A group of New Zealand film industry workers has petitioned to have the boycott against “The Hobbit” dropped. TheOneRing.net went one-on-one with one filmmakers behind its formation, Chaz Harris, to get the viewpoint of somebody involved on the ground in what is becoming a heated atmosphere that is the latest in a long line of obstacles to ‘The Hobbit’. Read on for questions and thoughtful answers:

TORn: Why did you start the petition and what effect do you hope it has?

CH: I started the petition because so many of us in the filmmaking community here felt voiceless and powerless to do anything about the situation, this includes many of the actors who are not part of the union (58 of whom have signed the petition so far). There are plenty of actors and crew who are still here, still willing to work.

TORn: Do you feel like the Jackson camp has dealt fairly with you and fairly with actors in the past?

CH: I’ve never worked for them personally, but I know a lot who have and still do. I have never heard any stories of wrongdoing or unfair treatment for actors or crew on any of their productions – quite the opposite.

However, NZEA/MEAA have not said actors have been treated unfairly by the producers involved with The Hobbit, but they have created that assumption through the international blacklisting of the film.

I have never heard a bad word said about work conditions on Jackson productions, only that they are very loyal and hard-working people who expect the same in return. That is not dissimilar to the film industry anywhere else in the world and many feel they have been wrongly targeted.

TORn: Has the media reported facts clearly so far in this dispute? If not, what details have been lost?

CH: I think the media coverage has been selective and the full statements made by both parties as well as SPADA’s are what everyone should read to be fully informed.

Initially, I think many people perceived it as “the rich and powerful Sir Peter Jackson” attacking the actors. Producers’ alliance SPADA have been trying to meet with the union for months and stated on their website on Monday that these meetings were rebuffed in favour of an unlawful collective bargaining agreement. Collective bargaining agreements for contractors are illegal under New Zealand law and the MEAA was struck off the companies register recently after failing to file any company returns, so it has no legal standing here.

It’s important to note this is not so much a dispute about pay for actors though, it is about conditions and getting a standard contract for them. There are already minimum conditions listed in SPADA’s Pink Book that govern these, so this is really about a re-negotiation of those terms to include a standard contract. Therefore, it should be SPADA they are putting pressure on for a meeting, not the producers of The Hobbit. Peter Jackson and team cannot negotiate a standard “contract-for-all” because they do not represent all producers in New Zealand and any deal they might do could cripple smaller productions trying to meet the same demands.

The initial statement from Peter Jackson was clearly provoked by The Hobbit and his name (by default) being blacklisted in front of every actor he has or might in future get to work with. Once that shred of doubt is cast overseas about work conditions in New Zealand, it just snowballs and it’s an unfair perception to create when it impacts all the other hardworking NZ actors, artists, crews and filmmakers.

TORn: Do you or other actors agree with the sentiment that the Australian Union is making a power play to get a piece of the NZ actor’s action?

CH: I know some actors agree with this and at first I thought that was a little drastic. I don’t know what the truth of the matter is, but the reality is that these actions have put the future and livelihoods of the entire industry under threat and you really have to ask, is that really going to be for the greater good?

I would like to see all the international acting unions/guilds drop this blacklist and admit it was unlawful (which MEAA/NZEA have done so themselves) and let good faith negotiations be conducted with SPADA, not the producers of The Hobbit who shouldn’t even have been involved over this issue.

The petition can be found here and reads:

To: All film practitioners in New Zealand

By signing this petition, I confirm that I do not support MEAA/New Zealand Actors’ Equity in their international boycott of “The Hobbit” film production.

Furthermore, I request that this boycott be removed and rescinded immediately to avoid more damageto New Zealand’s reputation internationally as a film-friendly and flexible place to make films.

**When signing this petition, please include a comment stating your involvement in the New Zealand Film community below along with your location** i.e. : “I am an ACTOR from WELLINGTON”


The Undersigned