The New Zealand parliament has passed emergency legislation ensuring that the 2 back-to-back Hobbit films get made in the country. The legislation bypassed usual parliamentary committees, prompting New Zealand MPs to call it a “day of shame.” One held up a redesigned national flag with the Warner Bros logo in one corner. “What is the government going to do next – give in to any multinational that asks for a labour standard to be diluted in return for some form of investment?” asked opposition MP Charles Chauvel. The amendment was passed by a 65-50 vote. The government’s decision to rush through amended employment laws – stopping below-the-line workers from being treated as full-time employees, with all the rights which go with being a salary man — has divided local opinion. The above political cartoon is from a New Zealand newpaper. Meanwhile, some actors union officials though have received death threats after threatening a boycott. Prime Minister John Key has defended his government’s tax deal that secured The Hobbit movies as being far less generous than the opposition’s Lord of the Rings deal. The Hobbit tax deal is understood to be worth $57 million to Warner Bros across 2 movies. Key suggested that the previous Labour government’s Lord of the Rings deal was worth $225 million across all 3 movies. Warner Bros as well as producer/director Peter Jackson had been threatening to move the production to England or Western Europe.
Warner Bros and Peter Jackson next week will try to hash out whether the $500 million budget for back-to-back The Hobbit films will stay in New Zealand or move elsewhere. Meetings are planned that will involve Prime Minister John Key. Here’s a terrific dispatch from New Zealand Close Up: it’s long but is well worth it because it puts Jackson and Philippa Boyens on the record, lays out the stakes, and gives a real sense of the backlash directed toward the New Zealand Actors Equity and Australian Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance for blacklisting Jackson and his pictures. There are certainly hard feelings but here’s my prediction: These things come down to leverage, and Warner Bros walks in with a lot of it. I bet the studio will emerge with a sweetened deal to stay. Estimates I’m hearing include incentives that shave $10 million to $15 million off the budget. Part of the charm of The Lord of the Rings was how it revealed New Zealand as a an epic location and tourism mecca, with Jackson also plowing a lot of his Rings profits into building state of the art facilities that have turned the country into a thriving film center. It just won’t be good karma to shoot elsewhere.
New Line has weighed in on The Hobbit, adding doubt that the Warner Bros-financed pictures will shoot in New Zealand even though actors guilds have lifted their boycott. I still think that Peter Jackson is so staked in New Zealand with his sound stages and visual effects operations that he won’t shoot elsewhere, but this is really dragging out. Here is the statement:
Recent reports that the boycott of The Hobbit was lifted by unions a number of days ago and that Warner Bros asked to delay this announcement are false. It was not until last night that we received confirmation of the retractions from SAG, NZ Equity and AFTRA through press reports. We are still awaiting retractions from the other guilds. While we have been attempting to receive an unconditional retraction of the improper Do Not Work Orders for almost a month, NZ Equity/MEAA continued to demand, as a condition of the retractions, that we participate in union negotiations with the independent contractor performers, which negotiations are illegal in the opinion of the New Zealand Attorney General. We have refused to do so, and will continue to refuse to do so. The actions of these unions have caused us substantial damage and disruption and forced us to consider other filming locations for the first time. Alternative locations are still being considered.
Actor Guilds Settle With ‘The Hobbit’ But Ire In The Shire Could Still Push Back-To-Back Peter Jackson Pics Out Of New Zealand
UPDATE: There’s still unease even though SAG and AFTRA rescinded the order to stop its actor members from working on The Hobbit because of a request from sister union New Zealand Actors Equity. The labor settlement doesn’t mean Peter Jackson will move the pictures back to the New Zealand locations that are home to Mordor, Minas Tirith, Isengard, and other Middle Earth locales. Because of all the hard feelings that the local unions created, Warner Bros has been exploring other options, and while Jackson will have a say, the studio could decide to make a move if it gets a better deal someplace else. Now New Zealand prime minister John Key is reaching out for a meeting with Warner Bros to try and keep the films from shooting in another country.
Peter Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh were clearly furious about the aggressive tactics used by the New Zealand Actors Equity and the Australian Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance. Yesterday, between 1,000 and 15,000 technicians and actors opposed to Equity’s actions picketed Equity headquarters last night, and moved that protest to Parliament. Polls conducted by local TV stations and newspapers in New Zealand showed little support for the union tactic, and high level ministers in government came out in support of Jackson. I’d say it’s unlikely that the films actually leave New Zealand. Jackson’s visual effects headquarters and stages were built there using Lord Of The Rings trilogy money. But clearly this is serious stuff. He and Walsh issued this incendiary release last night, before the unions tried to bring the agitation to a halt:
WELLINGTON – Thursday, 21 October 2010: The lifting of the blacklist on The Hobbit does nothing to help the films stay in New Zealand. The damage inflicted on our film industry by NZ Equity/MEAA is long since done.
Next week Warners are coming down to NZ to make arrangements to move the production off-shore. It appears we now cannot make films in our own country – even when substantial financing is available.
The spectacle of NZ Actors’ Equity suddenly cancelling their Wellington meeting, because film workers wanted to express to them their concern at losing The Hobbit, exemplifies the pure gutlessness of this small, self-centred group. They don’t appear to care about the repurcussions of their actions on others, nor are they prepared to take responsibility for decisions made in their name. NZ Equity constantly refer to ‘good faith’ discussions but they have never acted in good faith towards our film.
UPDATE: Things must be getting close on The Hobbit, because casting buzz is getting strong in Hollywood. Word is Martin Freeman will soon be set to play Bilbo Baggins, that Jimmy Nesbitt has been offered a role and that Michael Fassbender is being pursued for another as is David Tennant. Ian McKellan and Andy Serkis are expected to reprise Gandalf and Gollum.
EARLIER: While it looks like production on The Hobbit is set to start in February on the pair of films directed by Peter Jackson, there are still a few giant issues standing in the way. The films had to go in early 2011 to make the holiday release date. But even though the production schedule looks locked, there’s still the issue of the loud labor fight happening between Jackson and the unions, which have told performers outright not to work on the film because it’s a non-union production. By agreeing to a detente, the films would indeed get underway in New Zealand in early 2011. The delay has also been caused by all the ongoing problems at MGM, and just this week Lionsgate put forth a merger recommendation which Carl Icahn backs. That would obviously affect the pending Spyglass deal – and add more drama to any major production going forward. (Meanwhile, while MGM goes through all of its tumult, Mary Parent is expectedly in the process of leaving the studio, which she has run for almost three years.)
Now add fire to the latest list of woes which have beset Peter Jackson’s pre-production on those back-to-back The Hobbit films. Flames yesterday engulfed his New Zealand workshop set which would have been used for the Tolkien movies. It took 50 firefighters three hours to quell the blaze in Wellington. All that’s left now is a burned-out warehouse at Jackson’s Portsmouth Miniatures Studio which had been used in the past as a specialist miniatures shooting facility, one of the few in the world, to create special effects for his The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong. Meanwhile, there’s still a standoff between New Zealand and Aussie actors unions, joined by SAG and AFTRA and others, and Jackson, New Line, Warner Bros, and MGM. (SAG & AFTRA Nix Non-Union ‘The Hobbit’ and Peter Jackson Slaps Kiwi/Oz Unions and ‘Hobbit’ Producers Defend Peter Jackson Against Actor Union Allegations)
This is after MGM went bust, and after director Guillermo Del Toro quit the project only to be replaced by Jackson, who was previously just producing and co-writing. Little wonder that overseas news media are blaming The Curse Of The Hobbit for all the bad breaks. Meanwhile, Hollywood insiders …
‘Hobbit’ Producers Warner Bros, New Line, & MGM Defend Peter Jackson Against Actor Union Allegations: “Baseless And Unfair”
New Line, Warner Bros. Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures are concerned by the recent allegations of unfair treatment of actors in New Zealand and instructions from the performers’ guilds to their membership to withhold services from the producers of “The Hobbit” in New Zealand.
We are proud to have good relations with all of those performers’ guilds and value their contribution to the motion pictures produced in their respective jurisdictions throughout the world. But we believe that in this case the allegations are baseless and unfair to Peter Jackson and his team in Wellington who have been tireless supporters of the New Zealand motion picture community.
To classify the production as “non-union” is inaccurate. The cast and crew are being engaged under collective bargaining agreements where applicable and we are mindful of the rights of those individuals pursuant to those agreements. And while we have previously worked with MEAA, an Australian union now seeking to represent actors in New Zealand, the fact remains that there cannot be any collective bargaining with MEAA on this New Zealand production, for to do so would expose the production to liability and sanctions under New Zealand law. This legal prohibition has been explained to MEAA. We are disappointed that
An angry Peter Jackson today is fighting back at a “Member Alert” that went out Friday afternoon from the Screen Actors Guild advising actors not to accept work on the non-union production of The Hobbit. It’s part of an international showbiz labor effort begun by New Zealand Actors’ Equity and its umbrella The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance headquartered in Australia to go public with a campaign confronting Peter Jackson, the director and producer of the back-to-back Hobbit movies. NZ Actors’ Equity is calling a meeting of actors on Tuesday to pressure The Hobbit filmmakers Jackson, Three Foot Seven, MGM, and Warner Brothers to negotiate a contract providing minimum guarantees on wages and working conditions, residual payments, and cancellation payments to actors engaged on the production. But Jackson is having none of it:
Statement regarding The Hobbit and claims by the Australian Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA):
The Australian Labour Union, the MEAA is using our production The Hobbit in an attempt to widen it’s membership, and power within the New Zealand film industry. As a New Zealand filmmaker, who has nothing to hide or be ashamed about, I’m not going to see this threatening behaviour continue without some form of sensible discussion about the “facts” and “truth” behind their various allegations.
It’s incredibly easy to wave the flag on behalf of workers and target the rich studios. It’s not hard to generate an emotive response, nor is it hard to sway public opinion, since nobody seems to like the facts
BREAKING NEWS: Peter Jackson Slaps Back At Kiwi/Oz/Hollywood Unions
UPDATE: A “Member Alert” went out yesterday afternoon from the Screen Actors Guild advising actors not to accept work on the non-union production of The Hobbit. (See below.) It’s part of an international showbiz labor effort begun by New Zealand Actors’ Equity and its umbrella The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance headquartered in Australia to go public with a campaign confronting Peter Jackson, the director and producer of the long planned and high profile back-to-back Hobbit movies and filmmakers Three Foot Seven, MGM, and Warner Brothers. NZ Actors’ Equity is calling a meeting of actors on Tuesday to bring The Hobbit filmmakers to the negotiating table for a contract providing minimum guarantees on wages and working conditions, residual payments, and cancellation payments to actors engaged on the production. Now, the International Federation of Actors (FIA) is supporting the NZ Equity/MEAA campaign, and last month issued letters to The Hobbit production company Three Foot Seven, Warner Brothers, and MGM seeking a union-negotiated contract to cover all performers on the production. That’s why SAG and AFTRA are now involved as well as Actors’ Equity, Equity (UK), and equivalent organisations in Australia, Canada and South Africa.
Equity has been trying since 2006 to negotiate minimum guarantees contracts across the film and television industries in New Zealand, but can’t get that country’s producers organisation SPADA to take part in talks. SPADA …