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And the war continues between Actors Equity and Sir Peter Jackson. What floors me is that Spada and Sir Peter offered to attend the Wellington meeting last night to discuss the matter, and they were turned down.

Now Actors Equity appears to be dragging this out, while Sir Peter has warned that Warner is already beginning to plan how to save their movie.

How clueless are the heads of Actors Equity?

Once a film is in production stage, time is of the essence. No doubt NZAE and MEAA were hoping that this would force Warner and Wingnut to want to rush to resolve the issue. What they didn’t count on is the producers being stubborn.

Unfortunately for them, this is making NZ look bad to the rest of the film industry. The timing of the boycott has placed the film in jeopardy and it has been revealed that Spada have been trying to resolve disputes with NZAE for over a year.

The impression being created is that NZAE is trying to hold the industry hostage rather than aiming to get a genuine compromise. This will not end well for the industry as a whole unless all parties involved resolve this before the end of the weekend.

NZAE has hours, not days, to get this fixed. I will not be surprised if Monday’s news will be that the Hobbit is moving to Eastern Europe.

And that will make work for guys like me, who want to make a break into the industry, that much tougher.

There is a time and place to pick a fight. The more I hear, the less sympathy I have for NZAE. Which is a shame as there are many talented actors who will be more harmed by this action than by any non-union contract Wingnut would have offered.


So the Hobbit saga continues. NZ Actors Equity has weighed in with some respected names, Sir Peter is swinging between embattled creator and petulant child, and now with NZ’s film industry seriously at risk of vanishing and taking approx $3b NZ a year with it the Government appears to be preparing to wade in with it’s scattershot sights set.

I previously sided with Sir Peter regarding the MEAA’s stance as being bully tactics and I very much still stand by it. NZ Actors Equity has tried to argue that this is about Actors getting a fair contract – but I still have to ask where was NZAE when Boy was being made? Why were there no boycotts for lack of union contracts then? Secondhand Wedding? Under the Mountain?

What, exactly, has NZ Actors Equity succeeded in providing to NZ’s acting fraternity other than a regular working gig for Jennifer Ward Leland?

The blunt reality is that it is one thing for these famous folk to step forward and say that this is about fair contracts, but it is another to genuinely put the entire industry at risk.

Weirdly this kind of acts as a mirror to the Teacher’s dispute, and I wonder if National is seeing it as the same kind of problem.

It is interesting to note that when you look at the protest placards that the teachers have been holding up – they are more concerned with the National Standards than their 4% pay rise. National has been trying to paint the issue as a greedy teachers fight – but the reality appears to be more about teachers saying either address National Standards OR give them a 4% pay rise.

Meanwhile, Actors Equity isn’t talking about better conditions on set for actors – their argument is that actors need to get a bigger cut of profits from films that are made.

Now as I said before, actors tend to be the ones who get the abuse in the film-making relationship. Part of this is because there are so many actors out there that the cheapest will always be the preferred option.

Naturally, with work being so unpredictable and the competition so fierce, actors want to have some security – and this is where royalties can be a major boon. Ask any writer which is better – paid per word or paid per unit sold.

The flip side is that if the film bombs, you don’t get as much back from it.

But I’m wandering off message. While what is at stake here is to some degree reasonable, this is not a fight that Actors Equity will be able to win easily.

Picking the fight with a major international project is drawing the wrong kind of attention. Timing it when casting calls started rather than approaching the producers much earlier in the situation gives the boycott the air of a cynical stunt to grab attention and influence rather than being an effective support of actors these organisations purport to be supporting.

Ultimately, MEAA and Actors Equity need to change tactics and go on a charm offensive. They do not have enough clout or goodwill to be able count on Sir Peter and Hollywood being only bluffing about Eastern Europe.

I have no doubt that if they don’t try to change their approach soon, we will see film companies looking elsewhere. And that is going to make things a lot worse than not having a collective union contract.


So I’m going to get more political today.

<a href="National’s Education Minister Anne Tolley talked to principals and teachers yesterday about the new National Standards being set by the Government.

Now while there is a problem with the level of literacy in New Zealand at the moment, National in their characteristic naïveté rushed an ideological policy out without really trying to understand what the actual reality was in the schools.

What is most galling is how Tolley is being hard-nosed in the face of facts presented to her. She and John Key have fallen back on questionable research that seems to lack any solid foundations rather than face the reality. The worst thing is that they are promoting an adversarial atmosphere with the education sector and then ask why teachers are being so aggressive towards them.

When a teacher tells you that only one student in their class of 21 is passing the new standard, when independent researchers warn that your policy was rushed and needs serious review and alteration – arguing that you don’t believe them and that in fact the standards are working without producing facts, just suspicious figures, is not helping our children. It’s just exacerbating the situation.

What disgusts me is that National is sending a clear message that they feel teachers are nothing but greedy whiners. According to National the average secondary school teacher earns 70k a year. Yet out of the number of teachers I know, I find that seriously hard to believe. Where is National getting their figures?

It seems to me that they are hiding behind their reports rather than actually getting out there and seeing the reality. Seriously folks, if this many teachers and actual trained experts are saying there is a problem, then there is a problem. Relying on information that is two or three times removed from the facts is just being stubborn.

Furthermore, working to smear the reputation of teachers is a further idiotic action as it makes their jobs harder and ultimately undermines the quality of the education children get. National is only making a token effort to seem like they want to work with teachers. The reality is that they are painting the education sector as the enemy.

Of course there are some in the teacher’s union who aren’t helping their cause. Apparently some children are sending a letter template to Tolley – some on union stationery – complaining about the recent disputes. Now this kind of activity just feeds National’s adversarial position. I’m sure there are some tin hatters out there who will cite a conspiracy to besmirch the union – but I think it is highly likely that some members have foolishly thought it would help.

It’s turning into an ugly public stoush. But the reality is that it is the Government’s responsibility to quell the animosity and work in good faith. Instead it has tried to paint teachers as the villains of the piece, which only succeeds in inflaming them more.

By refusing to listen to the experts that the National Standards are not working and will lead to more children failing in our system – National are putting fuel on the fire and revealing that they don’t care for facts. They stubbornly believe that their ideological hard line will prove to be the winner. Unfortunately talking tough isn’t always the answer, and in this instance it only goes go expose how little National cares about the facts. Instead they have hidden behind statistics that average out and toy with the figures to make it sound like it is working.

Much like with the “tax cuts” – the reality is obfuscated by statistical trickery to get a result that National wants to be seen while the reality can be disputed by “statistical research.”

Having done statistical research, it is not based on reality but by taking a sample and predicting beyond that sample. It is useful for predicting future possible trends, but not for providing actual facts.

And the whole reason that we haven’t seen a boost in buying before GST rises is precisely because a majority of NZ is not onboard with National’s version of the tax cuts. It’s the old adage of “too good to be true.” We are waiting to see what the reality is when we start seeing those cuts in our pay checks and the cost of living.

I think National has seriously underestimated NZers. And with elections coming closer, this is possibly the worst time for National’s honeymoon to be over.


<a href="In the paper today Sir Peter Jackson takes a shot at the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance. (MEAA)

Essentially the MEAA is concerned that there are no compulsory union contracts for The Hobbit, and they are pushing a boycott of the film production until contracts are provided. Arguably, these contracts will benefit the cast and crew, ensuring their rights a protected and that they get their due royalties for any money made from the films.

Sir Peter is arguing that it is more about an Australian business bullying their way into NZ’s film industry.

Now, as with so many union based issues, it is never a cut and dry case. I remember when I was a young aspiring actor, I was told matter of factly by my agent at the time that joining the actors union was not a choice. If you didn’t belong, don’t expect to be cast in anything.

This is what really pisses me off about the entertainment industry’s unions. While the idea of a union is a good thing – providing security and bargaining power for actors and crew – the reality is often that the actors and crew are exchanging one abuser for another.

My brief dealings with the union left me feeling that they didn’t care less if I got work or not, as long as they got their fees. And that is the real rub. The entertainment industry, which should be full of creative and excited people keen to produce quality product is instead a brutal industry that can be prone to people who resort to bullying tactics behind the scenes.

Don’t get me wrong, not every actors union or guild is a nasty scumbag – the NZ Writer’s Guild, for example, works hard to help writers protect their work and find people to get their works out into the Market.

But I am inclined to side with Sir Peter on this one. The MEAA seems more interested in forcing memberships than ensuring that the cast and crew of The Hobbit are getting a fair deal. The tactic of spreading negative comments to other guilds and unions, and timing it just as casting calls begin – this seems to me to be more about the MEAA than about it’s members.

There is an anti-competitive streak to this all. I would be interested to know if Boy had met the same criteria that the MEAA are touting. Secondhand Wedding?

I suspect not because neither of those films had the international attention or, to be blunt, money to be worth the fuss. I feel that this is a political stunt to gain cachet and a stronger foothold in NZ’s burgeoning industry.

It is a shame that this is happening, rather than people putting more attention towards actually making films.


September 2010

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