The debate about the treatment of extras didn’t immediately die down, as these two letters to the NZ local papers demonstrate.
“Sir – What an extraordinary attack on Lord of The Rings by Anna Wilding. The gist of her comments seems to be that extras on the film would earn more if they worked in America. Now there’s a novel thought. So would everyone else in New Zealand.
Where is the evidence that people are being exploited? If there are such claims, why are they not being investigated? Who are Ms. Wilding’s sources? And what are her credentials? We need to remember that Lord of The Rings is the single biggest film project undertaken in the world. It’s a fantastic coup for Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, and a coup for New Zealand and our country’s hi-tech and creative capability. It’s put New Zealand on the international film-making map and provides a fantastic opportunity to keep growing a terrific industry. So, don’t knock it!
Screen Producers and Directors
The Press published a letter from the person who started this topic off:
Letter to the Editor-published: ChCh Press 18 October 2000
“Dear Sir,-I am overwhelmingly supportive of the Lord of the Rings shooting here,of Peter Jackson,and of American productions shooting here. I and my family have contributed much to New Zealand through the years. Like many, I have championed New Zealand causes and issues.IN my work around the world, I have championed New Zealand as an ideal place to shoot. I have filmed in temperatures form sub-zero on the Isle of Man to boiling point in Africa. It is part of the job. Were horses or animals injured? No. Did people stay in tents? No.I have had a relationship with New Line for more than four years. I like this company tremendously. My return here has been, figuratively speaking,like walking on to a landmine. I have heard from various poeple around the country about the treatment they ahve received on this film. These were all issues that could have been resolved with the right employment guidelines,and the right informed and experienced communication betweeen Americans and New Zealanders.
I’m not sure both sides of the debate started out explaining themselves clearly, and now there’s too much mud being flung round to discern anything except an atmosphere of disagreement. So far there’s a deafening silence from people subject to abuse in the industry. Too scared to talk? Or merely satisfied now that they’ve blown off some steam? We’re not going to know until somebody in an unbiased position does start a factual enquiry. The trouble at the moment is that most of the comments have come from people with a stake either in this film in particular, or the NZ film industry in general.
Interestingly enough, OnFilm reported that the stuntmen were forming a Guild to represent them and lay down some guidelines for their work; the technical crew workers have apparently done the same. So there people within the industry are recognising a need to have clearly set out rights and obligations.
This sort of approach probably won’t affect film extras though: it’s one of the least-skilled jobs you can imagine, and it’s not a regular livelihood for hardly anyone. So film companies can offer whatever rate of pay the law of supply and demand will sustain. Now, I’ve done extra work, and sure enough it was at better rates and shorter hours than LOTR offers. The job involved being one of a crowd waiting at an airport. It was every bit as boring as real life and the only reason we were being offered good money to do it is that nobody would have shown up otherwise. One is basically a spacefiller; a prop that can move under its own power.
Whereas the kind of extra work where one is required to dress up, run, scream and fight….well true, it’s dangerous. It’s also so inherently fun that it’s no mystery that people want to do it. Children know this instinctively and do it all the time until after years of threats and persuasion their parents manage to get them to stop. To be actively encouraged to do all that hooliganish screaming around again, only for a serious purpose, is just a gift to a lot of adults, and to be paid for it as well is a bonus. Still, it seems that people did not always know what they were letting themselves in for.