New Zealand actors are fuming over statements and actions on the part of Phillippa Boyens yesterday.”Get this, Australia, (are) making a huge play for this production,” Boyens said. They refer to the NZ Actor’s Equity parent, Australia’s Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, and the producers’ guild there. The whole reason for this hubbub is that the NZ Actors’ Equity was taken off the Ministry of Economic Development’s (MED) Register of Incorporated Societies on September 16 under its registered name of Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance. The reason? MEAA has not filed any paperwork since 2007. Boyens mentioned that the paperwork was just a glitch, and that it would be taken care of in a few days. That makes one wonder, who is in charge of MEAA? The real problem is that The Employment Relations Act rules require that an NZ union must be an incorporated society under the Incorporated Societies Act 1908. So if actors are to be hired, this legal mumbo-jumbo must be fixed.
In the wake of all of this mire, NZ Actor’s Equity is in trouble. “I am concerned over some of the statements made… by New Zealand Equity that there is still a misunderstanding on the seriousness of what is involved here and what is at stake,” she said. If there’s no union, then actors will have to be hired as independent contractors, and will not have union benefits. This boils down to stuff such as working hours, catering on the set, overtime, guarantees of pay scale, and so forth. Per Boyens, Warner Bros felt NZ was no longer a stable environment for the film, given the threat of a strike, and wanted to take it offshore.
The whole problem with this is that NZ actors say that there has been no mention of a strike. There’s just been a few comments about concerns as to whether the benefits/rights for the actors’ were going in-line with the current economy. Unfortunately, they can’t ask for anything without resolving their paper problems. Warner Bros. have not issued a public statement. Wingnut Films commented for them, saying that Warner Brothers wanted to “run the numbers”. An unverified comment was released saying that: “We are hopeful that a meaningful dialogue between (Actors’) Equity, Spada (the Screen Production and Development Association) and Three Foot Seven (Sir Peter’s company) can be established.” Who actually said it, Fran Walsh, the ministers of NZ, or Actors Equity, has not yet been established.
What this all boils down to is a lot of paper pushing, grumbles, and other unions all trying to get their piece of a $500 million dollar production. NZ actors are right in feeling pushed under the cart. It seems as though all this publicity is working towards getting them to agree to lower their expectations in order to get the film back. While Jackson’s reps try to cover themselves by saying “This is just appalling. He offers his actors some of the best working conditions and always had done that,” NZ actors are mired and unable to work. It’s not a strike situation at all. They just can’t work until all the legal crud is pushed aside. In the meantime other countries will have a foothold in offering cheaper incentives for the filming to begin elsewhere. “They have a huge studio there that Harry Potter have vacated, that they own, their ex Rolls Royce factory, that they say would be perfect for us,” Boyens said, on the air to Radio New Zealand. That’s just cruel, and it sounds like a plot.
Finally, one has to take a look at the big picture. The Hobbiton set that was used in the original film “The Lord of The Rings” still stands, and has been restored in preparation for filming. Just how much money has been spent already is unknown. So what will happen? Will they throw all that money away to shoot in front of a green screen? Will Walsh, Jackson and Boyens resort to what would be abject cruelty towards the thousands of actors and stand-ins that worked on their previous films? What about the artisans who worked so diligently for them, creating the wonderful mood and backdrop of their last blockbuster films?
If the filming doesn’t go down in NZ, there’s going to be broken hearts, empty wallets, and the feeling that W, J and B are working with the high rollers, interested in nothing more than making as much money as possible. As a result, the whole movie will be tainted. If they choose to shoot elsewhere, this reporter will just have to boycott the film. I heartily hope that other viewers out there make their voices heard as soon as possible. It just night help.