Jackson Accused Of Setting Up Unions To Take Fall For Hobbit – Updated

(please scroll to the bottom for an update to this post)

Today’s press is full of stories accusing Peter Jackson of setting-up the unions to take the rap for Hobbit filming going off-shore from New Zealand.

“Sir Peter Jackson has hit back at the Council of Trade Unions’ claim that he is trying to set up the actors’ union to take the blame for The Hobbit going overseas.” source

Prime Minister John Key has already been criticised for taking sides in the dispute and not remaining impartial, saying that the actor’s union will be responsible if The Hobbit moves offshore.

Actors’ Equity committee member, Robyn Malcolm, said it was “baffling” to blame the union if the production was moved overseas.

“I’m wondering why a request for an industrial or workplace discussion and negotiation around things like penalty rates, overtime, transport, was enough to de-rail a multi-million dollar movie in this country,” Ms Malcolm told Radio New Zealand on Thursday.

NZ Council of Trade Unions President, Helen Kelly, said the financial incentives offered by the NZ government would be a crucial factor in whether the film – slated to begin shooting in February – was made locally or overseas.

Other countries had offered a one-off deal that was double NZ’s 15 per cent tax rebate for films, Ms Kelly told Radio New Zealand.

But Mr Key disagreed, placing the blame back on the union, local news website, stuff.co.nz reported. Source

At the end of September Attorney-General, Chris Finlayson, wrote to the studios to

“reassure them New Zealand law rules out an expensive union-negotiated collective agreement for actors on Lord of the Rings prequel The Hobbit.

“legal advice from the Crown Law  Office confirmed the Commerce Act prevented The Hobbit’s producers “from entering into a union-negotiated agreement with performers who are independent contractors“. Section 30 of the act, which deals with price fixing, “effectively prohibits” such arrangements, he said.” source

So what’s all the fuss about, why the protest marches and the press conferences?

You may remember that four months ago Peter Jackson and David Court co-authored a report of their review of the New Zealand Film Commission.

At the time we blogged about the report, see  NZ film industry needs government funding, less interference. (A copy of that report may be found in the Box widget at the side of this page) saying that is contained vast swathes of criticism and talked about an “Us and Them” attitude and a streak of vindictiveness in the culture, with one producer saying that:

“They were taking such an adversarial role. You might expect that from a commercial partner but it wasn’t them, it was the Film Commission putting all the barriers in the way.’ ‘There’s almost an us and them attitude. It’s death to creativity.’ ‘There’s an us-and-them situation. They don’t see the realities or potential of the industry.’

People described an organization out of sync with the industry it serves. Several film makers said they were made to feel ‘as though we were in the way’, or even ‘as though in some way we were trying to cheat the Commission’. The toughness they encountered was beyond what they expected in their business dealings:

‘Hollywood can be very tough but they don’t treat you with the level of contempt that the Film Commission does.’

There is a feeling that increased creative interference results in less successful films. During the last few years, as many NZ films have lost their way at the box office:
Creative interference has expanded until now it resembles micro management.’

A number of people described the Commission as operating like a Hollywood studio but without the accountability of a studio – ‘without anyone having their job on the line’, as one producer put it.

The tone of these comments clearly indicates that a very real problem exists between the Commission and its client base. There is a not only a lack of trust; it would appear that both sides have lost respect for the other…”

It’s the most important thing in the business to create momentum. They shouldn’t resent that but they did – they tried to stop our momentum dead. It felt petty and vindictive but came out of a lack of understanding of how hard it is to generate momentum.’

‘There’s a streak of vindictiveness in the culture. They are so mired in the don’t-get-too-big-for-your-boots kiwi thing.’

Staff also need to understand that some of the people they’re dealing with are more experienced.’ ‘There’s often unclear decision-making. They don’t want to say no so they impose impossible conditions, then get caught out when the producer meets them. They have to be braver.’ ‘The Commission tends to use drafts as a way of avoiding decisions – if in doubt write another draft. It’s a momentum killer.’ ‘Their process has been about protecting jobs and the organisation and over time that has become their preoccupation…’

But isn’t it strange that these troublesome unions didn’t come up at all in the report, indeed the word “union” didn’t even appear. But now, four months later, these all powerful, bully unions suddenly have the power to derail the largest budget film ever produced … and no one saw it coming?

We are left to wonder if Jackson’s present problems with filming in New Zealand stem from a lack of government support, was New Zealand overtaken in a bidding war with other countries who were more eager to offer incentives to have The Hobbit films staged on their soil. Was kicking up a battle with the unions was a very convenient solution to cover-up that problem?

Or could there be a deeper, more vindictive reason for why the Hobbit may not be filmed in New Zealand?  Was Jackson’ perceived to be “too big for his boots” by writing what he did in his report and he is now paying the price for that honesty?

Update 22 October 2010

Today’s NZ Herald is reporting further on this story, from which the following has been taken:

Rise in rebate not ruled out

Prime Minister John Key and Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee will meet Warner Bros executives next week in a bid to keep the $670 million production here.

Lifting the current tax rebate of 15 per cent for two Hobbit films has so far not been on the agenda, but Finance Minister Bill English refused to rule it out yesterday.

“The Government is taking an interest in the issue and the Government will collectively make a decision about that.”
He said it was possible Warner Bros was using the industrial dispute to push an agenda for more tax breaks, which are estimated to be worth $50 million to $60 million…full article here

Looks like if New Zealand wants it, it’s going to have to pay for the privilege.