So the word from those in the biz is that filming on The Hobbit has already been lost to NZ. The decision has been made to take it elsewhere – 3News said Ireland. This afternoon and evening the local film industry types, summonsed to a meeting by Richard Taylor himself, decided to get their voice heard about the risk to the NZ film industry.
The source of the trouble is an NZ actor’s union dispute. It is, to be frank, too complex for me to understand, let alone summarize. (Theatreview has a big set of links tracking the whole thing, and Steve Hickey tries to make sense of it all.) In fact, my impression is that the actor/union side of the dispute is incoherent. I haven’t seen a concise statement of the problem anywhere. There are claims that it’s an Aussie union, perhaps backed by a US union, trying to get NZ on to the same playing field.
But it’s safe to say that losing The Hobbit wasn’t the goal of the actors who came in on the union side. Especially because if that goes, then it’s hard to see any other major shooting jobs coming here in future. NZs film industry would wither, fast, reduced to digital effects and post-production work.
So what the heck has gone wrong? This has got much bigger, with much more at stake, than anyone expected. My take, for whatever it’s worth, is that the entire NZ scene has become pawns in a bigger game. The actors (who I’m sure have real concerns) have been pulled into a unionisation debate by overseas agencies which have clear incentives to bring NZ into line with their approach, regardless of the outcome for NZ. This dispute has then fed opposition within the studio to filming in NZ as opposed to other, cheaper locations – it is a pretext for running the numbers again and forcing a move elsewhere. The big players are international. The NZ scene is almost a sideshow in its own story.
This is a bit of a harsh critique in that it denies real agency to the local actors. Am I really justified in seeing the actors’ demands as problematic because they haven’t issued a clear public statement of their goals? If so, it doesn’t speak well of the capacity of actors to manage their own affairs.
That said, I think it’s undeniable that the actors have demonstrated no strategic leadership throughout this affair. The lack of public communication is one aspect, but even simply making a clear case has been a challenge.
And I should also emphasize that I’m sympathetic to the aims of a union. Unions are important tools for social equity – that’s clearcut.
My concern is that this union dispute, at this time, on this issue, is surely having consequences that those caught up in it did not intend. Sitting back and saying the decision to go to Ireland was driven by WB wanting to save money and not by the actors’ demands – well, it might make you feel better, but it doesn’t change the fact that the industry’s gone. The truth is, obviously, that the film industry globally is a haven for exploitative practices. There are good reasons why contracting is the default here in Wgtn and wider NZ, and yes that contracting will sometimes lead to exploitation, but the situation is complex enough that simplistic “workers need a union” claims won’t necessarily turn out to be appropriate. These complex reasons need to be addressed. This would be suggested by pragmatism, and also by awareness of the large interrelated nature of the film industry – if part of it goes, it all goes.
There are many other aspects of this sad tale that could be addressed – the dearth of leadership from the Beehive, for example. But I’m going to go to sleep instead, for I am tired and my eyes are droopy. Here’s hoping that the film can get tied down in this country after all.
EDITED TO ADD: a big post from industry worker Dan on this stuff.
ALSO: Radio NZ interviews with Fran Walsh, Pip Boyens, Helen Kelly, Dave Brown
Robyn Malcolm interview audio in the sidebar on the Stuff story
Russell Brown pulls the threads together: Anatomy of a Shambles
EDITED 5.50pm: Helen Kelly comments on Russell’s post, and Russell replies with exactly the right question.
Dan, of that link just above, was interviewed on bFM midday or so. I thought he did very well indeed. His post has been generating lots of discussion and comment.
(I wrote this post just after midnight last night. I think it stands up pretty well after a long day of charged conversation and reportage. Still no idea what’s going to happen to “Wellywood”…)
EDITED 9pm: via Jack of TallPoppy, some people who were there claim the “Robyn Malcolm abused/police escort needed” story is a fabrication