the New Zealand film industry. “As a New Zealand filmmaker, who has nothing to hide or be ashamed about, I’m not going to see this threatening behaviour continue without some form of sensible discussion about the ‘facts’ and ‘truth’ behind their various allegations,” Jackson wrote in response. Jackson, who inferred that the stand was an agenda based on money and power, threatened to move production of the Hobbit films outside New Zealand, where he shot the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
None of that will be necessary, as both guilds have called off the dogs. That wasn’t unexpected, as work continued on the film. Warner Bros and MGM committed the production funding last week, and Jackson has been casting the key roles. I’m told that Martin Freeman will soon be set to play Bilbo Baggins, that Jimmy Nesbitt has been offered a role and that Michael Fassbender is being pursued for another as is David Tennant. Ian McKellan and Andy Serkis are expected to reprise Gandalf and Gollum.
Here is SAG’s missive:
Statement Regarding the Feature Film Production The Hobbit
Los Angeles (October 20, 2010) – Screen Actors Guild today released the following statement regarding the feature film production The Hobbit:
“Today, our sister union New Zealand Actors Equity issued a statement recommending all international performer unions rescind their member advisories on the feature film production The Hobbit. In light of this recommendation, Screen Actors Guild will be alerting its members that they are now free to accept engagements, under Screen Actors Guild contract terms and conditions, on The Hobbit.”
Here is AFTRA’s statement:
IMPORTANT NOTICE TO AFTRA MEMBERS
AFTRA Members May Now Accept Work on The Hobbit
NZ Actors Equity today recommended that the international performer unions of FIA withdraw their respective member advisories prohibiting members from accepting employment on the theatrical motion picture The Hobbit.
In light of this advisory and the recommendation from NZ Actors Equity, AFTRA hereby notifies all members that they may now accept employment on The Hobbit, under Screen Actors Guild contract terms and conditions.
We thank you for your show of solidarity with our international brothers and sisters.