Saturday, 2 October 2010

Guestpost: There and back again

After spending pretty much all of Saturday working very hard to do my damnedest to contribute to damage control, the boy wonder and I spent the day at the beach today. It felt like summer and was a more than welcome distraction from the whole mess the New Zealand film community is finding itself in.

There is not much to report on The Hobbit front today. The Council of Trade Unions met with Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh on Friday but nothing about the goings on of that meeting have been made public. President of the Council, Helen Kelly merely said that they were 'hopeful that a meaningful dialogue between (Actors) Equity, Spada (the Screen Production and Development Association) and Three Foot Seven can be established.' Radio New Zealand reported that New Zealand Trade Minister, Gerry Brownlee 'has been talking to "key players" involved in the dispute, to discuss what role he might play in resolving it'. The anti-boycott petition has garnered just short of 1500 signatures within a bit more than two days and both sides have spoken to the media to argue their points. Equity reps went on morning show TV show The Nation, while Radio New Zealand interviewed a couple of local actors for their news bulletin to get the other side of the story.

Being an actor my partner had his two cents to say himself and amongst a lot of other things also made some suggestions for a way forward. So, in the spirit of staying positive and contributing to resolving the mess we've been put in, here is what Gareth has to say.

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It’s been a long week of meetings, discussion, Facebook soapboxing and trying to make sense of a very complex situation. Here’s my best attempt.

The issues

Why did the international actors’ unions act before the NZ Equity members had a chance to discuss their issues let along vote on a course of action
Monday                   IFA calls for and actor boycott of The Hobbit. MEAA National Director claims to represent all performers.
Tuesday                  Equity holds a meeting in Auckland. Withholding attendance numbers, they vote almost unanimously in favour of the boycott.
Thursday                  Equity holds a meeting in Wellington (again withholding attendance numbers) . Equity claims 70% vote in favour of boycott. Equity expresses a strong desire to keep the issue out of the media and requests that nobody talks to the media. This request is respected by non-members.
Friday                  Jennifer Ward Lealand and Robyn Malcom appear on Campbell Live claiming that they are not recommending a boycott – in contradiction of the resolutions voted on at their meetings.

Who does Equity represent?
Simon Whipp claimed on Thursday night that Equity has 592 members then tried to add that census figures say there are only 588 so they represent more actors than actually exist.
Estimates – around 2000 actors and up to 17,000 extras/independents
Waiting for representation figures from NZAAG
“MEAA national director Simon Whipp said "all performers" were concerned about the lack of standard union contracts for the US$150 million (NZ$204m) two-part Hobbit films.”  - Sept 27 stuff.co.nz

Why the Hobbit?
Equity has yet to adequately answer this question.
They should be dealing with SPADA – and hopefully soon they will.
They’re crazy to be trying to negotiate with a multi million dollar production. Look at the possible outcomes:
A benchmark that is set so high that other producers could not hope to meet it?
Or a benchmark that is low enough for most NZ producers to meet but undersells actors compared to what Warners is already offering – residuals
SPADA can talk to Equity then take recommendations to it’s membership in the same way an effective union would.


What does Equity want?
Well, in one interview (Campbell Live)…
John Campbell: What do you want
Robyn Malcolm: We want a fair deal for New Zealand actors working on
the Hobbit, that is more in line with our colleagues working in Australia and
America and the UK

…and 4 minutes later

JC: What do you want
RM: A meeting
Jennifer Ward Lealand: A meeting. That’s all we’ve asked for. That’s all we’ve
asked for from day one.

Also...

RM: We’re not Hobbit specific  (wait a minute, Robyn!)

What is at stake?
More than just the Hobbit and the benefits it would to NZ actors and crew and the NZ economy.
If the Hollywood studios decide that NZ is “too hard” then the hard work that Peter Jackson and others have put in for over 15 years (Remember PJ talked Universal into shooting NZ for America in The Frighteners) will evaporate. Some perspective:
  • When LOTR was made, the NZ dollar bought around 40 US cents. So a $1000 a day camera cost the studio USD400. Today that same camera will cost around USD730.
  • The Louisiana Film Commission offers a 30% tax rebate on qualifying production expenditure (QPE) and 35% tax rebate on payroll expenditure for Louisiana residents.
  • Alabama: 25% on QPE and 35% on resident payroll
  • Missouri is another standout state: 35% on qualifying production expenditure
  • in fact, most US states have incentive schemes
  • Manitoba (Canada) offers up to 65% in tax credit on local qualified labour
  • Austria - 50% of QPE when filming in the Tirol
  • The financial benefits of filming in Eastern Europe are well known 

The studios don't need any more excuses to NOT shoot in NZ.
  • Our incentive scheme offers %15 on QPE
  • There is no special rate for resident payroll expenditure

So what do we do?
Instead of bitching and boycotting (I freely admit I've done my fair share of complaining this week), how about we look at ways that we can make New Zealand an attractive shooting destination again.
  • Call on the IFA to remove the call to boycott the Hobbit
  • See the offer of residual payments made by Warners as a great step and the landmark precedent that Equity claims to be after
  • Call on the Minister for Economic Development to make NZ's screen production incentive scheme (The Large Budget Screen Production Grant) competitive by bringing the QPE rebate rate (technically in NZ it's a grant) into line with other markets
  • Call on the Minister for Economic Development to introduce a special rebate/grant rate for NZ resident payroll expenditure - making employing New Zealanders more attractive - and about more than the fact that we're bloody good at what we do.

Not an entire solution, but a start nonetheless. Just thought we needed some positive ideas amidst all the negativity - not that our concerns aren't justified.

Remember to breathe everyone!

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