SAG & AFTRA Nix Non-Union 'The Hobbit': Kiwi & Oz Actors Confront Peter Jackson

BREAKING NEWS: Peter Jackson Slaps Back At Kiwi/Oz/Hollywood Unions

UPDATE: A “Member Alert” went out yesterday afternoon from the Screen Actors Guild advising actors not to accept work on the non-union production of The Hobbit. (See below.) It’s part of an international showbiz labor effort begun by New Zealand Actors’ Equity and its umbrella The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance headquartered in Australia to go public with a campaign confronting Peter Jackson, the director and producer of the long planned and high profile back-to-back Hobbit movies and filmmakers Three Foot Seven, MGM, and Warner Brothers. NZ Actors’ Equity is calling a meeting of actors on Tuesday to bring The Hobbit filmmakers to the negotiating table for a contract providing minimum guarantees on wages and working conditions, residual payments, and cancellation payments to actors engaged on the production. Now, the International Federation of Actors (FIA) is supporting the NZ Equity/MEAA campaign, and last month issued letters to The Hobbit production company Three Foot Seven, Warner Brothers, and MGM seeking a union-negotiated contract to cover all performers on the production. That’s why SAG and AFTRA are now involved as well as Actors’ Equity, Equity (UK), and equivalent organisations in Australia, Canada and South Africa.

Equity has been trying since 2006 to negotiate minimum guarantees contracts across the film and television industries in New Zealand, but can’t get that country’s producers organisation SPADA to take part in talks. SPADA says it did agree to a meeting skedded 18 months ago, but nixed an Equity condition that reaching a collective agreement was a requirement for the discussions.

Yesterday afternoon, Three Foot Seven’s lawyers issued this statement: “3 Foot 7 has received legal advice that it is not lawful under New Zealand law for 3 Foot 7 to engage in collective bargaining with MEAA or any other labour organisation, regarding performers who are independent contractors. Under the New Zealand Commerce Act it would be unlawful to engage with an Australian union on these matters.”

What happens next is anybody’s guess. But news reports say Three Foot Seven has been trying to resolve the situation behind closed doors and is pissed it’s now being played out internationally.

The long delayed MGM/Warner Bros/New Line project consisting of 2 back-to-back films produced and directed by Peter Jackson recently got a new lease on life. That’s because the MGM ownership situation is inching closer to resolution with Spyglass chiefs Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber about to become MGM co-chairmen/CEOs. So currently underway a pre-packaged bankruptcy proceeding that would convert MGM’s debt to equity and remove the $4 billion albatross from around the Lion’s neck so that the studio can start roaring to go on films again. The prepackaged bankruptcy not only allows MGM to be restructured but also freezes existing deals for franchises that include the James Bond series and The Hobbit. All this means that The Hobbit, with Peter Jackson at the helm, is able to move forward, with co-financing partner Warner Bros distributing the two films worldwide. But now this union action is a new wrinkle no one expected:

The makers of feature film The Hobbit – to be shot in New Zealand next year – have refused to engage performers on union-negotiated agreements.

Members of Canadian Actors Equity, U.S. Actors Equity, the Screen Actors Guild, UK Actors Equity, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (Australia) and the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists are advised not to accept work on this non-union production.

If you are contacted to be engaged on The Hobbit please notify your union immediately.

For more information about this non-union production click here.

The Hobbit and Engagement of Performers

For some years performers in New Zealand have struggled on non-union contracts. These contracts provide no minimum guarantees of wages or working conditions, no residual payments and no cancellation payments in the event the performer’s contract is cancelled.

In 2006, at the request of New Zealand performers, the Australian union, the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (Alliance) opened an office in New Zealand.

Since that time the New Zealand branch of the Alliance has sought to negotiate with both individual producers and with the producers’ association but to no avail.

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.

Who is FIA?
FIA represents performer unions in 100 countries around the world. Unions represented include the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), American Actors Equity, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), Canadian Actors Equity, Equity UK and the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance.

FIA’s goal is to advance the interests of performers around the world.

What did FIA decide?
At a recent meeting FIA decided that the situation had persisted long enough and that it was time for action to be taken.

Consequently, 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.”

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