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A local political blog, No Right Turn, which is written by a friend of mine, Idiot/Savant, has unfortunately been a classic example of how the recent Hobbit dispute has been exploited by people who know very little about the issues but have tried to use the dispute to forward their own political agenda.

There has been a lot of dishonest hyperbole being spread around about what happened and is happening. Some, like Idiot, don’t comprehend the money and work that was at risk here and betray very little understanding of the industry and how it has been operating for decades.

All they see are things in the terms of their own political lenses without doing any proper research.

Now I do agree that a law change under urgency is rarely a good thing and it raises concerns. But I also have read the amendment and researched what other more learned legal minds have said of it and all it achieves is closing a loophole that was recently exploited and should have been closed two years ago.

It isn’t actually taking away any rights. Actors, crew and others involved in film making have always been considered independent contractors. This is due to films being quixotic things and you can end up working for a different production company each time. Sick days and Holidays are not feasible in film productions as a matter of book keeping. Instead individual companies will manage these issues as best suits the production and can outline this in the contracts.

The Amendment is merely stating that unless the contract clearly identifies the actor/technician as an employee they are considered an independent contractor.

This has always been the case. It is just now being clearly outlined in law.

Another myth being spouted is that this is just two films. A wonderful lie that allows those who like their conspiracies to be able to belittle and dismiss this dispute as just children fighting.

It’s two films that cost the equivalent of close to 100 NZ made local films. That is in excess of $500m and thousands of jobs. The films will take at least three months to film, bringing cast and foreign crew into the country many of whom will be bringing family or partners – most of whom will be paying for accommodation, food, travel… all of which will be generating tax income via GST.

Furthermore, being made in NZ means that Tax is charged on any income they earn in the country from an NZ based production company.

Which comes to the next dishonest lie being spouted by the critics. The tax break isn’t money paid to the production company. It is money taken off the total tax bill they get charged. That’s right. It’s a percentage off the total tax bill. So if the break is round 25% and we are being told this comes to approx $60m – that means that NZ is looking at around $180m TAX being put back into govt coffers approx. That is not chump change people. Of course my figures are speculatory, but we are looking at over $100m in taxes.

This isn’t even beginning to go into the othe trickle down benefits. As a much more educated economist than I pointed out, this is one of those investments with guaranteed return for a country. It doesn’t matter if the film is a success or not – we get the money.

Then there is the world premiere. Another thing overlooked by the people in a blind rush to scream bloody murder at the bourgeois film makers. Premieres draw crowds, tourists and raise profile. A world premiere in NZ draws other film companies’ attention towards the country.

They aren’t going to see us as a soft touch to shake down. They are going to see a nation committed to helping them make good films and in a proper mutually beneficial relationship.

The Hobbit is a major investment that can only benefit our country in a time when economies are suffering. If they were just two films, why were countries with better GDPs than ours clamouring to offer even more than our final deal was so that they could get these two films.

Because these countries know the true value monetary wise than a group of bloggers who can’t see past their Intro to Political Theory 101 papers.

I personally think that John Key screwed up this dispute by not stepping in sooner. I also think that this would never had happened if the unions hadn’t been so dishonest, naive and inept in their handling of the dispute.

I have no doubt that Warner exploited the situation as did National. But those who are taking shots at National now and ignoring that the MEAA were the instigators – because it is hard to have far left indignation if the unions are to blame – are being just as exploitative.

In regards to the death threats and “thuggery” – again, reality is getting in the way of the righteous indignation.

As video has shown, Actor’s Equity were not being threatened by protestors at the locations of these meetings. The death threats have not been confirmed by police yet as being connected to those protests either.

It is a very serious matter when death threats are involved and Police do not make a habit of claiming anything beyond that the threat was made until they has investigated the calls. I choose to take the same approach. I have no doubt there were threats made – disputes like this always bring out those who exploit the strife by making such calls – but I will not bow to lazy uninformed hyperbole and accuse protesting film crews of thuggery when there is no evidence to support that accusation at this point in time.

Blogs like No Right Turn need to stop taking the easy route, stop exploiting others in the pursuit of “democracy” and actually do some more fact gathering before making accusations.

Conan

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In a cynical attempt to draw blame away from MEAA, Actor’s Equity and CTU, Helen Kelly is now accusing the government of using the Hobbit dispute as an excuse to change labour laws that will directly impact contractors across the country. Which is true, to a degree. They are definitely using the row as a reason to clear up a loophole in law that will disadvantage contractors looking to be seen as employees.

But the blunt reality is that Actor’s Equity and CTU are the ones to blame for this. Much like the classic legend, Actor’s Equity as Pandora has naively opened a box full of trouble, and it just keeps spewing out problems for them.

The blunt reality is that if they had not gone ahead with the boycott, if they had told Simon Whipp to rack off, if they had not decided to clumsily use The Hobbit as a bargaining chip – none of this would have happened.

As Gerry Brownlee and Peter Jackson have pointed out, until the boycott there was absolutely no doubt that The Hobbit was going to be made in NZ. There were no plans to change the labour law. People were happy to go ahead with business as usual.

But they did choose to push the matter, and naively seemed to think everyone would go “oh, union action. We better give them what they want.”

This isn’t how union disputes work, and Helen Kelly should know this. What happens is that everyone involved starts asking questions about the way things have been done, and there is a very good chance that the reality will swing against the unions as much as it will favour them.

As the old saying goes “pick your battles carefully.”

When action is taken, you are always taking a gamble and you need to be ready for things to go bad. What is astounding in this dispute is that all the warning signs were there that this was not going to go the Actors’ way.

The problem is that their problems are based on factual issues but on theoretical ones. Actors in NZ have not been overly abused, they have been working as contractors and the demand to change had no solid impetus for doing it now rather than any time previously.

Actors are freelancers, and as such they have to be contractually managed as individuals. If Actor’s Equity wants collective contracts, they need to be auditioning their actors as a single “troupe” for hire and be competing with non-equity actors. They would need to negotiate an individual contract covering their “troupe.”

Naturally, this approach would be somewhat unlikely to succeed.

Now the box is open, there is no closing it. CTU and Actor’s Equity have let this out and it’s a bit late to be complaining that it isn’t going the way they wanted.

To be frank, if they want any sympathy from the public and film crews who are baying for their blood – the first thing they need to do is unconditionally acknowledge that they made a mistake, are responsible for starting this sorry mess and that it was handled poorly by them.

It’s their backhanded whining and constant finger pointing elsewhere that is pissing people off most. Everyone knows that they started this, so saying it was all a trick by Warners to get concessions just rings hollow. Warners are taking advantage of the dispute, yes. National is taking advantage of the dispute, yes. But the only reason there is a dispute at all is because MEAA and Actor’s Equity started it with declaring a boycott.

And the only people who really are being fooled by Actor’s Equity are themselves.

Of course, Pandora’s box also contained hope – and we can only hope that this mess is resolved without taking the NZ Film Industry back 20 years. I also hope that it will lead to a more contrite Actor’s Equity as well.

Conan

The other day I was told of a bit of a horror story involving a film student director. Oddly every industry person I’ve spoken to has shared some similar tale of woe.

In this tale, actors had shown up to the shoot to discover nobody was around. The director rocked up nearly an hour late and proceeded to argue with the crew and generally was rude and defensive. Then about halfway through the scene he spat the dummy and left!

This is not the first time I have heard such tales, and it makes me wonder why it is that film schools tend to attract these prima donnas.

Clearly not all film students are like this, but so many are it raises questions about why these people are looking to make movies.

One of the most important lessons Winding City taught me about crews and cast us that you simply can’t let ego dominate. A film is the product of co-operation. Sure, there maybe one or two people driving things, but they need to be able to work well with others to get results.

I do feel that film-making is like writing- it’s not for fame, but the intent to create. Further to that, you aren’t a success if you get into film school. You are a success when you successfully make a film and the cast and crew want to come back and work with you again.

Film school provides experience, resources and contacts. Yet it sounds as if many students take these advantages for granted.

On the other hand, if you really want to make movies, you don’t need to go to school – you just need to make films.

I can only hope that I never make such a performance on set. For me, a set should be a fun place where people feel appreciated and creative. Here’s hoping that I can keep that atmosphere on my next shoot. 🙂

Conan

Henley and I went and saw the much talked about NZ comedy film Eagle Versus Shark last night, finally.

For those not in the know, it is the story about drippy-but-cute Lily and her romantic adventure to find love with Jarrod, the absolutely useless and seemingly irredeemable twat who works in the video store up the mall from her. Initially blinded by love, a trip to see his family becomes a subtle battleground between the two of them for attention.

Ultimately we find what it is that Lily sees in Jarrod, but I have to admit that for the majority of the film I just hated the guy unconditionally. He was the epitome of self-centred, arrogant and deluded. But he does come around in the end… kind of.

So what did I think of the film. Well it suffered from the awkwardness that so many NZ films deliberately aim for. Not so pretentiously as it could have, but what it ended up doing was making the film less appealing than it could have been. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it mostly, and there were funny moments – but good comedy it wasn’t. More often I found the best moments were not carried by the leads but some of the secondary cast – and the awkward tone of the film made the first half almost agonising to sit through. In fact, if it hadn’t introduced Lily’s brother when it did, I was getting tempted to just walk out of the cinema.

This whole aim at making the audience uneasy and uncomfortable was great back in the day when NZ film-making was all self-reflecting and searching for an identity – it worked for such serious films like Sleeping Dogs, Vigil, The Quiet Earth – but NZ comedy has always fallen flat on cinema because of this style of film-making. Via Satellite, Goodbye Porkpie, even Came a Hot Friday (one of my favourites…) – NZ film-makers need to understand that there is more to comedy and, frankly, more to NZ’s identity than this.

Eagle Vs Shark felt, to me, like a great big step backwards for NZ comedy films. Seriously. It just wasn’t as funny as it could have been. But maybe I’m just being a bit harsh – I just felt that with the amount of characterisation given, there could have been a better way to tell its story.

Maybe I feel that it is time for NZ film-makers to grow out more – redefine what it is to make a film in NZ.

I think one of the reasons that comedy suffers in New Zealand lies in how we train our actors. I’ve been watching Freaks and Geeks, by the brilliant Judd Apatow – who knows how to get the most out of performances. Most importantly his films and shows identify that the visual media is not a stage. Stage acting is the anathema of good film.

To act on screen a person needs to either be natural or hyper natural. People need to talk like real people, and not annunciate every word. New Zealand television and film performances are a bit of a mixed bag – with many good actors, and a lot of bad television actors who are better on stage.

There is a fault in the mannersims given – on television you get NZ actors who either do nothing but deliver their lines with minimum facial reaction, or go too over the top and look terribly uncomfortable and self-conscious when they do it. As if to apologise to the viewer.

Not that Eagle Vs Shark suffered too much of this – if anything it was too awkward and understated, and I feel that was a lot to do with the director and the style chosen.

All in all, I just wish I could see an NZ comedy that kept me laughing rather than squirming in my seat during the obligatory “serious bits.”

Maybe I’ve just become a serious Apatow school of comedy guy – where humour is found in the everyday, and where even during the most serious and heart-touching moment we still find something to laugh about. That is good comedy.

Conan
Currently Reading: Sidereals 2e
Currently Playing: Nothing
Mood: Getting ready to write his own scripts…

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