Wednesday 20 October 2010

And we marched

Yesterday afternoon Richard Taylor, head of WETA Workshop, called an emergency meeting for film technicians but open to everyone with a stake in the NZ film industry. We met at one of the biggest soundstages in New Zealand. It was filled almost to the last nook and cranny. The press later said something between over 1000 to 1500 people turned up despite the three hour notice. My whole family went, including wonder boy. The mood at A Stage was solemn, sometimes angry, with every right to be so. Many spoke about their concerns, about what was going on behind the scenes and we decided to meet outside of St John's Church Hall and demand entry to the NZ Equity meeting that was to be held there later last night. Because that meeting was about all our futures, perhaps the technicians' futures even more so than the actors'. While we work on a film for a day or a week or a month, for technicians loosing The Hobbit means loosing their income for a year if not years to come. Beyond The Hobbit, losing that production means loosing the interest of other overseas productions to film in New Zealand. It means loosing their multi-million dollar investments, which are so vital to our small industry. Wellington actor Gregg Ellis posted a note this morning summing up his thoughts and I am going to leave it to him now because he really says it all.

A few thoughts from the Techos march

by Greg Ellis on Thursday, 21 October 2010 at 09:23
We marched last night as a family, me, Allie and both our kids because it's something that effects families. Maybe not ours particularly but the families of the more than a thousand crew who cared enough to come with 3 hours notice. 40 actors came with 2 days notice and then 80 came with 4 days notice. And this says something. Some things actually.

Firstly there is already a host of people working on the film so it was easy for them to down tools and pop over. All those folks who now may be out of work.

Secondly that these people really care. Unlike many actors they didn't hide because things are a little confusing or heated. And they feel a very real stake because they are the majority of the people who will be hurt when the film moves offshore.

It was a turnout that made Allie, a makeup artist proud and me, an actor disappointed. There were actors there and that made me feel better. Actors who weren't rushing to pat backs at St Johns hall and actors who understood the pain of those who were about to lose their jobs.

And it was a no-nonsense affair without any of the chest beating "this is the moment" rhetoric that littered the Equity meetings, with a few genuine tears and a lot of determination that they would no longer have others make decisions on their behalf.

But it seems as though things are too late. We were told the Hobbit is going offshore. The decision was all but made 2 days ago. And this from a tearful Phillippa Boyens, one of the Producers. This was no mis-information. She would know.

And we were reminded of a few things: Simon Whipp and the MEAA's desire to use industrial action to change the status of actors from independent contractors to employees. And the financial incentive to do so. SAG charges a 1-3% commission on residuals and the MEAA charges 10-15%. That's a stat they don't widely share.

SAG makes a good deal of money out of residuals. They collect them on their actors' behalf and pay them out quarterly taking the accrued interest and their commission. Fighting for residuals isn't an altruistic thing - it's good business for unions.

And now the Hobbit goes offshore it's a good thing for other unions members. More roles for the boys. This is the aim of SAG Global Rule One - to try and prevent "runaway" productions like the Hobbit and it works when they have such zealous minions as Simon Whipp working on their behalf. And that's what he and Equity have done. The giddy way they spoke about "over 100 unions about the world stand behind us" you could palpably feel the fat kid finally feeling accepted by the cool kids.

Back to the meeting and the march. It was great to see genuine emotion and not histrionics and to get a taste of the size of the group disenfranchised and left without work by the actions of a few.

A good point was made - if Sir Peter Jackson can't make his own movies in HIS own country then what does that say about other film-makers? The message is devastating.

And Sir Richard said something great on the TV afterwards. Of all the damage that has been discussed and gone over the loss of an industry that has inspired so many young people into creative arts is one of the worst things.

We actors have to have a reality check right now. Film is a collaborative thing and we are just a small fraction. We are dressed, lit, shot, edited, fed, scripted by an army of others all of whose contribution is just as valid as ours. I think we forget that.

We forgot it this time. Last night should have reminded us.

Pity it's too late.

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