Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on the end game for The Hobbit

October 6th, 2010

The two main issues that will decide Warners’ decision about where to shoot The Hobbit are both inching towards a resolution. Neither involve the actors’ union dispute which has always been a sideshow – mainly because the cost of reaching a compromise deal on wages and conditions would be chump change for Hollywood. The two factors that matter are (a) the production incentives available in New Zealand compared to elsewhere in the world. This is what Philippa Boyens means when she says Warners are‘ running the numbers” on the five or six locations now in the running for the location shoot and (b) the late intrusion of the 74 year old corporate raider Carl Icahn into the sale of debt-burdened MGM, which owns a major stake in The Hobbit project.

As I’ll explain below, Icahn will not be able to derail what is now a done deal between MGM and Spyglass, but he seems to be delaying the announcement of the MGM sale, and the subsequent greenlight for The Hobbit. The rate at which Icahn has been buying up MGM’s senior debt means that it will cost an arm and a leg for Spyglass and the re-constituted MGM to buy him out, which will in turn make those production incentives even more important than they are already. New Zealand stands to lose in any strict number crunching of the incentive money it can put on the table – because the Key government has allowed our global competitiveness to fall behind other countries, and we may be about to pay the price for that complacency.

Even so, a lot of the emotion needs to be taken out of the issue. The rhetoric of New Zealand “losing” The Hobbit has always been overheated. All along, what we have stood to lose was only the location shoot. The pre-production work is already under way at local work-shops in Miramar and similarly, the highly remunerative post-production work was always going to be done at Weta Digital.

Yes, it would be nice to do the location shoot here as well. But get a grip. Did we “ lose” The Lovely Bones because some of its location shoot was done in Pennsylvania? No, we didn’t. Weta Digital is the jewel in the crown for New Zealand, because that is what lured Avatar here, and it is what will bring other major projects here in future. It is also what will fuel the knowledge industry spin-offs in video gaming and other related industries. And to repeat : Weta Digital was never going to ‘lose’The Hobbit, where-ever it happened to be shot. The alleged threat has been viewed as an industrial relations conflict (and has been deliberately framed as us “losing the production) because it has suited the producers, their lobby group (Spada ) and the politicians to do so. The mainstream media has been more than happy to oblige.

Put it this way. If we “lose” The Hobbit would that mean that the production would not be putting in for any funds whatsoever from the Large Budget Screen Production Grants Scheme? Hardly. I would expect New Zealand will still be paying a sizeable sum to The Hobbit under the LBSPGS, wherever it is shot. In fact, it would be an interesting exercise to break down the ratio of the production costs between (a) the location shoot (b) pre-production and (c) post production, and the potential LBSPGS claim for those last two components.
To the government’s relief though, very little attention has been paid to the film production incentives that New Zealand offers, which have ceased to be globally competitive. New Zealand’s main incentive is the LBSPGS which was created by Jim Anderton back when he was Minister of Economic Development and the responsibility for it has now devolved to his successor, Gerry Brownlee. However, in a speech to a Film NZ networking function in May 2009, Brownlee made it clear that while the Key government would keep the scheme, it would be at its current rate:

Our competitors continue to work to attract productions to their countries. So while we don’t want to engage in a ‘race to the bottom’ within higher and higher incentives the next step is to cultivate a regulatory environment that makes it easy for filmmakers to come to New Zealand, and film in our locations, use our facilities, and hire our workers, and engage our talent pool.

Note Brownlee’s priorities – don’t increase the incentives, but make it easier for foreign studios to hire our workers. Currently New Zealand offers through the LBSPGS a 15% refund on the local spend by foreign film productions. As I pointed out last week, countries in Eastern Europe (and elsewhere) now offer far more generous deals. Ironically, the government was warned recently about the importance of film incentives to the Hollywood executives now able to pick and choose where in the world to base their projects – and that warning came from Sir Peter Jackson himself,

In his July review of the Film Commission, Jackson slammed the Treasury for its complacency. He cited a recent report in which Treasury continued to rely on its own 2005 evaluation that ‘Very large budget films that come to New Zealand usually did so for quality and creative reasons, rather than economic reasons.’ Treasury’s belief, Jackson maintained, was ‘simply untrue.’ Without the LBSPGS, Jackson continued, “Universal would have insisted King Kong be moved to Canada in the blink of an eye. There’s nothing this country offers that justifies the budget hit Universal would have taken by basing the film in a country with no production incentives.”

The same logic surely, still applies. It is hard to see why the Hollywood studios making The Hobbit wouldn’t shift it to Europe or North America, or Britain ‘ in the blink of an eye’ if they thought they could get a better deal on incentives. Yes, our exchange rate gives us a 30% edge on the US dollar – far better than the 5% edge on offer in say, Australia – but even that exchange rate advantage is less than in the LOTR days. Jackson is the only factor still keeping us competitive. The real political question is – what is Brownlee now going to do about the uncompetitive 15% that we have out there these days as a lure?

Last week, I pointed out on Scoop that Serbia is offering 15-25% rebates on local spend, and the Czech Republic is offering 20%. Hungary is also offering 20%. In addition, Jackson provided a long list of foreign film production incentive schemes (they can be found on pages 68-69 of his Film Commission review) that exceed what New Zealand has to offer. This recent Time magazine article on the film industry in Hungary (“Hooray for Hungary – Is Budapest the New Hollywood of Europe?”) shows just how sophisticated some our competition is getting.
For much of the past week, the Jackson camp has been running a thin argument that it couldn’t do a deal on The Hobbit because that would set a precedent for the entire local film industry. Supposedly, every aspect of union coverage agreed to on this huge two film project would automatically carry over to every small budget New Zealand film made by Taika Waititi, by Gaylene Preston and by film-makers even further down the food chain.

Supposedly, continuous employment with Jackson’s Three Foot Seven company stretched over two films for a period of years would be comparable under the law, to the occasional week long shoots that characterise so many New Zealand productions, even though it is only in that hand-to-mouth context that the ‘ independent contractor’ status makes any sense. Call me cynical, but I don’t think the makers of an elephantine project like The Hobbit should be trying to hide behind this particular mouse.

If Philippa Boyens doesn’t want the deal on The Hobbit to become a binding precedent for a struggling local industry… well duh. Write words to that effect into the contracts for The Hobbit and ring fence the wages and conditions. Newsflash: it is not unknown for court rulings to be ring fenced with statements to the effect that no precedent can be deemed to apply (or are to be inferred) from the particular findings. At most, an agreement on wages and conditions for The Hobbit would set an aspirational precedent only – and the status quo could be defended if any employee on The Hobbit wanted to be treated as such on the next shoestring local production. A compromise deal on wages and conditions for The Hobbit might carry over automatically only if and when the Film Commission gets around to greenlighting its next $212 million film project. That may take a while.

If one took the Boyens/Jackson arguments at face value – i.e. as anything other than a bargaining tactic – one would have to conclude that unions have little or no place in the film industry, and that workers in that industry should be content with whatever largesse their employers deem appropriate, and bestow on them. Ironic really, that the most cutting edge of our knowledge industries seems to be insistent that its industrial relations should be conducted on terms that hark back to the Victorian era. The deal on residuals for instance, that Jackson is said to be offering to non-Screen Actors Guild members may turn out to be as generous as he says it is – but really, that is no substitute for allowing workers to negotiate fair wages and conditions. Industrial relations should not be run as a charity. Whatever the benign intent, the residuals deal has smacked of the box of vegetables left on the doorstep by the feudal lord at Christmas time, for each of his faithful serfs. Mind you, at the Wellington actors’ meeting in particular, there seemed no shortage of people willing to tug their forelocks in gratitude, or in fear.
The MGM sale

As mentioned, the MGM sale is crucial to the outcome on The Hobbit, and to the ability of the production to meet its self-imposed deadline of being in theatres by December 2012. The production cannot be formally greenlit until the deal is concluded – and as I indicated in mid July Spyglass has now emerged as the leading suitor, and letters of intent have reportedly been exchanged. This is why pre-production on The Hobbit has proceeded so confidently. MGM’s latest debt repayment extension has been rolled over until October 29.

However, the 11th hour advent of Carl Icahn seems to have stymied the public announcement. Back in July, Icahn was locked in an internal boardroom war with the other directors of Lions Gate, a major art house company that makes the Mad Men television series (it also made the film Precious) in which he owns a 33% stake. Icahn’s motivation back then was to block Lions Gate from bidding seriously for MGM. Now however, he has jumped the fence and has bought up some 10% of MGM debt and is – ostensibly – trying to get MGM to merge with Lions Gate.

While no one can predict Icahn’s ultimate game plan, the more likely outcome would seem to be that the new owners of MGM would have to buy him off. And surely, if you or I were Carl Icahn, we might be tempted to angle for a premium for our foregone share in the profits from The Hobbit and from the next James Bond movie, in which MGM holds the ahem, lion’s share. New Zealand should be regarding these manoeuvres with trepidation. The mounting costs will be making its 15% production incentive look scrawnier by the day to the anxious bean counters in Hollywood.
Looking back over the past fortnight, it has been extraordinary to see the producers and their lobby group claiming to be bound by the conditions that they have imposed on the work force in the New Zealand film industry. In his review of the Film Commission, Jackson was highly critical of the producer-driven nature of our film industry. Not in this instance, evidently.

As an aside, The Hobbit furore has also been an interesting case study of how the mainstream media has seemed content to be a passive conduit for the P.R. statements of the celebrity players – whose claims have largely been taken as read, no matter how self serving. Only on the blogosphere has there been any attempt at weighing the competing positions, or at getting behind the posturing on both sides of the fence – notably by The Standard and also I hope, by Scoop.

In passing, a special dinosaur award for service to the anti-union cause though, has to be awarded to Rosemary McLeod, who invoked the spectre of organized labour – the boilermakers, cooks and stewards and watersiders were all hauled back by her from the editorial grave – to intimate that The Hobbit production and our tourism industry were all now under threat from the combined might of Jennifer Ward-Lealand and her army of dues-paying orcs. To combat this menace, McLeod volunteered to be a scab for Jackson, and bring her own packed lunch on set if need be. Come to think of it…there may be a job going as stand-in for those hobbits held captive by the Elf King, and who get nailed into barrels and tossed in the river.

Once the dust on this particular project has settled – and unions are finally able to do what unions do elsewhere in the work force – I don’t think the government’s film incentives will be able to avoid critical scrutiny for much longer. As things stand, Peter Jackson is carrying the government and the film industry on his back. Most of the foreign film projects coming here are despite the level of our production incentives, and not because of them – and the bulk of that traffic these days is post-production activity bound for Weta. Film NZ might be able to prove me wrong, but New Zealand does not seem to be getting the kind of location shoots it used to attract only a few short years ago.

If that situation is ever going to turn around, Jackson deserves a break. Gerry Brownlee and Bill English need to raise the LBSPGS to 20%, immediately. The Greens – who earlier this came up with the moronic idea of capping the scheme – need to be told that New Zealand will receive back far more in local spending on wages and downstream services from the LBSPGS than it pays out on film incentives. The LBSPGS is a virtuous grant scheme paid out after the money has been spent here, and not a shonky tax dodge that raids the revenue beforehand.

So far though, Treasury has been able to maintain its ideological hostility to such incentives, and the government has been able to dodge the political fallout – mainly because the mainstream media has been happy to ensure the union demands on The Hobbit keep copping the flak. Genuine transparency is needed. If Warners do finally choose to shift the location shoot for The Hobbit out of New Zealand, we need to be aware for the true rationale behind that decision – union organizing, or the larger incentives now available in Europe and elsewhere? And what sums, if any, will The Hobbit production still expect to take from the LBSPGS?

Routinely, we have been left in the dark on such issues, mainly because the media doesn’t ask, and the film-makers and politicians have reasons of their own to fudge the details that they release to the public. Eight years on, we still do not know the net benefit of the tax incentives that we paid for LOTR. Essentially, we have come no distance at all from what I wrote in 2003, when this stuff already seemed like ancient history :

In the January [2003 Onfilm] issue, Jackson alleged that the $200 million figure routinely cited for the tax breaks is a “ludicrous” and “irresponsible figure” that was “published once” and its truth never subsequently analysed. Furthermore: “Cullen knows it’s not true and yet he’s been capitalising on that figure.” The government has allowed such nonsense to be perpetuated, Jackson believes, to try to give tax breaks a bad name. According to him, the tax breaks were less than the $110 million paid in PAYE tax by the production.

A highly frustrating situation for the taxpayer, who might feel like tossing both of them into the cracks of Mt Doom. We have Jackson saying that the tax breaks were really small – but he’s not “allowed” to be specific – and Cullen suggesting that they were really big, but he can’t be specific, either, and certainly not to the taxpayers footing the bill. At the premiere of Return of the King, it was left to the ever-gracious Viggo Mortensen to thank the taxpayers of New Zealand for making the film possible.

For years [the public] has sought clarity on this point. First, we had to establish that the tax breaks existed, then figure out their likely size and how the deals worked. The figure of circa $200 million – roughly one third of a $600 million budget – was not plucked from the air. It was the IRD’s own shorthand estimate, stated in interviews with them and based on the company tax rate. We may never know the exact figure, although $217 million has been cited to me by government sources. My final attempt in mid 2003 to prise the net situation regarding LOTR from Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton hit the usual stonewall: “We don’t know.”

Such declarations of ignorance seem incredible. How, then, does the government devise rational policy in this area?

Answer: it doesn’t. It just crosses its fingers, thanks God for Peter Jackson, and leaves the fate of the industry to the winds of chance.

********

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    1. 27 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on the end game for The Hobbit”

    2. By Russell Brown on Oct 6, 2010 | Reply

      For much of the past week, the Jackson camp has been running a thin argument that it couldn’t do a deal on The Hobbit because that would set a precedent for the entire local film industry. Supposedly, every aspect of union coverage agreed to on this huge two film project would automatically carry over to every small budget New Zealand film made by Taika Waititi, by Gaylene Preston and by film-makers even further down the food chain.

      I don’t think it’s a thin argument, given that the Equity spokespeople have made clear that that they’re looking to negotiate an industry agreement via Jackson. Why else all the talk about nudity clauses for a film that will feature no nudity? I really don’t think Jackson can or should put himself in that position.

      Equity has been sitting on an invitation from Spada to talk since Friday, and has yet to offer a response. But if it wants an agreement that is, in Robyn Malcolm’s words “not Hobbit-specific” it must talk to Spada — and do so without insisting that being granted its eventual goal as a precondition to any talks at all. As things stand, Equity has spoken to no one. Despite the spin, the only discussion has been the meeting between Helen Kelly and Jackson and Walsh.

      If one took the Boyens/Jackson arguments at face value – i.e. as anything other than a bargaining tactic – one would have to conclude that unions have little or no place in the film industry, and that workers in that industry should be content with whatever largesse their employers deem appropriate, and bestow on them.

      You mean apart from the various other guilds and unions that currently play a part in the screen industry, and whose members are, by and large, hopping mad?

      I’m also concerned about the reports from the Wellington actors’ meeting. While non-union votes were readily accepted in Auckland (where the union felt it had the numbers), the vote in Wellington was halted part-way through, before the nay-voters could vote, and changed to union-only. One actor who tried to read Jackson’s statement was shouted down after the first page. This is a dreadful and unsafe way to run a meeting.

      And what I took Boyens to be saying is that the New Zealand location was granted to Jackson as a “courtesy” — but the location is now back on the table, and the tax breaks and rebates offered by other territories have thus become relevant.

      But lest I quibble too much, thanks for a well-informed and argued column.

    3. By Thespian on Oct 6, 2010 | Reply

      RE: Concerned about reports from the Wellington actors’ meeting.

      FYI: Jackson’s statement was shouted down by the audience (not the committee) after the fifth page due to “We’ve already heard this” and the speaker beginning to quaver as the statement became less factual and more personal towards one of the union spokespersons.

    4. By Jimmy on Oct 6, 2010 | Reply

      The main thing that struck me was this:

      “Even so, a lot of the emotion needs to be taken out of the issue. The rhetoric of New Zealand “losing” The Hobbit has always been overheated. All along, what we have stood to lose was only the location shoot.”

      So you’re basically the actors then? Along with all the technical people? Great.

      But at least we are getting away from ‘Peter Jackson orchestrated this thing for his own ends’ type argument I’ve been hearing.

      At the end of the day MEAA have made a woeful mess of the way they’ve carried out this boycott. Whether that plays into the studios being able to exact some extra tax credits or not out of the govt is a moot-issue as far as I’m concerned.

      The MEAA needs to take responsibility for endandering so many actor’s and technicians jobs apparently for no good reason except for a nice cup of tea with Peter Jackson. End of story.

    5. By Carl from California on Oct 6, 2010 | Reply

      Icahn, back in the last century, bought out TWA, and essentially sold off all the planes and routes, essentially everything in the company, and TWA ended up closing down. Hopefully, the same will not happen with MGM. It put quite a few folks out of work. It seems to be his method of operation with other companies.

    6. By Sam on Oct 6, 2010 | Reply

      Listen to the actors:

      http://www.capitaltimes.co.nz/article/3447/Actingup.html

    7. By Chaz on Oct 6, 2010 | Reply

      @Jimmy – Amen.

    8. By Fritha on Oct 6, 2010 | Reply

      @RUSSEL BROWN
      I’d be very careful thinking you can represent other guilds and unions’ opinions in this matter, Mr Brown. Given the ill will and inflammatory nature of this debate, I think it borders on – if not makes inroads into – irresponsible practice.
      @GORDON CAMPBELL
      It is unbelievable what a service your careful analysis does to this debate. Nowhere else have I seen anything that comes even close. I experience firsthand some very frightened behaviour with regard discussion of the Jackson empire; I cannot be sure what it says about said empire, but I am wary of terrified workers and scary working environments after having gotten out of one alive (in a past life as an academic at Auckland University).
      Most members of the Screen Production Industry want to see a healthy, robust industry that goes beyond providing a location. What we can develop as a point of difference is our people. To do that, we are going to have to work together. It may be that the furore sparked by the Actors’ position has one very positive spin off: The industry getting around the table and talking. I sincerely hope so.

    9. By Mike on Oct 6, 2010 | Reply

      @FRITHA
      “…What we can develop as a point of difference is our people…”
      This argument has been promoted before, but in simplistic terms, highly skilled crew will never be a point of difference for us. There are bucket-loads of other countries with highly skilled crew.
      It all comes down to cost, in conjunction with a mix of other factors: locations, flexible crew (read: NON union), reverse season to Northern hemisphere, exchange rate, can-do attitude of crew, lower cost crew, actors, suppliers.
      There will always be a need for NZ to be cheaper on a number of fronts than somewhere else. No studio in their right mind would get on a plane for 12 to 24 hours to come to NZ just for highly skilled crew if the cost of that crew (and actors) is the same as the vast numbers of highly skilled crew in the USA.
      It’s fair to say that if the crew were less skilled we wouldn’t be in the game, but it will never be the reason the studios come here unless the costs are also less than somewhere else. The obvious exception to this is the creative content & post producers like Weta & others. This category of work will stand on it’s own two feet, but I’d hazzard to suggest that if MEAA got all Weta’s contractors on their books, their competitiveness would be at risk also.
      One more thing, I don’t see any clear list of demands from Actors equity or MEAA, and maybe I’ve missed it but I haven’t seen them publish their membership figures, and they seem to be reluctant to front up to the media subsequent to John Campbell fawning over Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Robyn Malcolm on “Campbell Live” last week.

    10. By Greg Taylor on Oct 6, 2010 | Reply

      ‘There may be a job going as stand-in for those hobbits held captive by the Elf King, and who get nailed into barrels and tossed in the river.’
      Actually, they were dwarves, not hobbits, Gordon– but great to have found your byline again!

    11. By Jimmy on Oct 6, 2010 | Reply

      “they seem to be reluctant to front up to the media subsequent to John Campbell fawning over Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Robyn Malcolm on “Campbell Live” last week.”

      Well, in all fairness John does pretty much fawn over almost everyone.

    12. By Ross Teppettq on Oct 6, 2010 | Reply

      Very good piece of journalism that sheds much light on the whole matter.

    13. By IrishBill on Oct 6, 2010 | Reply

      This claim that the actors should be negotiating with SPADA for pinkbook guidelines seems a little counter-intuitive to me. As I understand it a small guild of NZ directors hasn’t been given the authority to bargain on behalf of the Hobbit’s producers.

      I’m no big city lawyer but I believe it is traditional to negotiate a contract with someone who is actually party to the contract or authorised to negotiate on behalf of someone who is party to the contract.

      As far as the industrial side of this debacle goes (and I agree with Gordon that it is small beer compared to the tax break but it’s that particular beer that interests me) the SPADA and pink book debate is as much of a red herring as the idea that it is somehow illegal for the hobbit producers to offer a minimum rates contract on the basis of advice from the union (although it would be unlawful for the union to sign it on behalf of its members – they would have to do this individually).

      Claims by Jackson, and others, that he can’t negotiate with the union due to clauses in the commerce act are based on an extremely narrow and proscriptive view of contractual negotiations.

    14. By Gordon on Oct 7, 2010 | Reply

      “All along, what we have stood to lose was only the location shoot. ”

      I think that statement is wrong as the whole of NZ is featured as the landscape for middle earth, every part of the NZ landscape is shown on film, there are many shots that will forever belong to Middle Earth, to replace the landscape would be like transporting Middle Earth to something thats completely different. There are many clips on youtube
      that show NZ’s fantastic Landscape as Middle Earth, in fact many fans see NZ AS Middle Earth, if it where to be moved to Scotland it would be like err this doesn’t look like i remember it..

    15. By Jimmy on Oct 7, 2010 | Reply

      “as the idea that it is somehow illegal for the hobbit producers to offer a minimum rates contract on the basis of advice from the union (although it would be unlawful for the union to sign it on behalf of its members – they would have to do this individually).”
      Sigh, as someone has already tried to explain to you on your own site, (and you have apparently not understood at all), there’s a number of reasons why the STUDIOS ie THE PEOPLE WHO DECIDE WHERE THE FILM GOES – would never accept this option, even if PJ went for it.

    16. By Loosing sympathy for actors on Oct 7, 2010 | Reply

      Actors keep saying Jackson is the big bad wolf in this whole debacle. Perhaps if they just stated what they want in a clear precise manner, they might get a bit further. Why do I say this?

      I found this interview with Robyn Malcolm and Jennifer Ward-Lealand. http://www.3news.co.nz/Robyn-Malcolm-and-Jennifer-Ward-Lealand-interview/tabid/817/articleID/179200/Default.aspx
      In it, they repeatedly say this whole thing IS NOT about money. If that’s the case, why does this British Actors Union Equity spokesman say NZ actors “want a fair share of what is likely to be a couple of very successful films.”?
      http://podcast.radionz.co.nz/mnr/mnr-20100928-0741-British_actors_union_says_it_backs_NZ_actors_in_Hobbit_dispute-048.mp3

      How did I find these interviews? They were both located on the official NZ actors equity web site.

      Jennifer and Robyn on Cambell Live – http://www.actorsequity.org.nz/

      Listen to UK Equity backing NZ Actors – http://www.actorsequity.org.nz/component/content/article/102-listen-to-uk-equity-backing-nz-actors

      How do you make deals with people who don’t even know what they want in the first place?

    17. By IrishBill on Oct 7, 2010 | Reply

      Sigh, as someone has already tried to explain to you on your own site

      Yeah but the thing is, Jimmy, your “explanation” was wrong.

    18. By markus on Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

      Brilliant, in-depth analysis, Gordon. Just reinforces for me why the Listener ain’t what it used to be.

      Also concur on daft, old Rosemary McLeod. I left a comment on Chris Trotter’s blog to the same effect a few days ago – her archaic 70s Muldoonist union-bashing was something to behold.

    19. By Mick Rose on Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

      Gordon,
      Thanks (again) for placing this conflict in a larger context and for injecting some, seriously-out-of-fashion, actual research.

      Russell,
      You should be concerned about the reports you’ve received from the Wellington meeting: they’re blatantly false! I’m concerned that you’re so willing to believe them and repeat them.

      The actor at the meeting who was in possession of a 6-page statement from “The Production” asked permission to hand copies out to those present. He was given permission to do that and, in fact, was encouraged to read the statement to the meeting. He read several pages and then stopped reading of his own accord – there was no interruption or pressure placed on him to do this. The statement may or may not have been from Peter Jackson personally, it remains unclear. Quite aside from the content, much of which was inflammatory, it was unsigned, unattributed and undated: hardly a useful contribution to the debate.

      There was a motion placed that the vote on the final resolution should be restricted to Equity members – this motion was soundly defeated and the vote on the resolution was open to all those present.

      At the end of the meeting, after some two and a half hours of robust discussion, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, as Chair, asked all those present if they felt they had been given the opportunity to have their say and if they had had their questions answered – there appeared to be universal assent. In fact on several occasions through the meeting gratitude was expressed by individuals opposed to Equity’s position for being given the opportunity to present their views.

      By rights it would have been good if the discussion that took place at the Wellington meeting had remained with those who were present, but it has been so severely misrepresented here that I need to respond. It would also have been good if some of the counter voices at the meeting, who were the apparently grateful recipients of goodwill and willingness to listen, had beaten me to it.

      Mick Rose (actor & longstanding Equity member)

    20. By jimmy on Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

      Anyway, leaving Irishbill out of this so that the adults can talk, it’s actually a very interesting article. And I’m glad you’re pusing the tax breaks part of the factor.

      I’ll also add that the Jackson camp has been quite specific in saying that’s why it would move overseas, so it’s not as if they’ve been trying to disguise that factor. I’d even go so far as to say that’s been the core of the argument for WHY it might end up moving overseas. So the threat is REAL, unlike that the Actors seem to think.

      But anyway, I do have an issue with this:

      “Supposedly, continuous employment with Jackson’s Three Foot Seven company stretched over two films for a period of years would be comparable under the law, to the occasional week long shoots that characterise so many New Zealand productions, even though it is only in that hand-to-mouth context that the ‘ independent contractor’ status makes any sense. Call me cynical, but I don’t think the makers of an elephantine project like The Hobbit should be trying to hide behind this particular mouse.”

      Now, actors, unlike say, the technical people, would not be anywhere near working over the course of that two years, so it’s spurious to say that it’s unfair to suggest they’re contractors. Hence, this is reason for the court case with the Bryson dispute, that really had little to do with the kind of conditions actors work in.

      At any rate, the actors are not asking to be counted as employees anyway, so to suggest that PJ is somehow forcing this legal status onto them is a bit fresh. Just because the film is long term, the non main parts that the NZers would be playing would be just as ‘bitty’ as it would be in local production.

      That might not be true for extras that might be used over the course of the production. But Actor’s Equity doesn’t seem in the slightest bit concerned with them anyway.

    21. By Peter Cox on Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

      Good for you Mick! You should put that on Public Address rather than here though. Anything that helps people see each other’s point of view!

      I, myself have been kinda concerned by the reports. But you have to understand it’s hard for people to know what’s going on from the outside, when we’re not allowed into these meetings.

      It just creates more confusion and uncertainty, when it’s people’s jobs on the line. So what you can do to clear that up is greatly appreciated.

      Cheers mate,
      Peter

    22. By Peter Cox on Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

      Sorry, I should have said ‘as well as on here’, not ‘rather than on here’. Didn’t mean to disrespect Gordon or his work in creating a discussion. Just felt Mick’s comments were aimed towards Russell’s comments made on publicaddress rather than on the ones he made on scoop.

    23. By Graham Dunster on Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

      Thanks, Gordon, for your objective overview. Thanks Mick, for your report of the Wellington meeting as someone who was actually there. And thank you to those posters who are prepared to comment under their own name. It really helps highlight the relevant opinions.

    24. By Mick Rose on Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

      Peter,
      Good to hear from you.

      No, my response was directed firmly at Russell’s comment above. I’ve posted just the once on Public Address – the commentary there flies too fast and furious for me to keep up with. In that post I made the point that the resources in time and cash available to the parties to this dispute are grossly divergent and the decision mechanisms equally so, so communication sometimes suffers.

      There’s another fact that can’t be stated often enough: most actors are, rightly if regrettably, very cautious about lifting their heads above the parapets and voicing an opinion contrary to those of their potential (non)employers. I’m sufficiently long in the tooth and sufficiently angry to be able to put those concerns aside.

    25. By Peter Cox on Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

      Fair enough, mate. Well, hopefully all this will get sorted soon and everyone can get back to liking each other again.

      Graham, cheers. It’s been tough for me to take any side on this obviously, because of the political position I’m in, but I am prepared to say this:

      My personal opinion (that has, admittedly taken me a while to come to) is that this is actually all about the SAG and the Studios ultimately. Everyone else is basically on the frontlines of that much larger battle, including Peter Jackson and Actor’s Equity. The sooner we all realise that, the sooner we can put personal hostility aside and work out this thing for the better of the NZ Industry.

    26. By Peter Cox on Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

      And I’ll also add – mainly because I’m procrastinating on a script, and have found this whole mess extremely enganging – that if there was a meeting of the minds between Russell Brown and Gordon Campbell, everyone would have a much fuller picture: Gordon’s work in terms of the govt. tax breaks; and Russell’s in terms of the implimentation of SAG’s Global Rule 1.

      Okay, back to work.

    27. By Joe Bloggs on Oct 9, 2010 | Reply

      I agree that the union’s ultimate end game is indeed to set a precedent that other NZ producers will be forced to follow. This is evidenced by Simon Whipp’s comments:

      “”MEAA’s Simon Whipp told THR in an interview that success with “The Hobbit” might pave the way for unionizing other productions in the country”"

      http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/film/news/e3i59a76af793553118e96489f1e9257ca4

    28. By Graham Dunster on Oct 12, 2010 | Reply

      http://www.encoremagazine.com.au/jackson-disney-is-not-avoiding-australia-rich-ross-5198

      Note to Jackson: Disney is not avoiding Australia
      Rich Ross, chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, dismissed claims by New Zealand director Peter Jackson that Disney is avoiding bringing its productions to Australia due to problems with unions, but admitted that it is “challenging” due to the exchange rate.
      “It’s not the case [that Disney is not bringing productions due to the MEAA], and I’m not sure why anybody would talk about somebody else’s company. I’m not sure why he said it; we go where it makes sense,” Ross told Encore.
      In one of his public statements (dated September 28), Jackson said: “I’ve been told that Disney are no longer bring movies to Australia because of their frustration with the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance”.
      Ross said that choosing Australia as a shooting location would happen “when we have the right film and it makes sense for us to come here”, from a creative and financial point of view.
      The LA-based executive admitted that due to the current exchange rate, shooting in Australia is “pricey right now for us”.
      “We certainly go all over the world and Australia has an incredible film base and expertise [...] The economics, from the exchange rate to access to Government incentives, do influence where we go. We currently have four projects shooting in the UK; they’re being very aggressive about bringing production in.
      “The situation in Australia makes it more challenging. There are many variables,” admitted Ross.
      During his visit to Sydney, Ross also discussed the company’s plans for the distribution of local films: “We are interested in local production. It’s about doing global business, delivered in a local way.”
      Questioned about the strategy moving forward, following the disappointing results of their local titles Two Fists, One Heart and Subdivision in 2009, Ross said that acquisitions will be made “when it makes sense”.
      “Our approach is not opportunistic, and it’s not investment-based, but about properties that can help build our brand,” he explained.

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