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Te Hobbit

Hobbit stays in NZ. Situation complex. (Previously.)

NZ as a nation: keeps The Hobbit. Turns out this is of massive symbolic importance to us. Our national identity is bound up in these Middle Earth films now (or, perhaps, in the fact we showed we can make ’em). That’s cool.

Film bosses: got more tax breaks, plus happy Peter Jackson. They win.

NZ film industry workers: have a film to work on. Is good.

Dealmaker PM John Key emerges with great triumph. Never mind embarrassing spectacle of our political leader holding crisis meetings with film bosses; voters already forgotten that.

Legislative due process: sacrificed by John Key. Pushing through today legislation developed in meeting with US film bosses. Terrible behaviour, although if it is just limited to a review/clarification of the differences between an employee and a contractor I’ll be cool with it. Won’t know until it’s already been pushed through of course. Sickening.

Actors? Lord knows how they come out of this. Their position remains inscrutable. What did they want? What did they get? Who knows?

Unionism in NZ: wounded. The Actor’s Union acted with great strategic idiocy. CTU’s Helen Kelly came in and did not help, instead stirred things up further. Misinformation exposed, either lies or stupidity. Anti-union forces including hero of the hour John Key leap on opportunity to attack unions. Disastrous result. (I support strong unions, but only if they don’t act like idiots.)

Blogs vs mainstream media: got most of my news on this from the Public Address thread of doom, which (uniquely as far as I can tell) put a real emphasis on sourcing documents and establishing facts. On the other hand, the big announcement was on live TV so old media still has the power.

Conspiracy theorists: in their element. This outcome was foreseen.

Opposition leader Phil Goff: this is bad for Phil Goff. Everything that happens is always bad for Phil Goff.

{ 27 } Comments

  1. Rodger Donaldson | October 28, 2010 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    It’s fair enough that everything’s bad for Phil Goff, since pretty much everything Phil Goff has ever done has been bad for New Zealand.

  2. Conan | October 28, 2010 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    John Key was a wally for letting the dispute get as far as it did. It is actually Government’s role to step in on labour disputes of this magnitude and act as a mediator – but he sat on it too long. He’s fortunate he was able to work out a deal – if Warners had walked, this would have blown up in his face.

    Phil Goff was spineless, really. Labour tends to be just as timid as National at the moment.

    With the founding of NZAG, it looks like MEAA and Actor’s Equity have lost out in more ways than one. Firstly, rather than improve their conditions with contract negotiations, a loophole has been closed that will restrict their ability to wiggle around in a contractual agreement. This is almost the direct opposite of what they were seeking. Secondly, with an independent guild starting up, and with the negative reputation Actor’s Equity has gained, it is possible they are going to start losing a lot of members to New Zealand Actor’s Guild. That will make being an actor a little more interesting too.

    Definitely good to see this over, but it should never have gotten this bad in the first place.

    Conan

  3. Kiwi in Zurich | October 28, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    A long string of disasters when seen from a distance. I don’t think we’ve sold the family silver here (silver isn’t worth much these days anyway) and it really is great to have the hobbit filmed at home.

    But dirty hobbitsies just got dirtier.

  4. Pearce | October 28, 2010 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    All other issues aside, I admit to feeling slightly embarrassed by my country.

    Today’s Dom Post billboard with a picture of Sméagol clutching his ring and the headline “IT’S OURS!” sums it up for me: children throwing a paddy over a toy being taken away. What the hell are we doing being so emotionally invested in a fantasy movie based on a children’s book anyway?

    This was not worth sacrificing the integrity of our unions over. Meanwhile, the continuous bad behaviour of our government continues to be less than front-page news.

  5. Timb | October 28, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    What Pearce said.

    And Morgue, nice sum-up post.

  6. Conan | October 28, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    I think Morgue covered this well, but Pearce – a film bringing in half a billion dollars into our economy to mostly be spent on goods and services that will be paying top tax rates and the amount of additional work generated makes this well worth the cost.

    A lot of people forget that the film business deals in the kind of sums normally managed by small nations like ours. In this struggling post-recession economy, NZ needs a massive cash injection like this. It would have been more embarrassing if NZ had been unable to keep a hold of The Hobbit.

  7. Dan Rabarts | October 28, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Agreed – very nice summary Morgue.

    Having watched this pot explode from the inside, I can honestly say that this is the best result we could have hoped for. As far the cost to the country goes, let’s all remember that WB were only able to leverage the Govt like they did because Equity and the CTU mismanaged the dispute so disastrously.

    The idea that “only film people” will profit from getting the job is also ludicrous: That $700m will be spent on Goods and Services supplied by New Zealand companies, creating work and promoting investment across the economic spectrum from industrial wholesalers to freight companies to accommodation suppliers and so on down the list.

    I’m also mainly relieved that I’ll still have a job to come back to, next week and next year.

  8. sonal | October 28, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    *sigh* I think you’ve got it in one, Morgue. And I think both Pearce and Conan are right.

    In a way, the actors/MEAA/NZAE/who the hell knows have played into the hands of WB and National who were waiting for an opportunity like this to happen. Like Conan, I agree that this money will be useful to float around our economy and embarrassing if we lost it. Like Pearce, I’m embarrassed the way that the Government and some media outlets have whipped this up as if the film were a part of our national identity and then used it to change laws over night (although I reckon Aunty Helen would’ve done the same thing).

    You know, I think it will all be forgotten by the new year.

  9. Dan Rabarts | October 28, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Sonal – “played into the hands of WB and National” – I’m sorry, that’s totally off the mark.

    Until Equity started the ridiculous action against the Hobbit – at the insistence of the MEAA – there was nothing for anyone to play into. The film was going to be shot here, no questions asked. WB made that decision out of respect for Sir Peter J, and the crisis that unfolded was a direct result of Actor’s Equity being misled by the MEAA into taking deliberately destructive actions against the production company and, by proxy, the New Zealand film industry as a whole.

    Once again, before the action was taken, there was no question the film would be shot here. The union unrest was cited as the key reason for WB to consider other shooting locations, and as is the nature of execs who are handling millions of dollars, they choose to use the situation to leverage a better deal for the studio. That is what studio execs do.

    This country’s emotional bond to the title of “Middle Earth” simply worked in their favour, and added leverage. I think the response we saw, both in social media and on the streets (yes, I was there on the streets the night this all blew up) tells us that it’s not just the media whipping up the idea of it being part of our national identity – it actually is. Like Morgue said, if only because we know that we pulled it off.

    As for National, Mr Key simply managed to play the drama for all it was worth and emerge looking like the hero, while Peter is left being strung up as some greedy anti-union despot, which is also absurd. Peter has fought and fought for the film industry in this country and deserves to be applauded, not derided.

  10. sonal | October 28, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    I actually agree with you Dan and that without the “do not work” order, production would’ve continued as per normal.

    And please do not mistake my comment for deriding Peter Jackson, I have done nothing of the sort and have taken others to task for doing so.

    However, I do think that at negotiation stage, Warner Brothers saw an opportunity to hold a country to ransom and took it – that’s what I’m saying and I too know a little about film financing and studio tactics (as every person working in the global film business should). I think National also saw an opportunity when then the shit was very obviously going to hit the fan.

    In fact, we’re arguing the same point but the only point of difference is that I don’t believe our national identity is tied up with the Hobbit. As an important business that gives filmmakers jobs, much needed high concept experience and creates the opportunity of dialogue between global filmmakers working together on one project, yes. But as an idea of what it means to come from New Zealand. No.

    But then, I’ve never been comfortable with the idea “national identity” anyway.

  11. sonal | October 28, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Ah, I think you may have mistaken my “who the hell knows” comment to mean Peter Jackson. It didn’t, it refers to whoever issued the boycott order.

  12. Pearce | October 28, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Conan: I am embarassed by the way a lot of people have behaved over this, not that a movie version of The Hobbit is being made here.

    I don’t mean the people whose jobs were threatened, btw. I have a lot of sympathy for Dan and everyone else in his situation.

    But the potential lose of The Hobbit is hardly the only pressing issue facing our country; too bad nobody seems willing to pay much attention to the other things.

  13. Dan Rabarts | October 28, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Sonal – I totally agree that WB saw the opportunity to exploit the situation and took it, and that National have made the most of the opportunity to beat up on the unions, and that these things were an unfortunately predictable consequence of Equity/CTU/MEAA’s actions. The studio smelt blood where there had not been blood before and decided to go for the throat.

    And I apologise if you took the ‘deriding PJ’ comment personally – that was intended as more of a general comment on the way that the media have been portraying him over the past 4-5 weeks.

    As for national identity, I’m neither here nor there on the matter. I was out on the march last Wednesday night because we felt the need as technicians to stand up and be heard, to show some support for Peter, to show WB that we want to make this film here. Personally, my mortgage was at stake, and that was enough to get me out there. The rest is all rhetoric and tourism dollars.

  14. Marie | October 28, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    You’ve got to admit it, John Key is GOOD. At making JK look good. He single handedly saved us. Wow. Our Hero.

    I’m waiting to see the fine print of the law change of today.
    Helen Kelly (for whom I have very little respect) (which makes me wonder why I took on board something she said) (but there you go, she made me wonder) suggested today that the clarification of “contractor” may well mean that not only the actors are affected, as they are already contractors mostly, but that other workers at the studio will be. She thought we might have cleaners and receptionists now forced to be contractors. I would not like to see that. I think JK was able to kill two giant falcons with one stone – we’ve got the Hobbitses, and I’m delighted about that, but he’s made a change to our employment law which may well be used as a precedent in other employment situations and may well disadvantage those least able to deal with it. A very National thing to do.
    I wait in the hope I’m (and HK) proved wrong.

  15. Pearce | October 28, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    morgue: looks like you’re going to be directly affected, as it covers people working on video games.

    http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2010/0229/latest/096be8ed80634dcd.pdf

  16. Dan Rabarts | October 28, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    Marie – the fact is that almost everyone in the film industry is a freelance contractor, from lighting techs to caterers to, yes, cleaners and receptionists.

    Production and rental houses are a bit different, but those jobs are gold. The point in law being reviewed relates to the Bryson case of a couple of years ago, where a freelancer was let go after a couple of years of work which the court decided was indeed ‘in the nature of being an employee’ or words to that effect, as Bryson claimed. This after Bryson has been happy enough for all that time to claim all the benefits of being self-employed. Scenarios like the Bryson case are extremely rare, but that one in particular was long, drawn out and costly for Wingnut.

    But the precedent this law change sets for other industries, and how a National government might take advantage of that, is a highly valid concern for many. Its also the kind of thing that the CTU probably have a clue about and could make a valid contribution to. What they have shown through their walking sideshow Helen Kelly these past few weeks is that they have no idea how the film industry operates, or how we manage to survive in such a cutthroat international environment on such a small economic cushion, and how we have managed to thrive under the current arrangements.

  17. Kiwi in Zurich | October 28, 2010 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Middle earth might not be part of our culture. I think it would be fair to describe it as a cultural phenomenon and it did NZ then and will in the future no doubt to NZ a great deal of good financially.

    Many years ago when I first moved to Europe and the border between Poland and Germany was still closed. I needed to show my passport with my visa to the Polish border guard. His face lite (sp?) up when he saw that I was a kiwi and in broken English said ‘hobbit’. I could have hugged him that he didn’t say ‘All Black’. But that wouldn’t have been seemly. Suffice it to say, outside of NZ, many people associate NZ with the LotR. In a world that largely doesn’t play or pay attention to rugby, the LotR helped put NZ on the map. We did sell some of the family silver for this (I’m talking about the abuse of Parliamentary process by the government here), but it isn’t something that we can’t later change through further legislation and I really can’t help but feel that the stirrers behind the unions really got what they deserved here.

    We live in an international world and globalisation means that WB and any other like minded company can choose to go with the highest bidder. That is the reality. We’re not talking about the power to hold holiday makers to ransom by going on a ferry strike (or in the case of France bringing the whole country to a standstill) we talking about invested interests (embarrassing fool Helen Kelly) that don’t perceive that they literally ran the risk of losing everything. David was not going to topple Goliath this time and ran the risk of doing immearsuable damage by behaving in that way.

    Dan, I applaude you and hope this works out wonderfully for you.

  18. morgue | October 28, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    “video game means any video recording that is designed for
    use wholly or principally as a game”

    I can only presume this refers to film-type work intended for video game channel, rather than the entire video game industry. Nothing that happens at Sidhe fits that description.

    I’m pretty sanguine about the amendment. All it does is remove any pressure on Peter Jackson et al to treat people working on films as employees; the starting point is always independent contracting.

    And as Dan says, the industry is already built on independent contracting. It takes something already true in practice and gives it a firm legal basis. You can argue about whether the use of contractors by the film industry is healthy or not, but this act doesn’t change the game at all.

    To be honest, it’s much more restrained than I was expecting.

  19. morgue | October 28, 2010 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for all the comments everyone, too. I’ve been away from the machine all day so it was a bit of a shock to come home and find all these comments!

  20. Dan Rabarts | October 28, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Kiwi in Zurich.

    It’s been a stressful week, and the relief that ran through the entire industry last night was like one huge collective breath being let out simultaneously.

    Now we can only hope that this project will run smoothly from hereon in. We don’t need another cursed movie in NZ. River Queen already has that honour.

  21. sonal | October 29, 2010 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    All power to your elbows, Dan (I have no idea what that actually means, but I like the statement – elbows and knees are precious, look after them!)

    Good luck for the shoot and here’s hoping it’s smooth sailings from here!

  22. Amanda | October 29, 2010 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Well…I feel completely sickened by the whole thing. I have never understood the resistance the Peter Jackson empire apparently has towards employing people who in their work arrangements have all the characteristic of employees as independent contractors. Would it be so terrible to give the people who have worked for you for years, who you require to work a set number of hours a week and who helped to build your wealth, some minimal job security and annual leave? I don’t think so. I also don’t see why Peter Jackson should be exempt from the laws that other businesses in New Zealand are subject to.

    It also blows me away the viciousness of the union bashing that has circulated around the issue. Film actors are independent contractors. There is no doubt about that and the reasoning that applied in Bryson v 3 foot 6 could not remotely be applied to magically turn them employees. As non employees while they may have attempted to bargain collectively they are not technically union members. It actually puzzles me that the CTU got involved at all and the only reason I can think of why they did is because they wanted to help. And from what I can tell they did broker a deal which Sir Peter Jackson then went back on. I think it is lucky (for him) that he is now very clearly exempt from any legal obligation to act in good faith as required under the Employment Relations Act because it doesn’t appear to me that that this was remotely acting in good faith.

    I don’t understand how a country that prides itself on its principled independent nuclear free stance can be jubilantly celebrating the government rushing through under urgency unnecessary legislation to appease an American corporation. I think the whole thing is demeaning and shameful.

    I’m glad that people are getting to keep their livelihoods, I really am. I understand people needing to provide for themselves and their families and I think loyalty is an admirable quality. But for me the whole idea of the Hobbit is totally tainted. I don’t intend to see it when it shows here and this actually makes me very sad. I loved Tolkien as a child and teenager and the books meant an awful lot to me. Nobody could have been more pleased and proud of New Zealand than I was of the first LOTR film at least and I was thrilled when Peter Jackson etc won all those Oscars. I don’t feel that way now.

  23. jamie | October 30, 2010 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    To inject something of a completely different nature: it’s spelled “Middle-earth”.

  24. Kiwi in Zurich | November 2, 2010 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    Come on Amanda, New Zealand has won here. The process was somewhat flawed int he sense that urgency should only be used in the most urgent of situations, but the govt only really gave effect to what is already there.

    The point about the American corporation is exactly that. We did it to appease them because we had to, because what we would have lost was worth more than what we gained. We haven’t joined an illegal war or decided to not protest sporting events when other human beings’ rights are being denied. we’ve instead taken the sensible and pragmatic decision of changing the law to reflect what is already out there and ensured that New Zealander’s themselves will benefit. Other than an abuse of Parliamentary process (this really irks me) I’m really struggling to see what your issue is.

    If it is an issue with globalisation i.e. that a large American company can use its influence to ge the best deal it can in NZ, then I’m afraid your issues run much deeper than the Hobbit, because hon, that’s the way the world works out there. NZ can choose (and should choose) the battles it wants to fight, and goodness knows I’m proud of what NZ standd for, but those battles that are not going to bring us anything except a lower standard of living so that we can say ‘up yours’ to a US corporation seems to me to be clearly in the camp of lets not fight this battle.

  25. Joey | November 2, 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    “We did it to appease them because we had to, because what we would have lost was worth more than what we gained.”

    What’s this ‘we’ shit? You & me & everybody here didn’t do a goddamned thing. 😉 <— winking smiley indicates that this is a joke referring to how "we" did not make Lord of the Rings, as much as "we" like to take credit for it.

    "Other than an abuse of Parliamentary process (this really irks me) I’m really struggling to see what your issue is."

    The abuse of Parliamentary process is business as usual for this government, and they've got people applauding them for it. In their first ten months, the current government pushed three times as many bills through urgency as the previous Labour government did in their entire first term.

    And this is a government that likes to use the thin end of the wedge. Just look at the 90 day trial period bill.

    Is this bill problematic in & of itself? Only slightly. Is it likely to be used as an excuse to push through something worse with less justification? Given the government's part performance, it seems likely.

    I think it's great that The Hobbit is being made here! But:

    "If it is an issue with globalisation i.e. that a large American company can use its influence to ge the best deal it can in NZ, then I’m afraid your issues run much deeper than the Hobbit, because hon, that’s the way the world works out there."

    ARGH! This sort of sophistry can be used to justify any number of evils. In this specific instance, the "great negotiator" flagged exactly how far he was prepared to bend over for the Big Boys before anyone even got to the table!

    If this is the way that John Key deals with anyone who has leverage over us, we may as well just leave the keys in the ignition and walk away now.

    Hobbit yay. Government boo. People who say "boot-licking bullies is good" boo.

  26. Kiwi in Zurich | November 2, 2010 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I mostly agree. Hobbit yay. Govt pretty bad. Unions pretty bad.

    And I’m not saying boot licking bullies is good. I’m saying the Hobbit is good. Not the same thing.

  27. Pearce | November 2, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    I for one welcome our new dark masters. Ia Ia Warner Brother F’tagn!