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Hobbit attacked by unions, Jackson responds

PeterJackson.jpgThis is a complex situation and this will be but a summary and I do advise you to read all the information, however the summary is that the actor's unions from around the world are attacking the production of The Hobbit and threaten the production, perhaps not from starting, but from filming in the Southern Hemisphere, something that the union behind all this actually want.

It seems that some seven actor's unions from Australia, UK, Canada and the U.S. are claiming that the producers of the film have refused to negotiate with them and have advised their members to stay away from the production and Peter Jackson has responded, personally.

Looking at the various articles on the story the issue comes down to the fact that the production is using non-union actors in New Zealand for the production, something that the Australian union are upset about.

I don't understand the ins and outs of competition or contract law in New Zealand or Australia, but from the BBC, and The Hollywood Reporter and it seems pretty clear what's going on.

The International Federation of Actors (FIA) has said:

"The International Federation of Actors... 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..."

They say that the contracts don't give the actors a guarantee of minimum working conditions or wages, and so the union have requested the assistance of all FIA members, and that means a hell of a lot of actors.

Peter Jackson came out with a personal statement, which you can read on The Hollywood Reporter, that has some surprisingly strong and heartfelt comments in it, and gives us some information such as:

"I'm not anti-Union in the slightest. I'm a very proud and loyal member of three Hollywood Unions - the Directors Guild, the Producers Guild and the Writers Guild. I support the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). All these organizations (I must confess I'm not entirely sure what the difference is between a "Guild" and a "Union") do terrific work on behalf of their members."

He goes on to say that there are many actors not part of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and in New Zealand something like 10% of the actors in the country are in the New Zealand Equity, the rest are not.

"It starts with "NZ Actors Equity". This is a tiny organization that represents a small minority of New Zealand Actors. They are not a Union, and have none of the legal status of a Union. They are a ... well, a smallish group who have some New Zealand actors as members. How many actors are members of NZ Equity? They guard that information very closely, but various reports I've seen put their membership at 200, although somebody in the know swears it's nearer 100.

How many professional actors are there in New Zealand? Somewhere between 2000 and 4000, depending on just how you describe a "professional actor". Obviously most Kiwi actors have other employment too, but there's certainly over 2000 actors available to cast in a film production."

He also points out that the Australian Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), the union who is leading the charge, has swallowed up the small New Zealand Actors Equity and it's the Australian union that's pushing all this big noise, he suggests that they want a hand in the films that are hitting New Zealand.

Reading through the statement from Jackson it does seem as though there's something more going on here and that the union are hoping to use The Hobbit production for a little more as Jackson and the other producers seem to be going out of their way to treat the New Zealand non-SAG members with equal footing.

SAG members who act in a film get residuals, this is a small percentage of profits from the film that are set aside and paid out to all SAG members who were on the film, and on The Hobbit the producers have set-up a non-SAG members residuals scheme, something they don't have to do.

There's loads of positivity in the statement, but there's something that isn't mentioned. Jackson isn't just using New Zealand for cheap labour, Jackson is based in New Zealand, he's built a huge business there and brought his own productions to the country, it's because he's from there.

I wonder where the union were when the Lord of the Rings films appeared in the country? Was that exploiting actors as badly as The Hobbit was?

The added complication is that if the unions there stamp their feet too much, and remember those membership figures, then they'll lose these big productions, the very ones that Jackson brought to the country.

"Seriously, if the Hobbit goes east (Eastern Europe in fact) -- look forward to a long dry big budget movie drought in this country."

That's true, and studios won't give it a second thought. If it gets too hard to film in the country then they'll move the production, we've seen such things happen before and actors are willing to move with productions. Then where would the New Zealand and Australian film industry be?



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