Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Yet More Hobbit

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  • Neil Morrison,

    I tend to suspect SAG have had no interest in NZ's industial relations laws. They might back down but it will be a strategic decision.

    I might be being unfair to SAG but my impression is that they want the way things work in Hollywood to be how it's done elsewhere.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Maybe. It's been my experience, that, though you have to make sure you defend your own members jurisdictionally with the other major guilds (and can't be too politically naive), most of these big union guys have a strong sense of core values and fair play. It's what gets them up in the morning and has made them rise to the top in what they do. Unlike, say, Chris Trotter or Irishbill for example.

    You gotta remember, the SAG is still run by actors ultimately, who volunteer to govern the union because they believe in the cause. It's not cynical greed and self interest. Yes, like us they have to consider the position they play in terms of helping their member's cause. But at the end of the day, I'm sure they'd be as unhappy by some of the ways this has played out as anyone.

    Whatever you might say, they know how to run a situation like this. And they wouldn't be thrilled to see it go badly. So either way, they're certainly going to asking some questions.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Well, they've constantly used words like "enforceable", and Robyn Malcolm said they wanted an agreement that wasn't "Hobbit-specific" ...

    Don't know. Just don't know.

    Perhaps they should retain the services of Callingham and Edwards, because Brian Edwards has often said the advice he gives his clients is: Tell the truth, every time.

    I know IrishBill et. al.'s default position is to blame a supine media prostate before Saint Peter Jackson and his fellow lying foreign corporate tools, but it sure seems to me that Equity is entirely the architect of its own credibility deficit.

    A good start would be to just stop lying about the nature and impact of the "do not work" order issued by SAG and its affiliates. Then when you're asked what you really want, try saying the same thing twice in a row.

    Finally, a major part of "good faith" bargaining is not to tell blatant and easily disproved falsehoods about other parties. When you've got JWL saying "all we want to do is talk" with people who are saying "our calls aren't being returned" -- well, they can't both be telling the truth.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Pat Hackett,

    Probably better to prepare a press release for Simon Whipp so he can save face - along the lines that he was asked to intervene to find a solution blah blah and due to NZ's antiquated and unsophisticated labour laws it is unable to implement the internationally acclaimed MEAA contract at this time blah blah so in the interests of ensuring The Hobbit can commence production on time blah blah and we are satisfied that progress has been made that will benefit all NZ actors blah blah.

    Auckland • Since Oct 2010 • 95 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Sure, just say he got down here to find we were all just Mexicans with cellphones, who consequently f***ked up all his plans for him.

    (Oh man: I shouldn't kid about this thing. Okay, look I'm just gonna say I reckon it'll all go fine and everyone will come out of it hunky dory, and then shut up for a while)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Pat Hackett,

    Mexicans with cellphones and Home Office Expenses

    Which pretty much sums up why NZ actors don't want to become employees.

    Auckland • Since Oct 2010 • 95 posts Report Reply

  • FletcherB,

    a major part of "good faith" bargaining is not to tell blatant and easily disproved falsehoods about other parties.

    Not just other parties... also, yourselves...

    You forgot to mention

    "we are too a registered body, stop telling lies about us"

    followed by

    "hang on, we'll have that legal status thing sorted in a couple of days"

    Is not the way to engender confidence that you can tell the truth, let alone organize yourselves.

    West Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 887 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Duignan,

    Right stick - wrong end:

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/opinion/4203888/Working-to-rule

    The writer seems to be making out that residuals were a NZ innovation, rather than standard everywhere else. But he does make the glaringly obvious observation about conflict of interest in a foreign union negotiating on behalf of NZ workers.

    Since Oct 2010 • 18 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Coming soon to movie complex near you:
    Spadacuss: Blood and Scandals

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7887 posts Report Reply

  • Jonathan King,

    Coming soon to movie complex near you:
    Spadacuss: Blood and Scandals

    Directed by Michael Hurst

    Since Sep 2010 • 185 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Spadacuss: Blood and Scandals

    Sorry, what was the president of Gladiators Equity saying? I was distracted by his stunt willy... and here comes the producers' rep (she's a Cylon, y'know).

    I'd pay 3D prices to see that...

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    ...most of these big union guys have a strong sense of core values and fair play. It's what gets them up in the morning anhas made them rise to the top in what they do. Unlike, say, Chris Trotter or Irishbill for example.

    I have some admiration for the US unions - they get things done in a tough environment. And it is real unionism at work unlike the local pretenders as you mention.

    But their system is quite rigid. Getting that union card is a big ask generally.

    Hopefully it may be as I think you're saying that the Australians went a bit rogue and SAG might be inclined to sweep up after them.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Maybe. Hopefully everyone will just get their legal cards in place, calm down a bit, and there'll be some kind of meeting and everyone can walk away without feeling there's egg on their face.

    Personally, I think they should have the meeting with SPADA first to sort out the domestic issue so that local productions don't get threatened, or expected to pay unreasonable money.

    Then after that's all cleared up, a meeting with some representative of the production to make some of their legally non binding suggestions as to what they feel the production could do to improve.

    At the end of the day also, if Actor's Equity want to get involved in good faith talks, they have to show some genuine good faith, and start mending some damage that have sprung up surrounding this.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    (uh, just to be clear, I'm not laying blame on Actor's Equity here, I'm just saying it would be cool for their public image to start making some positive moves to fix up some injured feelings and accept some responsibility for some, however well intentioned, errors)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming,

    RB's just tweeted that Whipp has gone on leave. If he's the instigator, this is a classic way of avoiding having to do anything.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2930 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    You know, it is entirely possible that the MEAA just genuinely cocked this up a bit, rather than it being a cynical type thing.

    I mean, if Simon Whipp was genuinely aware of the legal difficulties of what he was suggesting to the FIA, he must have also known that this stuff would come out pretty quickly and potentially he'd wind up looking a bit silly, or even dodgy. Which I'm sure he wouldn't want. So as tempting as it is, I'm not sure painting him as deliberately destructive is really entirely logical.

    It's possible he's genuinely gone into this passionately defending NZ actors rights, and thought he was on legally stable ground (due to the difference in actors in Aus being classed as employees) is now feeling a bit stressed about this and has decided to take leave because he's realised he hasn't actually helped anyone down here? Or at least is trying to take the heat out of the AE/Australia connection?

    On the other hand, you would hope that the MEAA should have had the responsibility to manage this thing better if they were going to get this boycott started, and just because it's a genuine mistake doesn't make it any better. But even so, that different to being outrightly destructive. Still, I guess that's the problem with the situation with an Australian Guild apparently so involved: it's just so hard to tell, which creates yet another public image headache for AE.

    Or then again this could just be a cynical implementation of Global Rule One to basically stop runaway productions, and bring back production to Hollywood and keep US actors employed, which arguably is why Global Rule One was invented anyway, in which case the FIA and SAG would be fine with it and AE are simply getting shafted in the process.

    Either way, it's becoming increasingly obvious to everyone I think, that having an Aus Union resourcing a NZ Union is just bad, bad news, whether their intentions are idealistic, selfish or (most likely) a bit of both.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Bennett,

    If anyone wants to take the pulse of the situation, then the comments under Chris Trotter's article are a good place to start. Many of them posted by actors. I think they clearly reflect the level of emotion, and flexible grip on the 'facts'. This doesn't bode well for a rational settlement.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/opinion/columnists/chris-trotter/4197102/Pride-shame-at-heart-of-dispute

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 167 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Pity we don't have any of those guys debating the issues on here.

    Well, anyway: nice of Roy Billings, who's a board member of the MEAA getting stuck in on the issue and saying that Trotter's piece is the only piece of decent journalism on the issue. He's been quite active in forum circles with this this thing. Mostly he's trying to clear up some inaccuracies, but in this one, it's a complete endorsement, which - for people who can clearly point out has a lot of falsehoods and completely unjusitifable conspiracy theories.

    Just one (pretty damn important) example, Trotter says:

    To make this shameful situation even worse, National's Attorney-General (also its Minister of Arts and Heritage), Chris Finlayson, released a legal opinion from Crown Law purporting to show that any collective agreement negotiated between The Hobbit's producers and the "independent contractor" members of Equity would be illegal.

    Not only is Finlayson's highly tendentious interpretation of the Commerce Act hotly disputed by Equity's own legal experts, it also highlights just how low the National-led Government is prepared to go to weaken the position of organised labour in this country.

    So does he call the crown law office opinion outrightly bias, but claims that it says something different to equity's own legal experts.

    Well, Chris, in fact it doesn't say that at all. In fact they both say the exact same things: you can't have a legally enforceable collective bargain unless you're an employee. Now, if people were discussing the issues of being an employee or not, that's one thing. But they're not.

    Equating individual actors - some of the lowest-paid workers in New Zealand - with the real, corporate monopoly targets of the anti- price-fixing provisions of the Commerce Act is shameful enough.

    But exploiting those provisions to effectively strip Equity of the right to bargain for better wages and conditions on behalf of its members is not only shameful - it's just plain wrong.

    It's the frigging law! As Trotter well knows. Nobody DECIDES whether they want to enact or not. They're not exploiting them. It's just the law. No if you don't like the law and want to change it that's one thing, but claiming someone is being deliberately exploitative just because they're forced to follow the law is insane.

    Now anyway, I came across this yesterday: a forum in theatreview, where an actor attended the meeting in Auckland, and describes it as follows:

    (apologies here for the very long post, but I think it's important people read the whole thing)

    [This account of the Auckland meeting was posted of Facebook by a Wellington actor who flew to Auckland to speak against the Equity action:]

    Almost no battery left on my phone but here's a few things to come out of the meeting tonight.

    1. Everyone who was everyone (or pretty much everyone) was there - there would have been in excess of 200 folk

    2. The upshot of legal advice received by equity was:

    - it is simple to fix the de-registration of Equity as an incorporated society. A payment of a $200 re-registration fee and a few working days does this

    - but this isn't really necessary. Equity can only negotiate a binding employment contract for people who are EMPLOYEES of a film not INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS. Although there is precedent set (especially in the Weta model-makers case) that some contractors should actually be treated like employees these very precedents mean production companies are unlikely to make those same mistakes again.

    - The Employment Contracts and Commerce Acts make it impossible for Equity to negotiate binding contracts for everyone. What can happen is actors have 2 choices. The first is to form a company that contracts actors and negotiates to supply them as a commodity to production companies (risky for all sorts of reasons). The other - more preferred option is that a group of 50 or more folk can form a group to "recommend" a contract. But this recommendation is not legally binding or enforceable under employment law.

    3. The mood was generally that "this is a turning point where we can take a stand and change the industry for ever" and that if we don't stand together we aren't respecting ourselves or our fellow professionals.

    4. There was anger that production companies wouldn't even enter into negotiations.

    5. It was basically resolved (I'll put full resolutions up tomorrow) to ask to enter into negotiating a recommended agreement which is the best we can manage under current legislation.

    6. Threats of the Hobbit bring taken offshore were largely dismissed as scare-mongering and a tactic

    7. The support of SAG and between 100 & 150 "English speaking actors unions" was waved about. The number was somewhat fluid but the general upshot was they at least supported Equity and, in the case, of SAG were advising their members not to work on the Hobbit as it is a non-union production (meaning it has no union negotiated minimum conditions)

    8. Whilst the residuals option offered in the Hobbit was new it was less than the SAG standard (at 2% as opposed to a little over 3%) it's actual application was also unclear and required further definition.

    9. There was also objection to the right of producers to have an actors performance overdubbed without their consent and a dismissal clause which allowed actors to be dismissed with a days notice. We were given no legal opinion on this contract, were not told how Equity knew what was in it nor were we given any other side of the argument.

    10. There was some uneasiness that this was all seen to be bashing the Hobbit when there are wider problems. But generally most talk focussed on the Hobbit

    A vote was taken on the resolutions And as such a statement was delivered to the media by Jennifer Ward-Leland

    I was the one "nay" vote.

    My objections (in brief at midnight) were as I've outlined all day:

    - it is all very well to come together as actors but our actions impact on a whole industry. We are ignoring the other professions behind the camera who make up the bulk of the production and possibly sabotaging their careers
    - there has been improvement in the contracts and rates. Maybe not what everyone would like but there has been progress that has come from production companies and not from the work of actors. In fact in most recent attempts to negotiate better deals (most notably Outrageous Fortune) actors have all eventually backed down and accepted contracts offered.

    During the meeting it occurred to me that the fault is not with the Hobbit or SPADA but with labour laws and the employment contracts act. There is no obligation for anyone to negotiate here, and if they do to make those negotiations binding.

    The best possible outcome under the current Equity resolutions is to have a recommended contract that individuals can still ignore. And ignore it they will. If the failed attempts by casts to stand up to producers tell us anything it is that we ARE independent contractors and if faced with the hard decisions of taking a contract to pay the bills and feed our families even if it is not what our peers want we will - and have. And that should be our right as individuals.

    So the best possible outcome here is anon-binding recommendation that will fall pretty quickly if alternatives are offered because there is no way to enforce it. Rightly or wrongly that is what the legislation leaves us with.

    The worst possible outcome is all this noise will lose us not only the Hobbit but many large overseas productions and we will have ruined an industry for other fellow performers and a much wider group of fellow film professionals. And possibly for the wider economy as well. And this will happen because the NZ film industry will be seen to have an unstable labour environment.

    What I wished would happen was that the employment laws were challenged and a longer term approach was used to get meaningful changes to labour laws. My own views on this are mixed but at least this might benefit more than just actors and might be binding. At the very least it is a debate that needs to happen and the collective media wattage in the room could have been thrown behind this in the way they throw their lot in with smacking, animal cruelty and climate change.

    But the mood wanted quick results. People wanted the feelgood but ultimately toothless and pointless resolution to ask for negotiations about suggested/non-binding conditions and, as a result (in my opinion) made an already dangerous climate even more inflammatory.

    Which actually sounds like a pretty reasonable meeting. Pity no other affected parties were allowed in, even just to listen, but that's another issue... (I hope they have clear official minutes on this)

    So now we know that they know they're not asking for a collective bargaining agreement anyway. So that's cool. You can debate about whether it's appropriate they do to SPADA for it or not or whatever, but here's the issue:

    The No Work order was instituted specifically to get a collective bargaining agreement with the producers of The Hobbit.

    I quote from the MEAA/FIA resolution:

    “Resolved, that the International Federation of Actors urges each of its affiliates to adopt instructions
    to their members that no member of any FIA affiliate will agree to act in the theatrical film The Hobbit
    until such time as the producer has entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the Media
    Entertainment and Arts Alliance for production in New Zealand providing for satisfactory terms and
    conditions for all performers employed on the productions.

    So just to be clear here, assuming the above account of events is accurate, Actor's Equity members have actually asked for something entirely different to the boycott. They have still not formally agreed to the boycott. They apparently have never been clearly told the nature of the boycott.

    So... make of that what you will.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Aston,

    If anyone wants to take the pulse of the situation, then the comments under Chris Trotter's article are a good place to start

    And Trotter's article is a useful and somewhat balanced take on a complex situation.
    Note the membership numbers for actors equity are 600 not the 200 that Russel guessed at. Makes a big difference to one of Russel's arguments ie equity only represents 10% of NZ actors) , this also was based on a guess of 2000 actors in NZ - I think that's a pretty wild guess - I know many young"actors" who get almost no real work at all. I suspect the number of professional actors is closer to the 600 mark.

    The actors may be hopeless at PR ( compared to Jackson) and may be overly emotional about this but so what. I think its important for us all to try and unravel the truths from this mess as much as is possible.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 509 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Firstly Richard, saw you in a production of the Caretaker a few years back, thought it was brilliant.

    (pause)

    Second, do you feel as if you agreed to a boycott of the hobbit unless they give you a legally binding collective bargaining agreement? Or are you asking for something different?

    Generally, also, I'd ask if any AE members floating about thought the above quote was an accurate portrayal of the Auckland AE meeting.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Jonathan King,

    Note the membership numbers for actors equity are 600

    Why do we 'note' that? Because Trotter says so? Equity won't say.

    Since Sep 2010 • 185 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Who cares? As long as they're more than 50 they have every right to represent their members. Getting into a debate about numbers is a bit of a side show, really.

    Although admittedly, that they're the acting arm of the MEAA I guess makes a difference. Although again, TBH, I don't think arguments about numbers are gonna make any difference to anyone's opinion.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    And Trotter's article is a useful and somewhat balanced take on a complex situation.

    I'll just save a lot of time (and my blood pressure) by saying we're just going to have to agree to disagree on that. And to be blunt, Chris ("courageous corruption", Winston Peters victim of "media pack rape" at the hands of a lynch mob etc.) Trotter has too much Paul Henry-esque previous form to be taken seriously on anything any more.

    The actors may be hopeless at PR ( compared to Jackson) and may be overly emotional about this but so what.

    When you're righteous, "truthiness' is A-OK? You've just signed a harmless desk's death warrant - but so what.

    As long as they're more than 50 they have every right to represent their members. Getting into a debate about numbers is a bit of a side show, really.

    Um, no -- as others have pointed out, when it was noted that NZ Actor's Equity wasn't a registered union, the initial reaction was "you lie!" Then, JWL pops up on The Nation and says it was an "administrative error" (that hadn't been corrected over four years) that would be fixed inside a week. I'm sorry, but it's very far from a side show when we're being asked to truth an organisation with serious truthiness issues on basic matters of fact.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Sure, I didn't mean to imply it doesn't matter, all I'm saying is that's not the real core of the problem.

    EDIT: Oops, sorry Richard, I think I might have mistook you for an actor. 'David Aston". Bugger, thought we had a real live AE member.

    Alright, sod it, I'm going back to work.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Aston,

    Firstly Richard, saw you in a production of the Caretaker a few years back, thought it was brilliant.

    Peter that would be my brother David Aston - David is my source of info on this issue as is my other brother who works in film crews .

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 509 posts Report Reply

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