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Heather Roy’s Diary: Acting Up Over ‘The Hobbit’

Column – ACT New Zealand

Aficionados of Tolkien will know that ‘The Hobbit’ climaxes with the battle of five armies. There is a certain irony in New Zealand’s latest industrial stoush of the last couple of weeks equalling the books finale in complexity, viciousness and lust …
Heather Roy’s Diary

Acting Up Over ‘The Hobbit’

Aficionados of Tolkien will know that ‘The Hobbit’ climaxes with the battle of five armies. There is a certain irony in New Zealand’s latest industrial stoush of the last couple of weeks equalling the books finale in complexity, viciousness and lust for gold.

Tolkien’s books, set in “Middle Earth”, have proven very popular and Sir Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy was a huge artistic and commercial success. Most importantly was that New Zealand became a popular destination for filmmakers and, in Wellington at least, film production has become an important industry.

Many of us have been looking forward to ‘The Hobbit’ – prequel to the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy – being filmed in New Zealand. Although it is more of a children’s book, ‘The Hobbit’ will be a great film.

The industrial action surrounding the filming has dominated the news and political arena this week. The story so far:

Actors Equity, the union claiming to represent actors, has been pushing for them to become employees as opposed to independent contractors. The public face of this campaign was Kiwi actor Robyn Malcolm. Employees have many more ‘rights’ than contractors and this move would saddle filmmakers with heavy responsibilities, including for those with small parts and short-term work. What would they do with thousands of employees once the film was over?

The actors’ union decided to organise a boycott of ‘The Hobbit’ in protest at its lack of progress on the issue. This made Sir Peter Jackson see red and he launched an attack on the union, accusing it of being unpatriotic and under the influence of the Australian actors’ union. When Simon Whipp, representing the Australian Union, was interviewed he was clearly indifferent to the fate of the New Zealand film industry – saying publicly that he really didn’t care if ‘The Hobbit’ was filmed here or not.

More hurtful from the unions and Ms Malcolm’s point of view was the reaction of other actors. It is no secret that there are many aspiring actors, and that jobs are hard to come by. Actors do not want to see big movies move off-shore.

On Labour Day there were ‘pro-Hobbit’ demonstrations around the country. One evening, last week, Robyn Malcolm was confronted outside a Wellington restaurant by actors. Politicians are used to being demonised – and I expect the CTU is used to it as well – but I expect Robyn Malcolm is most unused to being a hate figure.

In any event, the unions soon realised they had badly misread public opinion and retreated rapidly. The Warner Brothers studio, the intended producers of ‘The Hobbit’, was assured that the film would be allowed to proceed without industrial action. Warner Brothers responded by saying it had no faith in the CTU’s assurance and wanted to speak with the Government. At this point sympathies began to move as the CTU would be unlikely to break a public promise.

With anti-union feeling still running high, Warner Brothers executives arrived to negotiate with the Government. Prime Minister John Key has revealed little of what was discussed in the closed door meetings, except to say that the studios asked for a lot.

After several days of negotiations the Government conceded $15 million in tax breaks for two movies, and a promise to amend labour legislation for the film production industry. Although Kiwis are behind the movies being filmed here, the concessions have left a bad taste with many.

Parliament went in to Urgency on Thursday to pass legislation that will clarify the definition of a contractor. All film production workers will be deemed contractors unless they have signed an employment contract when they become employees.

I don’t object to contractors being treated differently from employees, but all employers should be operating on the same basis. Rather than clarification of law for the film production industry, it should apply across the board.

Likewise ACT is in favour of lower taxes, but again the benefit should be spread across all businesses. The film industry is glamorous but it is not the only creator of wealth and what is good for the goose should be good for the gander.

Lest We Forget – Sapper Roy Reporting For Duty

There are few good things about being ousted from Ministerial duties. Only two spring to mind – spending a little more time at home with my family, and being able to don my Army uniform and train with my unit again.

While Associate Minister of Defence, I had to move on to the ‘Inactive Reserve’ list of the TF. Now that I no longer have that duty I can go back to training. I really missed that aspect of my contact with the Defence Force. While I had the chance to do all sorts of things as Minister, I couldn’t put my pack on my back and train with my fellow soldiers.

This weekend is my first training exercise with my unit, 5WWCT and I’m off to pack my pack and webbing, get into my uniform and join my fellow sappers. I’m looking forward to the boating, bridging and bombs training that are the bread and butter work of Army Engineers.

Serving your country as a Member of Parliament is certainly a privilege. So too is serving your country as a member of the New Zealand Defence Force.


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