At this point, I’m perfectly willing to accept that everyone involved with the movie version of The Hobbit just gives up and accepts that some higher being really, really, doesn’t want this movie to get made. Still officially director-less (but it’s Peter Jackson, I mean, come on), the movie is now at the center of an argument between studios and actors unions that may push the production outside of New Zealand. Seriously, at some point, The Hobbit pissed off a gypsy or something, right?
The argument started when various actors’ unions – including the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (Australia) – sent out a members warning over the weekend, advising members not to work on the movie as, it claimed, producers “have refused to engage performers on union-negotiated agreements.” Producer Peter Jackson responded in an aggressive statement on Sunday, accusing the MEEA of being at the center of the complaint and implying ulterior motives:
My personal opinion is that this is a grab for power. It does not represent a problem that needs a solution. There will always be differing opinions when it comes down to work and conditions, but I have always attempted to treat my actors and crew with fairness and respect. We have created a very favourable profit sharing pool for the non-Union actors on The Hobbit — and now the Union is targeting us, despite the fact that we have always respected SAG conditions and residuals.
I can’t see beyond the ugly spectre of an Australian bully-boy, using what he perceives as his weak Kiwi cousins to gain a foothold in this country’s film industry. They want greater membership, since they get to increase their bank balance.
The conspiracy theories are numerous, so take your pick: We have done better in recent years, with attracting overseas movies — and the Australians would like a greater slice of the pie, which begins with them using The Hobbit to gain control of our film industry. There is a twisted logic to seeing NZ humiliated on the world stage, by losing the Hobbit to Eastern Europe. Warners would take a financial hit that would cause other studios to steer clear of New Zealand.
Seriously, if the Hobbit goes east (Eastern Europe in fact) — look forward to a long dry big budget movie drought in this country.
(That is merely an excerpt; go and read the full thing here.)
Now, the Hobbit‘s studios have joined the fight, issuing a statement calling the members alert “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 MEAA has nonetheless continued to pursue this course of action.
Motion picture production requires the certainty that a production can reasonably proceed without disruption and it is our general policy to avoid filming in locations where there is potential for work force uncertainty or other forms of instability. As such, we are exploring all alternative options in order to protect our business interests.
The ball seems to be in the unions’ court again – Will the other unions distance themselves from the MEAA dispute, or will The Hobbit be forced to shoot as either a non-union production or outside of New Zealand? Either way, I’m depressingly sure that this latest trouble will be replaced with something else surreal and annoying to stand in the way of production as soon as its been cleared up.
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