The Hobbit's exploding rift


By Bruce Hopkins

Story tellers telling great stories. Many years ago I was a full time professional dancer in Limbs Dance Company. Dancing, by the way, is a profession that is probably on one of the lowest rungs of the economic ladder in the wage stakes, despite being one of the most highly disciplined and short-lived careers you could undertake. Back in the 1980s dancers were members of the Actors Equity union.

I once attended a meeting in which a key member of the board was running late, on arriving into the room she created quite a stir and eventually received a round of applause. As a dancer I remember thinking wow, there is the art of an actor who really knows how to pull focus and become the centre of attention.

The National government of the late 1980s went on to deregulate unionism, forcing Actors Equity to become a subsidiary of the Engineers Union because we did not have the required 1,000 members to be a stand alone union.

Over the years the union became as worthless as some mid morning talkback radio show hosts' opinions and their listeners' comments in relation to the current issues surrounding Actors Equity and the producers of The Hobbit.

These commentators, and many of the public, have fallen prey to the compelling art of the blockbuster story tellers. When you combine that art with the power of global media corporations you have a damn potent force.

I personally favoured Sam Neil's call for everyone to get together and have a cup of tea. My version would have seen representatives of the various parties gather in a room, bringing home-made scones and muffins (gluten free options also), stand around and have a cup of tea, made by Sam Neil. This way we could all look each other in the eyes and remember that we are in this together.

However that is not to be, and in fact the series of events during the past week will possibly undermine a huge amount of the goodwill that up until now existed on film sets throughout NZ. This goodwill came about within an industry in which everyone gave of themselves above and beyond the call of duty to ensure the project was made. Almost always in NZ on local film projects there is never a budget to achieve the desired outcome and so the production staff, the crew and the cast invariably accept conditions, both financial and non financial, that are considerably lower than would be acceptable in any other English speaking country. Often the conditions are also lower than the workers would like, but the industry is such that you hope you will eventually be able to command better conditions as you gain more experience.

It has been brilliant over the years to see the careers of some film makers in NZ launch onto the international stage, where they get to work on projects with conditions commensurate with the budgets involved.

Following a meeting last weekend, someone within the Warner Bros representatives and producers of The Hobbit decided to not issue a press release informing the workers within their industry and the public that “NZ Equity has made a number of concessions and undertakings to the production, including: Lifting the “do not work” order and providing a clear undertaking that there will be no industrial action during the filming of The Hobbit in New Zealand.”

They had told the Equity reps that they needed to honour confidentiality and let them control the release of this information.

This information would have had a major impact in defusing the exploding rift that is opening between the workers, production crew and cast within the local film industry. Whoever is responsible for withholding this information from being released is the real traitor in this enthralling real life blockbuster.

In light of the fact that the NZ tax payer is going to put a substantial investment into these films thanks to the scaremongering, and the now inevitable John Key increased tax rebate, maybe Warner Bros, or whoever is running this show (does anyone know the answer to that question by the way?), should show The Hobbit for free at the box office to all NZ tax payers?

And Sam Neil could still make us all a cup of tea.

source: data archive