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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.


September 2010

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