Peter Jackson yesterday did what the government has refused to do and commented on the revelation that he told Gerry Brownlee the Actors’ Equity blacklist was no threat to the Hobbit movies being filmed here. Unfortunately, Jackson has just further sullied his reputation by revealing the true motives for the Hobbit Enabling Act.
I haven’t been able to find Jackson’s full statement online anywhere but Brent Edwards read part of it out on National Radio and Red Alert has some of it too:
“Worse, it was clear to ourselves and to the studio that the MEAA, had an agenda to unionize the NZ film industry by exploiting a grey area that existed in employment law. The change in the law, which clarified the independent contractor status of film industry workers, gave the studio confidence that the film could made in New Zealand without the threat of unjustified ongoing industrial action and for that we remain very grateful.”
So, Warners and Jackson didn’t want the film workers to unionise. That was the real problem they had with the Bryson case, which Jackson had spent tens of thousands of dollars losing in 2005.
Bryson recognises the long-established principle that if your work is in the nature of an employment relationship you can have the rights of an employee – no matter if your contract calls you a contractor or an employee. This is a vital legal protection that prevents employers calling their workers contractors to avoid having to pay them leave and go through due process to fire them.
Making your workers contractors when they’re really employees also prevents them unionising – only employees are legally allowed to form unions. Jackson didn’t want his workers joining a union. He wanted to block that most basic and fundamental of work rights.
That makes a lie of Jackson’s statements right at the beginning of this whole mess that he isn’t anti-union.
So, now we know what feels like the full story of Jackson/Warners motivation for causing this whole Hobbit shakedown:
The Hobbit project has been a disaster with long delays and the loss of the original director. Warners is short on cash after a few expensive flops, the Hobbit will make them mega-bucks but they want more cash now. Jackson has already unsuccessfully agitated for more money in the review he did for National of the film grant system.
Jackson fears that his workers are going to unionise, meaning they’ll only work human hours and want better pay and conditions for it. That may mean fewer millions to spend on private jets and old military planes for him.
Along comes the Actors’ Equity blacklisting. It is no threat to the Hobbit being filmed here – movie producers are used to settling blacklistings; Warner’s already put $100 million in production here; they don’t have time to move production elsewhere, which is already behind schedule, and other locations have more expensive, unionised, workforces, not the ‘Mexicans with cellphones’ you can get here.
But it does give an opportunity to manufacture crisis. Jackson tells the public that the blakclisting may send the production overseas, while secretly telling the government it is no threat. Jackson’s business partner, Richard Taylor orders his staff at Weta to a march against the blacklisting. Little do these saps realise, it is their work rights that are under attack. The government gleefully joins in with this crisi manufacturing because it helps Key get to play the hero and stir up anti-union sentiment, which will aid the passing of upcoming anti-worker legislation.
Crisis created, Jackson/Warners demand more money and a law to block the unionisation of Jackson’s tech staff. The Nats give them everything they want.
They say that there’s only three basic plots in Hollywood movies and this is just a variation on the old Hollywood shakedown that the big producers have run on small, naive communities again and again.
For it to work, Jackson had to lie to us. He had to say that the blacklisting was a threat to the films being made here when it wasn’t. He had to say that the Bryson law created confusion that threatened the production, when all it really did was allow the possibility that some of his techs might unionise and negotiate better pay and conditions.
The Nats had to lie to us too, but they made it look more genuine that Jackson, who looked like a C-grade actor. They lied and claimed that the blacklisting was going to send the production overseas when they knew that Warners just wanted more money and they knew that Jackson just wanted to stop his workers unionising.
Too much has been lost in this sorry mess. Weta’s techs have lost the right to unionise with a law targeted specifically against them, the New Zealand taxpayer has lost $34 million in an old-fashioned shakedown, and Jackson has lost his reputation.
In the New Year, the government will have to answer for its part in all of this.