Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Hobbit Wars

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  • Don Christie,

    Oh the joys of passing one country's labour laws others.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1615 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Just noting that I've amended a sentence which inadvertently read as saying that the Supreme Court found Bryson was a contractor not an employee. To be clear, it found he met the description of an employee.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18815 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    In the meantime, it would seem prudent not to accept anyone's take on this dispute at face value – not least when it comes to the likes of Sir Ian McKellen and Cate Blanchett, whose names have been invoked without them having apparently said anything at all on the matter.

    While the union isn't a legal entity, the fact that most of these actors haven't been employed yet may mean that won't make too much difference. If the union blacklists the movie, they may not sign in, and the fact that there's no union body to legally negotiate with might not matter.

    So the credibility of the union beyond that is probably going to be important. I think any statement that some of these core actors make is going to be pretty important.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6162 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    trollery; madly, deeply...

    "Performers only – NO MEDIA"

    What a squandered opportunity, surely there should have been seats for Gnome Media...

    NZ has such an entrenched love affair with all things Lord of the Rings - I even spotted a company in Chch selling Elf lubricants!!

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 4819 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    not least when it comes to the likes of Sir Ian McKellen and Cate Blanchett, whose names have been invoked without them having apparently said anything at all on the matter.

    Which somewhat bemused me, because whatever else you say about McKellen he's been an active member of Actor's Equity UK for over forty years and has never been known to be shy about expressing his opinion.

    I think it might also be fair to note that Blanchett might prefer to be left to speak on her own behalf as she's in the rather unusual position -- as co-artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company -- of being on both sides of the fence, as it were.

    One other small nit-pick, if the MEAA is going to claim they've never said The Hobbit is a "non-union production", then you've got to wonder why Whipp allowed the SAG Member Alert that says exactly that to go out over his signature.

    http://www.sag.org/sag-member-alert-non-union-production-hobbit

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11902 posts Report Reply

  • David Ritchie,

    The character of Galadriel isn't in "The Hobbit", so Blanchett is unlikely to be involved in the film.

    Wellingtron • Since Nov 2006 • 163 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    NZ has such an entrenched love affair with all things Lord of the Rings - I even spotted a company in Chch selling Elf lubricants!!

    Would they be under-the-counter, or off the Elf?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18815 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    One other small nit-pick, if the MEAA is going to claim they've never said The Hobbit is a "non-union production"

    I was in a bit of a rush this morning and couldn't find the link to that.

    It would be odd, because the home page of Equity features a headline, posted five days ago, reading: 'NON-UNION PRODUCTION: THE HOBBIT'.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18815 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    The character of Galadriel isn't in "The Hobbit", so Blanchett is unlikely to be involved in the film.

    From Peter Jackson:

    “Gandalf, being a 2,000-year-old wizard, is still around and plays a major role in ‘The Hobbit,’ and we’re having Ian McKellen reprise,” explained the filmmaker, who is executive-producing the flick and writing the screenplay. “There’s a couple of other characters: Elrond, who was played by Hugo Weaving [in the original films], and there’s a possibility of Galadriel, who was played by Cate Blanchett.”

    (source: http://filmonic.com/cate-blanchett-to-return-as-in-the-hobbit-986)

    Since Nov 2006 • 6162 posts Report Reply

  • David Ritchie,

    *rage*

    Edit:

    As per the filmonic link:

    Galadriel and Elrond, the only returning “LOTR” main roles besides Gandalf in his script

    This seems a little unlikely, considering the role Gollum plays in the book.

    Wellingtron • Since Nov 2006 • 163 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    The Australian's story:

    THE Hobbit dispute has wider ramifications. Several people in the Australian film industry have questioned the MEAA's clumsy relations with international productions in this country and what appears to be an antipathy towards studio-produced film and television. A schism between crew, producers and the MEAA is growing, particularly when the high Australian dollar is making Australia less attractive to international productions. Love them or hate them, international films and TV series have subsidised much of the local film infrastructure and provided solid wages to underwrite the smaller local industry. One film technician told Reel Time yesterday, "The studios don't need much of a reason not to come here and the MEAA is giving it to them."

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18815 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Also, am I the only person who thinks this has a got a lot more to do with eternally toxic Hollywood studio/union politics, and Jackson and the MEAA just provided a convenient (and high profile) pretext. Someone in the MSM needs to sit down and unpick the context.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11902 posts Report Reply

  • JP Hansen,

    @David. The two movies cover The Hobbit and beyond leading up to the events of The Fellowship of the Ring, using Tolkein's notes and bits and pieces from his other Middle Earth stories to guide the plot.

    At least, that's what I understand.

    Waitakere • Since Nov 2006 • 199 posts Report Reply

  • Dave Waugh,

    I do wonder how much of this titanic Vs perfect storm in a teacup is due to just the Aussies trying to knoble a rival countrys industry for commercial advantage; and if the US actors union which has hated on the Kiwi film industry for years (ever since LOTR filming was started) is also involved in behind the scenes?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 86 posts Report Reply

  • recordari,

    Without necessarily inviting a treatise on the benefits of trade unions in general, what, if anything, would NZ actors gain from joining MEAA, in particular?

    Freedom to negotiate higher pay rates for jobs they would be less likely to get? Unenviable position, Imo.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I was in a bit of a rush this morning and couldn't find the link to that.

    Here. Money quote:

    No claim has been made suggesting The Hobbit is non union - simply that the production is aiming to employ New Zealand performers on non-union contracts by refusing to negotiate with NZ Actor's Equity.

    If author Steven Colbard doesn't have the authority to speak for the MEAA, then The Standard shouldn't have posted it under the misleading headline 'MEAA fisks Jackson tirade'.

    if he is is a spokesman for the union -- which is difficult to determine from their user-unfriendly website -- then he shouldn't be making statements that are quite so demonstrably untrue.

    Jesus, is the MEAA a wholly-owned subsidiary of Disney? At least when I belonged to a union, it was competently run.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11902 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    This seems a little unlikely, considering the role Gollum plays in the book.

    Yes, Andy Serkis is already signed up.

    However for the context of today's thread, he may have a different sort of contract, since he doesn't actually appear in the movie.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6162 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Here. And if author Steven Colbard doesn't have the authority to speak for the MEAA,

    Thanks for that. So the Colbard article says this:

    No claim has been made suggesting The Hobbit is non union

    It's linked to from the Actors' Equity home page. The link sits just above this:

    NON-UNION PRODUCTION: THE HOBBIT
    Friday, 24 September 2010

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

    WTF?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18815 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    Gordon Campbell has quite a lot of interesting things to add.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1095 posts Report Reply

  • Jonathan King,

    Great piece Russell. And by bringing up the scary incidents that have occurred in Aus, you highlight very important questions that haven’t been asked of our actors. (Disclosure – I am a director and producer of NZ feature films Black Sheep and Under the Mountain. I have never worked for Peter Jackson).

    • Do these pay / benefits / residuals issues apply to just The Hobbit or all ‘international’ films?

    • Will they apply to NZ films?

    • If they think there is inequity in how they are paid, do they also see inequity in how the rest of the crew are paid?

    • If yes, how do they think crew also pursuing this kind of action will affect overseas production here? (And, if yes, do we want our crews having the same union structures as the USA – where, for example, only a painter can touch up a scratch on the wall, only a teamster can move a chair a metre, only a driver can back a car up a foot?).

    • If no, why not? Are only actors special?

    • Do they really think SAG care about lifting their conditions? Given that SAG have been entirely open about their opposition to ‘runaway production’ (which of course they count all foreign films shooting here as), then I don’t think it’s conspiracy talk at all to suggest that SAG would love it to be as expensive to shoot here as it is in LA ... so that studios just stay in LA!!

    An editorial in the Herald today says Peter Jackson “implies that companies ... are attracted here not by New Zealanders' film-making skills or even the spectacular scenery but by the low cost of production”. *Implies?* Well, I’ll say it then: they’re attracted here not by New Zealanders' film-making skills or even the spectacular scenery but by the low cost of production. Yes, our crews are ‘world-class’ ... but SO ARE LOTS OF COUNTRY’S CREWS! So much of film making is large scale, reasonable skilled physical labour, than you need to find a place where you can get that as cost-effectively as possible. The editorial says we need to elevate our industry so that people are coming just for our extra ordinary skills ... but, really, it isn’t possible to elevate most of those skills to something SO extraordinary that people will travel this far to get it for reasons over and above economic ones. The handful of people at that next highest level can simply be flown to wherever in the world that cost-effective labour base is.

    There are other places with that labour. There are even other places with, you might want to sit down for this one, scenery. And they will go there if the numbers dictate it.

    This all – particularly the issue of MEAA’s jurisdiction spreading to local production – has to be considered against another important thing that isn’t being talked about: the world film industry is in absolute crisis at the moment (that it may never come back from). DVD sales have crashed, dowloading (illegal and legal – but hard to monetise) is rife, theatrical admissions are down and, most importantly, theatrical exhibition is open to only a handful of titles that can do big opening weekends. There are stories about ‘box office revenues up’ ... but that is both inflated by 3D ticket prices and, crucially, limited to VAST audiences for a tiny handful of films. It’s the Dan Brown principle: why make ten $30 million films, when you can just make ONE $300 million film that everyone goes to (when you spend another $100 million advertising it)?

    Independent and foreign films (that’s us on both counts) CANNOT get theatrical release internationally. This affects the chances of any DVD release (the revenues of which, as I said, have plummeted anyway). And, it must be noted, our films face almost the exact same issue here in the cinema: we open against Hollywood juggernauts and people just don’t go. (Yeah, I know they went to Boy. But one – terrific – film is not an industry). And, Boy – through no fault of its own, rather the issues all films are facing – has been unable to get almost any release internationally!

    Budgets for NZ films (that we can’t sell internationally, that are own audiences are too small to support) are about to CRASH. And if – as in the Australian examples mentioned in the original post – a union starts making inflexible and unreasonable demands on local productions, then along with the international production, local production will also disappear.

    Since Sep 2010 • 174 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I imagine, being a movie, that it will not blindly follow the book's narrative. LOTR did not, and it made a better movie that way. There's only really enough material in The Hobbit for one movie, so I expect the difference will be made up with all sorts of alternate and backstory. Should be quite interesting in that regard, to see if a decent movie can just be plucked out of the notes of Tolkien. I think it likely that it would actually be a better movie in some ways, because the screenplay would not be limited by well known novel. If the Australians let us make it, that is.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8436 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I should note that Helen Kelly of the CTU is keen to comment here, but is having trouble registering.

    I'm trying to get a login set up manually for her asap.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18815 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Gordon Campbell has quite a lot of interesting things to add.

    He sure does. Short version remains: "it's complicated".

    He also mentions the bizarre Vincent Gallo is a non-entity wrangle, which, as he notes, made Actors' Equity look a bit silly.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18815 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    WTF?

    Might have been better off sticking with the NDU -- which, whatever else you say about it, doesn't come across as a wholly owned subsidiary of Disney.

    He also mentions the bizarre Vincent Gallo is a non-entity wrangle, which, as he notes, made Actors' Equity look a bit silly.

    And in context, bitterly ironic. Don't think I was the only person who said "Who the fuck is Viggo Mortensen?" when Aragon was re-cast after shooting had started.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11902 posts Report Reply

  • Raffe Smith,

    Kristin Thompson, a film academic who wrote a book on the LOTR trilogy has a worthwhile blog that has been following the issue closely.

    Grey Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 39 posts Report Reply

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