Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Hobbit Wars

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  • Russell Brown,

    The almost instinctive anti unionism displayed here has got to be related to a generation of independent contracting by middle class kiwis. I am a freelancer too but I know where my loyalties lie.

    I mildly object to that, Alec. I'm not putting the boot into anyone. I know good people on both sides of this argument, so it wouldn't make much sense to make a judgement on the basis of "loyalty", as opposed to what I can make of the facts of the matter. As I said, I hope a compromise can be reached -- and frankly I think that's what will happen.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17977 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    @Alec Morgan: I came up with a long rebuttal, but you know what? Get lost. I find it incredibly offensive and presumptuous to be shat on as "anti-union" when I, and others, have been careful not to conflate specific criticisms of the MEAA's conduct (based on what is in the public sphere) with anti-union rhetoric. What part of Russell's "it would seem prudent not to accept anyone's take on this dispute at face value" and "It is not, in itself, at all unreasonable for New Zealand actors to wish to negotiate a collective agreement" was too subtle for you?

    I think I'm going to step away for a while before Russell gives me a time out. You really crossed a line, mate. {ETA: Sadly, I signed a cast iron non-disclosure agreement that precludes explaining exactly why I'm very far from "anti-union", but there was a time when the now defunct Journalists and Graphic Process Workers Union earned my dues a dozen times over.]

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11621 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Kyle, one of the big issues here with actors is that you can't necessarily hire them on a fixed term on a film like this.

    Yes, but you could employ them on a casual contract.

    I just think the claim "We can't talk to the union because they're not employees" is a little out of context when that's the decision that the production company has made. They could have offered, or even insisted on employment contracts.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6145 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    re: "Brad Pitt conditions", I imagine she means the stereotypical "A-list actor" stuff like an XBox360 with a 42" LCD, and champagne chilled to a precise 10.2 degrees C, in their official trailer; nubile maidens from whose bodies are snorted endless lines of cocaine; eye fillet steak and truffles for lunch and beluga caviar for dinner, etc etc. As opposed to "You get paid your ordinary rate for x hours a day, ordinary-times-y rate after x hours, you get fed and looked-after, there're health and safety rules" and the other usual, basic shit one expects to see in a contract for anyone working 16, 18, 20 hours a day, often in the middle of nowhere.

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3733 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    I have not had time to delve into this enough and appreciate the complexity of the players involved and what's driving them.

    It would be good to hear details about the differences in conditions experienced by NZ actors and crews and those in Australia or other jurisdictions. Maybe that's been covered and I've missed it? My impression is that - like the current teachers' action - this is probably at least as much about conditions as pay, yet it's portrayed as something that can be spun as envy or greed. Obvious question is: in whose interests is that?

    Regardless of the overall benefits of attracting business (and I am grateful we have a lucrative creative screen production industry), I reckon there's a big difference between putting in ridiculous hours for peanuts on a local production that everyone knows has little chance of raking in big income and being expected to do the same for a multi-national studio production when evidence of the unevenly-shared huge profits is obvious.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 15762 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Russell Baillie's take isn't exactly helpful:

    But here's my two cents worth on something that has been forgotten in all of this. Yes acting requires passion and commitment and self-sacrifice and all that. Lots of careers in the arts do. But isn't acting something folks get into - like entertainment journalism for instance - to avoid the drudgeries of a real job? It's hardly hard work is it?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17977 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    The actors' legal advice something like - you may not be able to have a collective contract, but you can still agree on terms with a bunch of people.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1091 posts Report Reply

  • Sam F,

    re: "Brad Pitt conditions", I imagine she means the stereotypical "A-list actor" stuff like an XBox360 with a 42" LCD, and champagne chilled to a precise 10.2 degrees C, in their official trailer; nubile maidens from whose bodies are snorted endless lines of cocaine; eye fillet steak and truffles for lunch and beluga caviar for dinner, etc etc.

    I got the TiVo!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1549 posts Report Reply

  • Alec Morgan,

    @Craig: good on you Craig, I remember JAGPRO well. I am willing to withdraw my generalisation “anti unionism displayed here” and apologise to any other union supporters at PA.
    (reply button did not apply for some reason)

    Tokerau Beach • Since Nov 2006 • 99 posts Report Reply

  • Jonathan King,

    @ Matthew Poole "As opposed to "You get paid your ordinary rate for x hours a day, ordinary-times-y rate after x hours, you get fed and looked-after, there're health and safety rules" and the other usual, basic shit one expects to see in a contract for anyone working 16, 18, 20 hours a day, often in the middle of nowhere."

    All of which will certainly be in the deals they've already been offered. NO question. No film production in NZ operates without that stuff being covered.

    Since Sep 2010 • 170 posts Report Reply

  • Jonathan King,

    PS: Though "ordinary rate" will be up for negotiation!

    Since Sep 2010 • 170 posts Report Reply

  • Sam F,

    (reply button did not apply for some reason)

    Pretty sure those reply buttons don't auto-quote the post they're part of - they just drop you right down to the box at the bottom of the page.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1549 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I am willing to withdraw my generalisation “anti unionism displayed here” and apologise to any other union supporters at PA.

    Thank you for that. I may be on the rightward-side of PAS (hell, I am the right wing of PAS, more often than not) but I'm not going to blindly and uncritically back employers and business groups, so why shouldn't I treat unions the same way?

    As Russell says, we're all trying to base our position on the facts that are available. It's not that simple.

    And something else, I support freedom of speech and association for everyone -- not just people I happen to agree with. That's called living your principles even when they're inconvenient.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11621 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Russell Baillie's take isn't exactly helpful

    Imagine my surprise

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 15762 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    The actors' legal advice something like - you may not be able to have a collective contract, but you can still agree on terms with a bunch of people.

    And there's hopefully scope for that -- but still bearing in mind that MEAA refused to re-negotiate the Pink Book with Spada 18 months ago.

    And Jennifer Ward-Lealand's statement is a lot more constructive than the disgraceful statement that Simon Whipp drew up for the affiliate guilds and unions to sign. On one hand the MEAA is insisting no one has called The Hobbit a "non-union production", and on the other they've used that exact phrase twice in three paragraphs.

    I'm really thinking that Simon Whipp is the the major impediment to to any resolution here. Frankly, I get why the production community hates him if he's going to play this sort of game.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17977 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    And Jennifer Ward-Lealand's statement is a lot more constructive than the disgraceful statement that Simon Whipp drew up for the affiliate guilds and unions to sign.

    And fully aware, I'm sure, that any SAG or Equity UK member who signs up for a "non-union" production is in very serious shit indeed. I don't think that wording was a trivial typing error, as they used to say in Metro.

    And I'd like to apologise for anything I've said that could be construed as a personal slam on Ward-Lealand -- I know people who've worked with her as a director, producer (and board member of the Silo Theatre) and actor and had nothing praise for her professionalism.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11621 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    I recall first seeing NZ Equity President Jennifer Ward-Lealand in a Renee play–“Pass it on” many years ago, plot concerned the 1951 waterfront lockout and Jennifer may have absorbed some of the values therein.

    Forgive me if I've misread that as coming across as a touch patronising, but I'd have thought that Ward-Lealand's 'values' would be informed by a professional's understanding of the realities of the industry whose members she represents, rather than any message she may have absorbed from a production that she had an active part as an artist in interpreting.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3291 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    And regarding the Govt's intervention in the Hobbit War, I would have thought that compulsory arbitration was a big factor in the industrial unrest of the 1970s & 80s - since Muldoon typically forced a settlement in favour of management, giving an excuse for the unions to strike again, even in 'essential' industries like ports. But when the Lange Govt started refusing to intervene, disputes surprisingly started to recede.

    And still on industrial matters, can the Tolley vs PPTA dispute get any more toxic? Was it any worse under Merv Wellington? If things go thermonuclear, I see one of two outcomes: Tolley does a 1951, declares an educational state of emergency and de-registers the PPTA; or Tolley is forced to resign after being padlocked in her office by hundreds of pissed-off educationalists.
    As I see it, it's not just about teacher pay - it's also the fact that social work has effectively been foisted on teachers by successive Govts. If 'National Standards' is merely a Trojan horse to crush the PPTA, why be so secret about it?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 3912 posts Report Reply

  • Jan Farr,

    I reckon there's a big difference between putting in ridiculous hours for peanuts on a local production that everyone knows has little chance of raking in big income and being expected to do the same for a multi-national studio production when evidence of the unevenly-shared huge profits is obvious.

    Smart point, Sacha!

    Very glad to hear from Helen Kelly that neither side knows what the other side thinks until they've got together. So...um - what have we all been on about?

    Alec, I felt uneasy too about comment that - while acknowledging that there are things we don't know and that there may be right on both sides and that the issue may not be simple and that we're pro-union - seemed largely unable to relate to the situation of a workforce whose ongoing employment is always uncertain and who can easily have their conditions undercut by those willing to gamble on fame and stardom tomorrow in exchange for hunger today. But I'm really glad that Craig's your friend again.

    Carterton • Since Apr 2008 • 394 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Okay ...

    I've had some comment from someone who's not a direct party to the dispute, and not involved in the industry -- but not unsympathetic to the producers.

    Which I paraphrase thus:

    ---

    The Actors' Equity legal advice says that s30 of the Commerce Act -- price-fixing as anti-competitive behaviour -- is not an "absolute bar" to some form of collective agreement.

    It points out three things that would not lead to a breach of s30:

    1. A "joint venture" arrangement. As they say, this is "more complex". Indeed, it's an entirely new financial structure for movie-making, where the producers and actors and crew and extras and everyone onvolved all enter into a joint-venture business to make the Hobbit movie.

    2. A group of more than 50 people may group together to make "recommendations" about terms of service provision. But these recommendations are legally unenforceable, so there is no commercial reality ("not commercially meaningful"" is a phrase that's been bandied around) to such an arrangement. It's hard to see that this equates to the setting of minimum terms and conditions.

    3. Easiest solution, according to Simpson Grierson, is that Jackson employs everyone as employees, rather than engaging them as contractors.

    On Tuesday, the actors stopped invoking ThreeFootSix v Bryson (where a model-making "contractor" was found to actually be an employee) because Bryson's terms and the "real nature of the relationship" (this being the legal test for wherther you are a contractor or an employee) he had with TFS were very atypical of the film industry.

    But Bryson works both ways - calling Bryson a contractor didn't stop hm being an employee. Likewise - if PJ calls actors employees, it doesn't mean they are. If they are still invoicing various companies simultaneously, paying their own tax, writing off the front room in the house as an office etc, then they are a contractor.

    ---

    So it's genuinely not straightforward and the producers aren't just making stuff up. I too have been told that Bryson was atypical -- and, indeed, that ThreeFootSix totally screwed up in that instance.

    It may also be that Jackson et al could have found ways to engage with Actors' Equity, but it seems clear the relationship has been difficult there for a while.

    The more I find out about this, the more irked I am about the "non-union production" claim that Whipp sent out for everyone else to sign. It was cynical.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17977 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I felt uneasy about Alec's comment, but mainly because it contained a sizable grain of truth as far as I'm concerned. The only union I've ever been in was when I worked at McDonald's as a teenager, and a fat lot of good that did me. I find the idea quite difficult to accept at an emotional level because I've always, always wanted to strike my own bargains. Collective bargaining really doesn't appeal to me personally.

    This leads to an inflated sense of how easy and natural bargaining for oneself is. I tend to forget that a heck of a lot of people working even on something that seems as glamorous (to me) as The Hobbit are coming from easily exploitable positions of weakness.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8039 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I felt uneasy about Alec's comment, but mainly because it contained a sizable grain of truth as far as I'm concerned. The only union I've ever been in was when I worked at McDonald's as a teenager, and a fat lot of good that did me.

    As a journalist, I was a member of the EPMU for years. I was quite shocked that when I really needed some help (jumped-up fuckwit at big publisher unreasonably withholding payment) they were sympathetic but couldn't do anything for me because I wasn't an employee.

    But I've always had friends at that union and admire the work they do.

    I've always, always wanted to strike my own bargains. Collective bargaining really doesn't appeal to me personally.

    I had a situation like that once. An individual contract gave me the chance to negotiate some flexibility that helped me and the way I work. I supported the principle of a collective contract, but resented feeling pressured into opting into one, which I didn't.

    I suppose this is why you and I both are contractors by choice.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17977 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    BTW, Russell, Preview button seems to have become the Post button. If you're reading this, I pressed preview.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8039 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    BTW, Russell, Preview button seems to have become the Post button. If you're reading this, I pressed preview.

    Weird. Just as well the fabulous new site is on its way.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17977 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Bennett,

    I'm pretty sure that most producers would be happy to sit down and discuss terms and conditions of contracts with both actors and agents. In fact an offer from SPADA to open discussions on the Pink Book guidelines was ignored by the MEAA last year.

    I think that Producers' issues lie with the MEAA and their agenda/tactics, not actors/performers or the idea of negotiation.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 140 posts Report Reply

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