is an almost finished post sitting in my drafts folder about my general
post Toi adventure outlook. I wrote about a couple of auditions that
came up and my general excitement for what other surprises the next year
will have in store for me as an actress. My outlook for the coming
months and years is - maybe surprisingly so - very positive. Well,
actually, scratch that. My outlook for the future WAS very positive. I
was riding on post-audition highs, marvelling in how everything was
pointing to things being the way they were supposed to be and at how I
can trust the universe to put me on the right path.
the following happened. Most of you are probably aware of the
MEAA/Actors’ Equity controversy in New Zealand at the moment and the petition that was started yesterday. For those of you who are not, here's what happened.
2006 the Actors’ Equity (AE), an organisation without union status
representing a small number of actors in New Zealand decided to join
forces with the Australian Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA)
to counteract dwindling membership numbers, give it the guaranteed
support of a union and extend its reach across the Tasman and via MEAA
perhaps even further. With an alleged membership number of 598 at
present Actors’ Equity represents at the most about one quarter of New
Zealand Actors. If taking into account so-called second rung performers,
those actors who are not agency represented, of which there are about
17,000 the share of Equity represented actors is more like somewhere
few days ago MEAA/AE went public with the complaint that they have been
seeking a meeting with the producers of The Hobbit films, to discuss
union-standard contracts for the films' actors but had not heard back
from the production. This prompted MEAA/AE to call all actors in NZ to
boycott work on the films until such a meeting has taken place and an
agreement to guarantee actors union-contracts has been achieved. The
International Federation of Actors, which represents the world's seven
major actors unions (including SAG) and actors in 100 countries, then
told its members not to act in The Hobbit until they get a union contract.
Jackson subsequently issued a statement in response saying among other
things that this whole shebang could cost New Zealand The Hobbit films,
that they might be moved overseas, a prospect that might well be
devastating to the local film industry now and for the future. Two days
later, the studios behind the Hobbit films, New Line, Warner Bros and
MGM, said they avoided locations with the potential for workforce
uncertainty or other forms of instability and were looking at all their
options, including moving the production overseas. If you think it is
premature or panicky to think that a boycott of this sort will really
impact on The Hobbit and New Zealand film hear this; Within a couple of
days The Hobbit pre-production activity has come to a screeching halt.
Don't kid yourself into a false sense of security.
the last two days there have been two meetings in Auckland and
Wellington where MEAA/AE passed resolutions to basically stick to their
demands and their call for a boycott.
don't get me wrong. I'm all for actors banding together, getting
organised and achieving minimum standard conditions that are guaranteed
to them no matter which production they work for. I believe in the power
and possibilities that unions offer and I am aware of how important it
is to have a single voice that can represent our collective interests. I
am, although eligible, not a member of AE and have been considering
joining for a while now. I don't think I will. This whole thing is just
wrong on so many levels that I don't know even where to begin.
about this? The production of The Hobbit has been going on for more
than two years. To my information, one month ago was the first
time that MEAA/AE has approached the producers of The Hobbit films.
However, in a statement issued on Thursday night Peter Jackson argued
that the producers' association (SPADA) had attempted to discuss actors'
terms and conditions with the union for much longer than that - for the
past 18 months in fact. Moreover, Peter Jackson's offer to attend and
speak at the Equity meeting in Wellington after repeated and unanswered
attempts throughout the day was denied shortly before the meeting
started. What is this? Talk to us but only when we tell you to?
how about this? New Zealand Actors’ Equity as stated above represents a
far smaller portion of working actors than many other actors union, a
laughably small portion at that but purport to speak for all of us. In
the national and international media all NZ actors are misrepresented as
wanting to boycott The Hobbit films. However, only about a quarter of
working actors are represented by AE, so only a quarter of NZ actors
have actually been officially asked to give their opinion on the matter –
in the days AFTER the call for a boycott was made public. At the
meetings in Auckland and Wellington about several hundred performers
voted on the issue. (The participation numbers are unclear to me. I have
heard about 200 from one source, 390 from another for Auckland and 40
for Wellington.) Not all of them were AE members. The voting numbers are
being held back by Actors’ Equity but reliable sources tell me that the
overwhelming majority of the participants in Auckland were AE members
and all but one participant voted in favour of the resolutions mentioned
earlier. Of course they did, The Hobbit is a Wellington production. In
Wellington - also with official numbers held back - just under a quarter
of actors voted against the resolutions. But again most of the
participants were AE members. Even if every single AE member voted in
favour of a boycott, there are still are 1500 actors and 17,000 second
rung performers who have not voted and a lot of us do NOT support the
idea of a boycott.
labeling The Hobbit production and actors' contracts as 'non-union' and
inferior is both farcical and a misrepresentation of reality for a
number of reasons.
Actors’ Equity is not a registered union. It is of this month not even a
registered Incorporated Society any more. While Equity's lawyer told
the crowd last night that this is due to an 'administrative error', I
don't think that failing to file annual reports two years running can
really be called that.
B) While MEAA is a trade-union under Australian law, they have absolutely no legal standing here in New Zealand.
Under New Zealand law actors are NOT employees, they are contractors.
This means that there can be no UNION representation and negotiation on
our behalf in the first place because this would be price fixing, which
is, you guessed it, illegal. While Equity's lawyer, correctly pointed
out that there was no law to deter an organisation representing actors
to pursue negotiations with production companies to reach agreement on
standard terms and conditions for performers' contracts, these contracts
if used would still be 'NON-UNION'. In fact, any film and/or production
in New Zealand can only be 'non-union' as far as actors are concerned
because that's the current law. So, while labeling the Hobbit or any
other production for that matter as 'non-union' while in actual terms
correct, is also a misrepresentation of the legal situation in New
Zealand. And it is a farce intended to get the support of overseas
actors unions who would be shocked and appalled by the non-union status
of productions here and of course guarantee their support for any action
suggested by MEAA/AE without knowing THAT IT CANNOT BE ANY THING ELSE
BUT NON-UNION! In this whole scenario no one has explained how under the
very specific circumstances the NZ film industry operates in it is
supposed to be possible to actually employ all actors on all productions
instead of bringing us on as independent contractors. Please enlighten
me how you propose to do this - practically, legally, financially and
with a look to NZ's competitive edge in international film. Speaking of
our competitive edge, I am aware there is more to this than just our
actors being contractors and production companies not having to deal
with unions but it is very much a part of our appeal to international
film makers. And lets not kid ourselves. Every film industry outside of
L.A. County needs a competitive edge.
While there has been controversy in the past, particularly about
residuals from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which film industry
whether dealing with unions or not is free of controversy over pay for
their workers? Moreover, from what I can gather from the information
made available to me since the Rings controversy there have been many
improvements in the terms and conditions for actors used by Three Foot
Seven Productions, who produce The Hobbit films. The production company
and the studios involved in this project are aligned with overseas
unions such as SAG, so that many international actors working on these
films will participate in residuals. Non-SAG members are not legally
entitled to be paid residuals, however Warner Brothers have agreed to
create a separate pot of money to be divided up under a 'participation
rider' amongst all New Zealand and Australian(!) actors cast in the
films. That is something non-existent in New Zealand for a long time
AND MEAA/AE are aware of it! Furthermore, Peter Jackson has suggested,
that a New Zealand actor in a small supporting role could expect to earn
about $NZ5000 a week. This is $NZ1200 higher than SAG's published rates
of $NZ3800 per week. While these are just examples, they and the
willingness of the producers' association to talk to Actors’ Equity
about standard terms and conditions show, that we are already moving in
the right direction. Lastly on this point, another way of
misrepresenting facts is MEAA/AE claim that The Hobbit contracts because
they are 'non-union' will be inferior to union contracts because The
Hobbit contracts have not even been written yet. MEAA/AE have no idea
what the proposal for actor remuneration on this project will be. Maybe
they should have put more effort into talking to the producers'
association in the first place...
is MEAA/AE so concerned for actors' rights within this particular
production and not the many others currently going on in the country?
These are productions for which the terms of performers' contracts are
already publicly known. They are (naturally under New Zealand
circumstances) 'non-union'. Spartacus for example, which has been
shooting in Auckland all through this year and last can for example fire
actors without warning, offers no additional compensation and no
residuals, and have the right to dub an actors performance without actor
consultation. No one has said anything about these contract, including
MEAA/AE. The Hobbit producers have stated that their 'cast contracts do
not reflect any of these conditions'. However, MEAA/AE has not even made
the slightest attempt to collectively bargain better contracts for
Spartacus and similar current productions.
fully understand the desire to make a stand for standard performers
contracts with guaranteed minimum conditions and I support the idea of
such contracts. However, MEAA/AE's actions have absolutely nothing to do
with the supposed inferiority of The Hobbit's 'non-union' cast
contract. It has everything to do with the scale of the project and the
enormous world-wide anticipation it has created. And MEAA/AE's timing
could not have been worse.
should have been a brilliant move by MEAA/AE - huge project, huge
publicity - from the outset was doomed to fail and create nothing but
problems for the NZ film industry as a whole.
production has been hampered with costly delays for months and months
now. It has been hampered by the financial woes and impending sale of
MGM. It has been hampered by the studios involved failing again and
again to give the production the green light. The delays have cost this
production its original director and the current one is tied up with
other so many other projects that any further delays jeopardise his
involvement as a director as well. And then what?
or not you agree with allegations that MEAA's actions are nothing more
than a thinly disguised attempt at taking control of the New Zealand
film industry to better advance their interests, this much is clear; If
there was ever a time to use The Hobbit to make a stand for actors'
rights, it has so long since passed that MEAA/AE's current actions are
quite frankly incredibly stupid and short-sighted, and as was blatantly
obvious right off the bat a very real danger to the whole of NZ's film
sickens me to know that the whole world believes that all or even a
majority of New Zealand actors stand firmly behind this bullshit. There,
I said it. Bullshit. It sickens me to know that we are believed to be
greedy, and inconsiderate towards the thousands of other people working
in the industry.
stating at the Wellington Equity meeting that they would stay out of
the press, two Equity representatives went on current affairs show Campbell Live
last night. Despite the requests of at least two non-equity performers
to be heard on the show as well, again the voice of those disagreeing
with MEAA/AE’s actions remained unheard. The Equity reps on last night’s
show stated that their stand was not about money. However, while
MEAA/AE backtracked on their call to boycott over the past couple of
days, they still recommend that NZ actors ‘wait before accepting any
engagement on the production of The Hobbit until the production has
advised whether it will enter into good faith negotiations with NZ
Actors’ Equity with respect to the minimum conditions of engagement…
including minimum fees, conditions of engagement, professional
protections and residuals.’ Moreover, the international call for boycott
remains in place with big-name Hollywood stars like Cate Blanchett, Ian
McKellen and others intimately tied to the production firmly behind it.
There also remains the possibility of a new call for boycott in NZ
should there be no negotiations with Three Foot Seven or should such
we, New Zealand actors, deserve to be treated fairly? Do we deserve
minimum guarantees that give us a little bit of stability in a very
unstable line of work? Of course we do! But this was not the way to do
it and will surely not be the way to achieve it. What I find most
exasperating is that despite the producers’ association's repeated
attempts over the past years to enter into negotiation with Equity,
despite its non-union status – Equity is making it all about The Hobbit
now. They are attempting to force the production into setting a
precedent for minimum standards that all future productions would have
to adhere to without having a say or face boycott as a consequence. They
are putting Three Foot Seven in an impossible situation, deny Peter
Jackson access to their meeting, therefore turning down an the
opportunity they publicly stated they were waiting for. They make no
attempts to talk to SPADA. And then they go on TV and say that they
would LOVE to talk to SPADA and all they want is to talk to Three Foot
Seven. Contradictory much? Last night’s interview ended with John
Campbell presenting an email the show had received from SPADA stating
that they are happy to meet with Equity. Lets hope Equity takes them up
on the offer and they come to an agreement and soon!
also hope and pray to the universe, or god or whatever other higher
power you can think of that MEAA/AE's actions will not come back to bite
us is our collective arses and that in the years to come we will still
have a functioning and thriving film industry.
those of you performers who share my sentiments on this issue I urge
you to take action! Let the world know that MEAA/EA does not speak for
us! At the very least, please sign the petition against any boycott here.
Please add your thoughts!
Here are some recent articles published in various papers and collectively available on Stuff.
Also have a look at New Zealand Actors’ Equity's homepage here and a 'pro-union' article here.
Comparing the two makes for an interesting if slightly contradictory
read... Similarly the Equity reps at last nights TV3 show contradicted
themselves on several occasions. Watch it here.
Read Wellington writer/director/blogger and petition initiator Chaz Harris' blog on The Hobbit controversy here