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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Grinding Down

It's sad to see something end, but I think that this blog has died a peaceful and natural death.

Freshly Ground was more than just a blog to me. It was my entry into this thing they call "having an online presence", and it turned out to be so much more than I ever imagined. However, as you can see from the lack of posts over the past several months, this blog really has, well, ground down.

But fear not. Although I shall no longer be blogging over here, or posting recipes and delicious photos that make you just want to open your jaw as wide as it will go so that you can, if at all possible, eat the computer screen, I will still be around, and this is not the last gasp from Freshly Ground.

I can now be found over at my recently revamped homepage, There, I'll be blogging, from time to time, as it suits me, about the things I'm most passionate about, namely family, writing, and, occasionally, food. And whatever else I feel like blogging about. Because it's my site, and I can do what I like. Nah nah.

Also, I have a very special project going on around Freshly Ground, and I'm looking forward to getting that to completion and being able to announce it to you all. I think you'll be as excited about it as I am.

Anyway, please come on over to and say 'hi". I'd love to see you there.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Saving the Hobbit - The FAQs

The public response to yesterday's events has made it clear that this situation is as confusing to many as it is potentially disastrous. In response, I'd like to very quickly address what seem to be some of the most common misconceptions floating around out there in the comments, both here and around the blogosphere.

Q: Do the actors have a valid dispute?

A: Yes, but not with the production company 3' 7", or with Wingnut Films. Their claims regarding conditions lie in employment law and should have been taken up with SPADA and the Department of Labour. This could have been done long ago. An opportunity to do so was presented to Actors' Equity 18 months ago, but they chose not to at the insistence of the MEAA's Simon Whipp, who advised them to "wait until The Hobbit".

Q. Should Sir Peter Jackson have met with actors to discuss terms?

A. No. To do so under our current labour laws would have been illegal.

Q. Can't they just cast around the boycott?

A. I'm no casting director, but the answer to that is no. It's not that simple. The more important point is that the damage the boycott has done to this production in particular and also to New Zealand's reputation as a stable place to invest in film projects has been catastrophic.

Q: Does Sir Peter Jackson have a secret agenda to take the production offshore because it's cheaper?

A: Absolute nonsense. Anyone who has worked in Wellington over the past ten years or more knows that a tremendous amount of money has been re-invested by Wingnut Films into the services and infrastructure required for Wellington to offer world-class film studios, post-production facilities, and everything that goes with it, not to mention keeping hundreds of people employed both during filming of larger projects and in the downtime. Everything Jackson needs is here, and it won't come any cheaper taking it elsewhere.

Q. Do the studios have a secret agenda to take the production offshore?

A. The studios have every right to protect their investment. If the risk seems to high to spend their money here, then it makes business sense to take it elsewhere. That's the hard reality of multi-million dollar industries.

Q. Aren't the studios just trying to gouge a bigger tax cut from the Government?

A. Perhaps. According to Sir Peter, they have never asked for one. According to Gerry Brownlee, they have not asked for one. Remember, up until the industrial action was started four weeks ago, there was no discussion about this project going offshore. Not being a studio exec, I can't answer that.

Q. This is just about a rich greedy man getting richer and greedier. (Not exactly a question, but a blatant case of Tall Poppy syndrome that this country has suddenly developed for a man who was our hero not that long ago.)

A. First off, Sir Peter Jackson is anything but greedy, as anyone who knows him and has worked with him will agree. Secondly, yes, he is wealthy, and he has earned every cent of that money through years and years of hard work. If anyone else out there has built a film-making empire from the ground up out of practically nothing, has gone on to bring millions of dollars into our country to feed down into the pockets of ordinary New Zealanders, has created thousands of jobs, has generated billions of dollars in tourism income and created a cultural phenomenon whereby our country is now recognised as a mythical place where dreams can be made reality, then you have a right to criticise whether or not Peter has the right to spend money. If not, then keep it to yourself.

Q. Will losing The Hobbit really be that damaging to our film industry?

A. Yes. The reputation we have as a stable and safe country to bring large jobs to will be gone. Investors will not have confidence that their money is secure and will choose to take it elsewhere. Even the low-budget end of our market is cushioned by the influx of big-budget work - it allows suppliers and technicians to work for lower rates to see projects shot because they love working on them and want to see them made. Without the big-budget work, the low-budget industry will shrivel on the vine as well.

Q. What else can be done? What needs to happen now?

A. That is, of course, the multi-million dollar question. Robyn Malcolm's public renouncement of the boycott last night on TV3 and the assurances that there will be no industrial action taken during this job are good to hear, but just may be too little too late. The damage has been done. The one person who should be stepping forward to take responsibility for this fiasco is Simon Whipp, who refuses to answer questions or to face up the media or the people whose lives he is destroying. Whipp advised Actors' Equity to wait until The Hobbit before starting their dispute action, he has openly stated that he sees this film as an opportunity to unionise the entire NZ film industry, it is his influence that has precipitated this whole affair. This is not wild speculation, it is basic analysis of the MEAA's openly declared intentions and the actions Whipp has taken, regardless of the actual law in this country, to derail a project that represents the life or death of our industry. Whipp needs to face up and bear some responsibility for what he has done. Actors' Equity need to break their ties with the MEAA until that Australian union takes its nose out of our business.

We don't need a unionised industry in this country. We have managed quite well for plenty long enough, thank you very much, and barring that one rogue case of a disgruntled contractor who disputed his employment status with Wingnut a couple of years back, I don't know a single technician who would rather be an employee than a contractor in this industry. Yes, there are some incongruities in the current law that need to be addressed, but the proper place for that is in a review committee with public consultation, the way we handle all issues of law in this country, not in this untenable game of brinksmanship that does nothing but play into the hands of our nearest competitor.

And, of course, this country needs to show Warners and the world that we want this film here. We already know we have the talent and the motivation. Apparently there are going to be public demonstrations in all the major centres next week, though details on that are still murky. Check out this Facebook page.

Keep spreading the word, keep making a noise.We won't go quietly.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Breaking the Silence - Save the Hobbit

As some of you may know, my day job is in New Zealand's film industry. It is a dynamic and exciting area to be working in, but the events of the past few weeks surrounding The Hobbit have brought the industry as a whole into great peril, and things could not be worse.

However, this in not being seen in the media. All we have been hearing is "actor's conditions" and "Peter Jackson refuses to meet with the union." Until yesterday, we had not heard a whimper of support for the filmmaking genius that brought us LOTR and King Kong. For years we have all presumed that Sir Peter was impervious, a rock that could weather any storm and bring us all through it with him intact. The selfish and destructive actions of the Australian MEAA have proven otherwise.

Last night I joined a thousand other technicians marching through the streets of Wellington in an unscheduled demonstration in support of Peter Jackson, and in support of our local industry. It was well past time that the people who have been so supported by Peter and his tireless work in this country over the last 25 years stood up and showed him that we value and respect him. We owe him a great deal, and we will not stand silent while he fights the fight of his life. He has fought for us. We will fight for him.

These are the basic dynamics of this conflict:

- The Australian Union (the MEAA) is threatened by the dynamic and creative independent NZ film industry that is flourishing on its doorstep, taking projects and doing them better than they could.

- The MEAA has manipulated Actors' Equity into industrial action against The Hobbit specifically because of the massive impact it will have on our small industry.

- Even if The Hobbit is not shot in Australia, but in Ireland or Prague or wherever, losing it will have disastrous effects on the New Zealand film industry.

From the cynical point of view of a film technician seeing his industry being ripped out from under him, it seems pretty clear that whatever machinations are at work here at higher levels, whoever is being played by who, the outcome of all of this will not be better working conditions for actors, as the smoke and mirrors are leading us to believe.

It will be no work for actors, fullstop. Or for technicians for that matter, or the myriad of support services that prop up the industry, or the hundreds of suppliers downstream who prosper on the downstream value of a project of this size.

What many Actors' Equity members don't seem to understand is that by supporting this boycott they are, to all intents and purposes, committing career suicide. Not in a "if you support this boycott we won't hire you in the future", sort of way, but a "there will be no industry in this country anymore" sort of way. I won't argue that there are issues to be discussed, but these relate to employment law and should be taken up with the New Zealand legislature, not with a production company working within that law.

If The Hobbit goes away, the amazing creative workforce we have here, which has been nurtured by Sir Peter for almost three decades, will also go away.

It's time for more than just the puppets of the union to be heard. Last night we marched, and we tried our best to get people to understand just what is at stake here. We want to do this job. We can do this job better than any other country. Sir Peter is a highly collaborative artist, and the success of his work is not simply the result of his own genius, but the combined efforts of hundreds of people, many of whom I brushed shoulders with on the streets of Wellington last night.

Peter Jackson cannot pick up the hundreds of people who comprise this amazing community and take them overseas. These are the people who brought you The Lord of the Rings. These are the people that hand-sculpted the miniatures, who drizzled the blood, who aged the costumes, who hammered and dressed the sets, who rigged the lights. New Zealand is Middle-Earth.

But something drastic needs to happen if that is going to remain the case. The Hobbit made anywhere else will not be drawing on the extensive expertise of a community that have been there and back again, who spent upwards of seven years perfecting the craft that made LOTR the stunning work it is. The only way we can hope to keep this job in New Zealand where it belongs is by making our voices heard.

If you're a fan of The Lord of the Rings, and you want to see another glowing masterpiece on cinema screens in two years time, not a tawdry imitation, then you need to speak up.

Tweet this link, if you're on Twitter.

Post this page to Facebook.

Blog about it, let the world know that The Hobbit is on the precipice of falling into mediocrity, and that you won't stand for it.

Let the studios know that you don't want a cheap knock-off, but a shiny polished original.

Spread the word. Do it now.

Save The Hobbit.

UPDATE: Auckland Film Techs and #SaveTheHobbit & #PeterJackson supporters: Be at 40 Vermont St, Ponsonby, 6.30pm, with placards.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The SJV and What it Means for You.

Or, more to the point, what it means for me.

But let's back up a little. What, you ask, is an SJV when it's at home?

SJV stands for Sir Julius Vogel, this particular SJV refers to the awards presented by the SFFANZ (Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand) and is this country's pre-eminent recognition of outstanding achievement within or services to the Speculative Fiction genre.I have two fantastic pieces of news regarding the SJV nominations this year. Firstly, nearest and dearest to my heart, the nomination that I put together (after being gently prodded by all-round good chap Grant Stone) for Hugh Cook has been accepted onto the ballot in the category of Services to Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. I've written about Hugh and his life and work a great deal over the last couple of years, so it's fantastic to see him being recognised at last.

One of those articles also earned me a place on the ballot, for Fan Writing, which fills me with a lovely warm glow way down deep inside. Hopefully I didn't swallow a dragon, because that would be uncomfortable in the morning.

There are a raft of other great names in there as well, including my friends Grant Stone, Tim Jones, Philippa Ballantine, Debbie & Matt Cowens, Jenni Dowsett, and Anna Caro. The list is all but bubbling over the rim with talent.

So, in the name of shameless self-promotion, it would be wrong of me not to ask you to cast a vote for Hugh, or for me, or for both of us, or for any of the marvelous folk that have put in t he hard yards and made it onto the ballot, if you were able. Of course, I'd prefer votes to be cast my way, but do what you feel you must. Members of SFFANZ or anyone who attends the Au Contraire Science Fiction Convention in Wellington in August 2010 can vote.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Bottom Rung

Long-time readers (if any of you are still coming back to check up on this most sporadic of blogs) might remember a year or more ago when I waxed lyrical about getting my lazy butt into action and writing something every day. Well, it might sound strange but after more than a year that little book, which I promised to write in every day, is only half full. It contains what are, in my writing oeuvre, very rare things called short stories.

I haven't written a lot in that book because shortly after writing the above-mentioned post I got said butt into gear and spent a lot of time hammering out novel length manuscripts. Not at just a few pages a day, but aiming for a writing goal of at least 1000 words a day.

All of this, of course, on the computer, or else I'd have needed several dozen of those lovely little notebooks to contain all those many many words.

Some days I didn't hit the 1000 word mark. On many days I wrote a lot more, a really good day being up to about 5000. Since I wrote that blog post, I have completed two full-length novel manuscripts, and have had significant interest in one of them from a small publisher. It's not a book deal - in fact, it was a very kindly written and helpful rejection, which I will cherish for a long time to come - but it has validated the long hours and the carpal tunnel syndrome and the eye strain that all those words have cost me.

But I didn't start writing this post to brag about getting a rejection letter from a publisher, since I know there are plenty of writers out there who can claim the same thing many times over, and I don't want to tread on any toes.

No, I wanted to point out the power of making a public statement.

I said it, therefore I must do it.

Prior to writing these two manuscripts I had completed a very lengthy and, at this stage, unpublishable epic tale. When I researched the publishing market and found out just how unpublishable a 275,000 word fantasy series was for an unknown author, I began to languish. I had a plan, but I had not put it into action.

Telling everyone that I had committed to putting words on the page every day cemented the need to do so in my mind, and the habit was formed. If nothing else, failing to do so would mean that I had lied to you all, and I'm not the lying kind.

Well, apart from writing fiction, which is lying in its purest sense, but we won't get into that here.

And now, a year and a bit later, I may not be a published author but I have my first rejection under my belt and I know that my strategy is taking me closer every day. I have gone from standing on the ground looking up at the ladder hanging mysteriously in the overlit sky, to clutching with all my might to the bottom rung of that ladder and holding on for all I'm worth.

So if I don't crop up here more than once or twice a month (as has been the case for a while now) you know where I am: with my head in another world, thinking of horrible things to do to my poor characters.

Failing that, of course, you can normally find me lurking around on Twitter, with my legs dangling uselessly beneath me.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Prolific Blogger Award

It strikes me as somewhat ironic that I sat down to write a(nother) post apologising for my slackness in the blogging department of late, only to remember that I was recently named in the "Prolific Blogger Awards" by my friend Debbie Cowens.Yes, it has in fact been a month since I last posted here, so no, I don't really deserve an award that suggests I blog an awful lot. A year ago that was so. But a lot has happened in the past year.

My excuse this month for not blogging has been quite simple: I have had far more important writing work to get done. There are only so many hours in the day and writing fiction has been taking up most of my time when I'm not working or being a family guy. There, excuses made and moving on.

Nonetheless, I'm not one to turn down a prize. I believe there are cream buns at the awards ceremony, so I won't be doing myself out of free cream buns.

The idea is that I must go on to praise seven other bloggers (yeah, it's not the most exclusive of clubs) and give them the same award. At last count, there were at least 150 other registered winners. Seems to me a bit like one of those lotteries you get in the mailbox that promises you've already won, but I'm not going to let that worry me. Cream buns, man!

Unfortunately, I'm fairly sure that most of the bloggers I read don't read me back, and Debbie has already chosen most of the good ones who do. Full cred to Jenni, Morgue, and Tim for getting their invitation to eat cream buns with us.

I'll add a few more to the list, bloggers who really are prolific and whom I think will actually read this post:

Off-Black - Random musings of a 30-something guy from The Hutt;

Undulating Ungulate - Also random but somewhat darker musings of the mildly anarchic, in the nicest possible way;

The Alligator Love - The trials and tribulations of a chef in Washington State, USA, just trying to find a way back to NZ before his car really eats him;

and last but not least...

- More slice of life stuff from Morgue's better half; short, sweet and to the point.

Prolific Blogger Award Rules | ONE: Every winner is expected to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers. | TWO: Each Prolific Blogger is asked to link to the blog from which he/she has received this award. | THREE: Every Prolific Blogger is asked to link back to this post, which explains the origins of the award. | FOUR: Every Prolific Blogger is asked to visit the post listed in rule #3 and add his/her name to the “Mr. Linky” at the bottom.

Just like Debbie, I don't expect the above prolific bloggers to list seven bloggers, unless they wish to do so. :-)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cappuccino Cheesecake

I promised it, and here it is: Cheesecake.

I took this recipe out of the same cheesecake recipe book as my first Cheesecake post, and I have to say it was just as good as that one. I modified the recipe slightly to use a brewed shot of espresso rather than instant coffee, but I'm a bit of a coffee snob like that.

So without further ado, here it comes.

Cappuccino Cheesecake
(Serves 1, unless anyone else hears that you've made it)



1 1/2C crushed Wine Biscuits
2T Sugar
50g Butter


500g Cream Cheese
1/2C Sugar
1 1/2T Flour
2 Eggs
1/2C Sour Cream
1 Short Black, with a pinch of cinnamon mixed in.

Whipped cream to serve

Pour a strong shot of espresso coffee. Add sugar and drink. This will put a spring in your step, if nothing else. Pour another shot for the cheesecake mixture and place in the freezer or fridge to cool.
Combine all the ingredients for the base in a blender, then press into a 20cm springform tin lined with baking paper. Bake at 160C for 10 minutes, remove from the oven and cool. Increase oven temperature to 230C.
In the blender, combine the cream cheese, sugar and flour, mixing at a medium speed until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing each in well. Add the Sour Cream and blend.
Add the cold coffee to the filling and mix well. Pour the filling over the base and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 120C and bake for another 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Test with a knife to determine that the centre of the cheesecake is cooked.
Loosen from the rim of the tin and allow to cool before removing. Chill.
Serve with whipped cream or natural yoghurt, and maybe, just maybe, coffee.

(I'm going to be honest - I ate this for breakfast, just because I could.)