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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.


Lorena said...

Thank you, for saying everything I wanted to say. As an actor starting out here in New Zealand, I was so looking forward to being an extra ... how sad to think it is now to be all taken away. I wish I had known about the march last night, I would have driven from Paraparaumu to join and show my frustration at a few who have decided to make the decisions for us all. We were never asked. New Zealanders love Middle Earth, now is the time to stand up and ask that it stay.

Lorena said...

Thank you, for saying everything I wanted to say. As an actor starting out here in New Zealand, I was so looking forward to being an extra ... how sad to think it is now to be all taken away. I wish I had known about the march last night, I would have driven from Paraparaumu to join and show my frustration at a few who have decided to make the decisions for us all. We were never asked. New Zealanders love Middle Earth, now is the time to stand up and ask that it stay.

Mike Riversdale said...

Great post ... have RT'ed and added to my own blogged thoughts (as a complete non-movie industry worker but as a local and a Kiwi)

Jess said...

I have a quick question about them shifting the Hobbit out of NZ. Is this really the result of the actions of the unions, or is it really Warner trying to pressure the NZ government into giving them a bigger tax break to film in NZ?

I suspect the latter has more to do with it than the former, although the union has done nothing to help its case.

Unknown said...

I wish all of you the best of luck in fighting this Good Fight.

The fact that this is happening at all, outside NZ law, is appalling and just plain greedy. It's one of those things that keeps coming up in our society, spearheaded by those it never really affects, and just makes those of us it does affect lose faith in our society and its ability to move forward with anything without the need for tonnes of paperwork.

As an aspiring actor, massive Peter Jackson fan and hopeful Halo Movie enthusiast, I sincerely hope that this is worked out for the betterment of the NZ industry and it's support teams.

I live in Melbourne and had the chance to come over to the North Island in 2007 and visited several of the filming locations - I love your country, not only as Middle Earth but for the beautiful country it is - it'll be a massive loss to the world if we lose the ability to utilize the beauty of the country and its people.

Take care and safe travels in this fight of fights.

Unknown said...

Excuse my ignorance of the subject but can't the MEAA just be ignored and production continued here in NZ?

Dan said...

Thanks Lorena and Mike, we appreciate the support.

Jess - far be it from me to even try to speculate on the higher end games being played by studio execs. However, this much is absolutely true: Peter wants this film to be shot here, nowhere else. Before the industrial action started by AE at the behest of the MEAA there was no discussion whatsoever of this project going elsewhere.

The MEAA has quite deliberately thrown our industry into disarray to push its own agenda. If the studios see this as an opportunity to twist things around to save themselves some money, then that's business. Remember, the bottom line here is written in millions of dollars, for all players concerned. The long term consequences of this action for New Zealand are measured in billions of dollars.

This is not an exaggeration.

Actors' Equity have been played, and it looks like it has cost this country its film industry.

Dan said...

Matt - I'm not a casting director, but as Liz Mullane said at last night's meeting, it gets awfully complicated.

The key word here is confidence - the confidence that a studio investing $500m in a film needs to be sure it will not run into massive problems due to striking actors. We've seen the damage this has done in the States, with the actors and writers strikes of the past 2 years.

Compound that with the fact that everything Simon Whipp of the MEAA has been doing for the past 4 weeks has been no more than smoke and mirrors, mistruths and outright deception, and that in doing so he has brought this entire project to the edge of ruin, I think it's safe to say that no, this cannot just be ignored.

Anonymous said...

Hey mate, thanks for showing your passion for keeping this film in New Zealand and your obvious passion for the NZ film industry.

I'm an actor and a member of NZ equity - but, let's just put that aside for a moment and just think about this as two guys who work in the same industry.

I want this film to be made here - hell I want every film to be made here. You're right, actors run the risk of never working again. But unfortunately, that's the risk we run every time we land a roll. Every time it may be our last. That's a pretty freaky thing for me, acting is my livelihood, by which I mean - it's how I survive. I limp and struggle from gig to gig barely scratching out enough to live on. It's the only career I've ever known my entire adult life. So the idea of having no more work chills me to the bone.

My names Joel by the way and I'm just a regular middle of the road level headed kiwi.
So, if you want to pick the 'brain of the enemy' then I'm happy to answer any questions that I can.

If I was in Wellington, I'd buy you a beer (if I could afford it) and talk this thing out.

So - how can I help?

karu63 said...

In the end,it will not be NZ techos vs NZ actors,or the pressure of any union (because Actors unions do also negotiate/strike in the U.S),it will be what the Govt can present to 'appease' Warner. They sensed a 'chink in the armor',and exploited it. We are only as strong as the sum of all our parts...Noone wants to lose 'The Hobbit', but it's time also to march the streets and talk passionately about making our own NZ Feature Film Industry viable,strong and continuous;not just what Sir Peter J can attract.

Anonymous said...

Why do you think it's alright for studios to play for money but not for actors? Here's a much simpler "dynamic" than your conspiracy theory. LOTR made shitloads of money. If kiwi actors had had union contractsthey would be receiving income from that right now. They're not. They don't want to make the same mistake twice. The end. But I guess they should be willing to fold so that YOUR future is more secure?

Dan said...

Joel - Don't get us wrong; we the technicians don't think the actors are the enemy by any measure. I think that AE have been manipulated into this position by the MEAA to further the ends of larger markets beyond our own who are jealous of New Zealand pushing out blockbuster films.

We need to stand together on this and show the world - and especially the studio execs at Warners - that all of us, actors and technicians alike, want to pour all our passion into making another epic film, and more for years to come.

Dan said...

Karu63 - It will be very interesting to see how the talks with the Govt next week play out. This brinksmanship is what studio execs do best, and they will no doubt exploit it to their advantage.

But the union needs to unequivocally withdraw from this fight, or the risk to the studio will simply be too great for them to be willing to put any money into the project in this country.

And for anyone who has worked in the NZ industry, we all know that the low-budget end of the job can only exist because of the influx of big-budget work that comes in, both via Peter J and others who have worked so hard to make this a world-class business. Without the big jobs, the low budget market will also suffer.

Lorena said...

Dan, maybe another march should be called, this time calling all ACTORS and all TECHS, all people in the industry - hell all New Zealanders who care enough to see our industry saved need to march through Wellington, united, not pulling each other apart - I've read all these posts, it seems we all want the same thing, we're all scatching around to make a living out of a bloody difficult profession, but it can be done here - we've all seen the evidence of that, we now just need to preserve it.

Melody Grace said...

Hey everyone,

My name is Melody and I am part of 'the media'. I work for Wellington's Capital Times, and a couple of weeks ago realised no-one seemed to be representing the other side of the story so interviewed a couple of Wellington actors about what they were afraid of and angry about. There was very clear support for Peter Jackson in the article. It was then forwarded to Peter and Fran, who circulated it within the industry.

I will be writing another story for our next edition, which comes out on Wednesday October 27. If anyone is open to talking with me about this, I'd be obliged if they addressed an email to

Warm regards,


David said...

I've written this on stuff, but I thought I'd say it here. This may not be a popular opinion.

I have to say maybe the film industry in New Zealand has relied too much on Peter Jackson and his talent. The film industry here can't keep relying on him for their profile. New blood and new films like Boy are needed to enhance our profile and build up the film industries resilience. I'd be very disappointed if the hobbit wasn't filmed here. But it could be one of the best things to happen to our film industry. It could force them to be more resilient and reliant on internationals like Warner Brothers.

Dan said...

Lorena - to be fair, there are plenty of actors out there who are on the same side of the fence as us, and plenty who marched with us last night. It was good to have them along. Like I said, I don't believe it's the actors trying to derail our industry.

Anonymous said...

Can I play Devil's advocate here for a sedcond? Wouldn't you say it seems a little simplistic to suggest that a production of this magnitude, already in pre-pro for months here, would be moved overseas as a result of an insignificant actor's union asking for better conditions and a little consideration in future DVD residuals?!!

Just for example: The line in the overall Hobbit budget for domestic actors, I'd bet you, won't amount to more than a tenth of the construction budget, just to name an example. Think about that for a second. If you were in charge, would you consider the massive transport budget hit to move overseas because a few low-talent local hams want a few extra bucks and the promise they won't get dumped with no notice? Jesus!

Come on! When you're spending 500 million dollars - one percentage point of difference in tax handback is a MASSIVE difference.

Stop looking at this as a Poor PJ Vs the world issue and use your loaf, mate! Other countries are on record as offering a 20% tax rebate versus NZ's 15% as things stand right now. What's 5% of 500 million? That would pay a lot of airfreight to ship a few frocks and fake rocks to Prague.

The film industry is ruthless. They can make anywhere look like anywhere and they go where the going's cheap. They're making movies in freaking Lithuania nowadays - big movies. Sadly, NZ is just not as profitable as it used to be and THAT is why this is happening, as sure as there's shit in a little cat. And bear in mind that Warners' financial 'difficulties' are still not resolved.

Don't mean to sound cruel but if half of the people on that march last night knew what their counterparts in Europe or the US were getting paid for doing the exact same job (under more secure and, sadly, just better conditions), things might start to become a little clearer and take a slightly less emotional hue.

Unknown said...

Well i think i will boycott the file all together if it is made overseas. Two can play at that game. Sorry Peter

Mel said...

I am not connected to the film industry at all but I heard the interview on National Radio this morning with Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. You could hear their frustration. The NZ economy needs big ticket movies being made here. End of story.

Dan said...

Anon - regarding your last commment (unpublished) - some comments had been shuffled to spam by Blogger without notifying me.

All other comments have been published.

TimM said...

Re Anonymous @1:24PM who said...

Can I play Devil's advocate here for a sedcond? Wouldn't you say it seems a little simplistic to suggest that a production of this magnitude, already in pre-pro for months here, would be moved overseas as a result of an insignificant actor's union asking for better conditions and a little consideration in future DVD residuals?!!

I think your view is a little simplistic. MEAA and NZAE requested the SAG to initiate a global boycott, which SAG agreed and did. This is why WB are concerned - they do not want to risk $500million on the venture in NZ when there is instability. They want confidence that there won't be industrial action holding up the production.

Eileen said...

It is not only the actors and technicians who will be affected, a whole tourism industry has been built out of Lord of the Rings and its connections in New Zealand. Think of the guided tour operators who were depending on The Hobbit for more fans visiting our country for years to come. All ruined by a few short-sighted selfish people. Richard and Peter have done so much for New Zealand, and Wellington in particular, they need all the support we can give them.

Anonymous said...

People are playing games all over the shop on this one - there is fault on all sides. Because the union are now in negotiation with the appropriate body to hear their concerns i.e. SPADA, as a concession AE agreed to recommend lifting the boycott. On Sunday. Warners agreed but reserved the right to disclose once wording etc was agreed with SAG. 3'7 were aware of this. Why wasn't it disclosed at the stone street meeting? Instead a large body of people descended on central wellington with the aim of voicing their collective anger to union members about a boycott that was never voted on by them and which had already been taken off the table. The fact that SAG only did that this afternoon also speaks volumes. Why did Warners and SAG delay? If PJ and Fran knew - why did they send Richard off to joust at windmills?

As a union member I can see why the strategy of targetting the hobbit was used as leverage. I personally think it was the wrong strategy. When we were asked to vote I think most of us voted to get a meeting in order to END the boycott not enforce it. We were never asked if we wanted one in the first place. Having said that - why was this a battle fought in the media? When we'd realized what was required to make this thing go away appeals were made to the union, SPADA anyone and everyone to get in a room and sort it out which they are now finally in the process of doing. So - when the boycott was effectively off the table - why enflame the whole situation further? A great look in the international media? Don't think so. I can't help thinking there is more to this than meets the eye

Anonymous said... surprise your a Equity member.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone considered the possibility that the picture was being moved overseas anyway? Does it seem a little unusual that a usually media-shy PJ suddenly was releasing 5 page missives and his camp giving oout quotes likle billy-o?

Just saying.. decisions like this don't happen in two weeks and there was no sign that any of the real talent already cast were heeding the pissy Aussie Union Fatwa anyway.....?

Anonymous said...

"I think your view is a little simplistic. MEAA and NZAE requested the SAG to initiate a global boycott, which SAG agreed and did. This is why WB are concerned - they do not want to risk $500million on the venture in NZ when there is instability. They want confidence that there won't be industrial action holding up the production."

Have you ever worked in the states? There's a Union stoppage about once a day, usually Teamsters pissed at having their coffee break half an hour late. and they get paid a lot more than you do too, incidentally. You're thinking with way too much emotion here. Instability exists everywhere, even in Eastern Europe. The Union dispute angle on this has been way overplayed - for uh, 'whatever' reason...

Sabrina said...


Your blogpost is great, but a Facebook page would be easier to join and share and "like" and a better platform to show our support for the Hobbit and Sir Peter Jackson. Let us know if you create one. It will spread like wildfire and we could show Warner Brothers next week how much this country supports the Hobbit and stands behind Peter Jackson!

Cheers, Sabrina

Dan said...

Looks like there already is one:

Mike Riversdale said...

Sabrina - disagree, Facebook is a walled garden, this is open and anyone could read it without logging in.

On a general note - getting pretty tired of the "if they knew what US/European actors/tech's were getting then ..." I work in IT and moved to NZ knowing that the the pay won't be as "good" (large) - it's NOT the US/Europe ... if you want the big bucks then move there and join those rat races.

Dan said...

And another:

Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi said...

Well written. I'm not in the industry, but I've been ropable at the nonsense of hijacking ONE movie to try and influence industry standards. It seems insane, shortsighted and down right moronic. Thousands of people will lose jobs, money and opportunities if we lose the production. It is horrifying.

V said...

I just wanted to put in, that as an Australian working in the Australian film industry, the NZ film industry suffering does not really help us at all. I'm sure anyone in the industry would know that there is an awful lot of cross-pollination between our two nations, and the ebb and flow of artists is mutual. It would be just as much of a disadvantage to us, as it would be to the kiwi folk. I can assure you that we are all in your corner over here, and we are just as much the victims of these jerks as you guys are... They dont speak for me.

V said...

ps. To be clear, when I say "these jerks", I'm referring to the unions.

Dan said...

V - Thank you so much for the support. We're all feeling pretty beleaguered over here right now, and it's great to hear a friendly voice from over the Tasman.

A show of solidarity from Australia would be a huge boost.

Lorena said...

Don't you love the comment frm Robyn Malcolm on TVNZ Friday Night at 7pm : "We had no blacklist - but we lifted the ban!" Yeah right - save that for the tourists!

Anonymous said...

Yes!! (Posting to facebook right now..... :)