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Jackson threatens capital flight

Written By: - Date published: 12:26 pm, September 29th, 2010 - 33 comments
Categories: capitalism, wages - Tags: ,

I’ve had an illusion shattered this week. I always thought of Peter Jackson as an ordinary guy made good who hadn’t let success make him an elitist prick. It looks like I was wrong.

New Zealand taxpayers contributed hundreds of millions to his Lord of the Rings trilogy and what thanks do we get? The threat of capital flight if wage costs don’t stay down.

Jackson says that, if the alliance of actors’ unions insist on better wages for The Hobbit, he will take the production out of New Zealand to Eastern Europe.

Funny that a couple of days ago he was framing this as a nationalistic issue of a Australian ‘bully boy’ jealous of our film industry. Now, Jackson’s threatening to pull the cord on that industry if he doesn’t get his way.

It shows that, in reality, this has always been about cutting costs. Jackson doesn’t want to pay actors their fair share so he can pocket more in his cut of the profits.

Ultimately, the threat to go to Eastern Europe strikes me as hollow. Are Eastern European actors really un-unionised? And wouldn’t the international blacklisting of The Hobbit by the major stars apply there as well as here? I reckon the threat is really meant to scare us and the government.

It seems to me this is more of the same stand-over tactics that we get from all shades of capitalists: just replace The Hobbit with, say, Tiwai Point and cheap actors with cheap power.

Don’t be surprised if we see Jackson with his hand out wanting taxpayers to help ‘keep The Hobbit Kiwi’ in coming days.

33 comments on “Jackson threatens capital flight”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    National radio interviewed some guy from Hollywood, not exactly sure what role he had but seemed to be in the know for these sorts of things.

    He said that the threat is most likely just a ploy, because Jackson isn’t just up against the NZ (non) union, but also SAG and the other international unions that are backing the NZ union. If SAG and the other unions instruct their members not to join the Hobbit, that means you don’t get your big-name stars like Hugo Weaving and Ian Mackellen. If you have every acting union on the planet saying they won’t work on your film, you have to hire non-actors to act in your movie, which obviously will never happen on a big blockbuster like this.

    The Hobbit will be cancelled if the current union problem can’t be sorted, not moved to EE. Given how much money LotR made and how much the Hobbit is likely to bring in, I suspect that they will bend to the unions will, eventually.

  2. Joe Bloggs 2

    Answer me these two questions:

    How many jobs has Peter Jackson created in New Zealand during his lifetime?
    What’s the size of the industry that the MEAA endangers in New Zealand through their actions?

    • Maynard J 2.1

      “How many jobs has Peter Jackson created in New Zealand during his lifetime?”

      How many has the government enabled through its wholehearted support of the NZ film industry – i.e. how many would have existed without the government’s actinos?

      “What’s the size of the industry that the MEAA endangers in New Zealand through their actions?”

      The industry that is trying to get decent wages you mean?

      Ask for a decent living and have some two-bit RWNJ infer you’re threatening an industry. You are a contemptible lot.

      • Joe Bloggs 2.1.1

        answering questions with questions? – my 8 year old would run rings around you maynard

        Bad Taste, Meet The Feebles, Braindead, Heavenly Creatures, Forgotten Silver, The Frighteners … all Jackson movies produced in NZ before the government stepped in with its ‘wholehearted support’

        As for the MEAA – meh! This is a premeditated, cynical exploitation of NZS workers by a bunch of Australians shoring up their power at the expense of the industry.

        Seeing the two-bit LWNJs clearly have no idea of the value of the industry to NZ, here’s what the MEAA are putting at risk.

        A PricewaterhouseCoopers study into the contribution of the film and television industry to the New Zealand economy in 2008 found it:
        – Added $2.54 billion.
        – Created 22,000 fulltime equivalent positions.
        – Created $6.1b in total gross output.
        – Generated $1.2b in labour income.
        – Created average salaries of $63,000, or $91,000 in the production and post-production areas. The national average salary in 2008 was $39,000.

  3. You know, I don’t think it’s that simple. The MEAA is controversial in its own industry — it’s being blamed, rightly or wrongly, for driving international production away from Australia, and the way it bullied a Creative Commons film project against the wishes of its own cast was extremely unpleasant.

    Producers in our screen industry who work happily enough with other guilds and unions really dislike the MEAA, and the late Robert Bruce, who worked for years with Equity to improve actors’ pay and conditions, was strongly against it.

    The conduct of the local union, now a subsidiary of the MEAA, in allowing itself to be struck off as a legal entity is also unfathomable. At best, it’s wildly negligent.

    And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to question the motives of the Screen Actors Guild, given that it says “one of the Guild’s highest national priorities” is stopping US-financed films being made in places like New Zealand.

    Frankly, I don’t think anything any party to this dispute says can safely be taken at face value.

  4. prism 4

    RB – Terrific to read a cautionary view about the union and the hobbits. Jackson’s looks make one think of a cuddly, woolly teddy bear but he must have bolts of steel to achieve what he did, so easily overviewed by us sitting tapping keys. That said, can pay and conditions be improved or is it always goimg to be the film makers being the simple hobbits to the lords of production, direction and finance?

  5. Salsy 5

    Finally at last – some research and a far more balanced discussion on this issue. Thanks Gordon Campbell.

    • prism 5.1

      Wow thanks salsy for pointing us to the link – Gordon Campbell has got his head around all the facets of a complicated story it seems. I noticed an anecdote about James Cameron who has been one of the many with an oar in to this project.
      A bit of light relief –
      The same battle was famously played out on the set of Aliens, when director James Cameron ran head-on into the work habits of the British unions at Pinewood – and discovered to his horror that everyone on set would down tools the moment that the lady with the tea trolley appeared in the afternoon.

    • BLiP 5.2

      From Salsy’s link:

      So, while the unions would cop the blame if the production did up sticks and move to eastern Europe, a more deserving target would be a Key government religiously opposed to the level of tax concessions for film now available elsewhere in the sinful world. If The Hobbit goes elsewhere and since it is a two film project, pressure would certainly come on the Key government to raise the LBSPGS to 20%, to try and re-capture at least some of the shoot – much as the Czechs have scored some of the Mission Impossible 4 shoot now taking place in Prague, while the rest of it is being shot in Vancouver, to leverage the incentives on offer there. Film productions are mobile these days. They tend to follow the money.

  6. BLiP 6

    I’m resisting the urge to lash out at Peter – he’s an artist and his passion is his current project. I suspect, without evidence, I admit, that he is feeling frustrated that his project is being hampered by what probably seems to him as a lack of willing commitment from his fellow Kiwis. Its not so long ago he and his merry band of oddball characters were striding the rain-soaked, muddy hills of Makara with borrowed and bodgey gear working weekends and days off for free to realise their dream. Peter is a film director, not a mercantile money changer. I’m sure he’ll come round.

    • Carol 6.1

      Since the filming of LOTR, Jackson has seemed to me to be both an artist and a pretty savvy businessman, as well as being very good at self-promotion. I doubt that he would have got US corporates to agree to filming his projects, and to film them in NZ without that business-savvy.

      Since then I’ve had mixed feelings about Jackson. He has been very successful in providing work for Kiwis, as well as international visibility for the workers & the country. But how much has this detracted from the NZ industry? I suspect the answer to this would also be a mixed one of pros & cons.

      I’ve never entirely believed Jackson’s persona (helped along with his own PR) as an ordinary down-to-earth Kiwi bloke. His international projects seem to point in another direction. His LOTR looks to me like a re-working of a Brit colonialist text, within US neo-colonial parameters.

      If Jackson is such a big promoter of NZ work, why hasn’t he put more effort into producing films with a more explicit NZ content since LOTR, now that he has the money and clout to do that?

      • Clint Heine 6.1.1

        Jackson has already cut his cloth some some great Kiwi films that are cemented into Kiwi film legacy. He is also working on many projects at the same time.

        I won’t mind if he brings The Hobbit over here, we quite like watching films and I’d even volunteer to be a runner or something.

  7. ron 7

    The thing with many directors like Jackson is they ,made their name making short, no budget films with people working for pretty much nothing. New Zealand abounds with stories of actors who have worked for nought on early projects for various directors. What happens, of course, (because film is essentially an industrial process) is the behind camera people = DP, Ad and many of the crew end up working on future projects for that director – reaping the benefits of their early freebies and the current success.
    Actors on the other hand are an expendable product in film, often the smallest part of the budget and certainly struggling to parlay that early work into a career in the way the director does.
    That’s the culture

  8. burt 8

    Don’t be surprised if we see Jackson with his hand out wanting taxpayers to help ‘keep The Hobbit Kiwi’ in coming days.

    Why wouldn’t he want the same special treatment the Labour govt gave him with LOTR?

    But let me guess, giving him special tax treatment was different when Labour were doing it…..

    • Colonial Viper 8.1

      Perhaps Jackson getting special tax treatment was different not because Labour was doing it, but because at the time people thought he was a fair boss willing to employ and go to bat for ordinary NZ workers in an up and coming industry.

      Looks now like Jackson can’t even be assed to employ (as in use an employment contract) NZ workers.

      • burt 8.1.1

        Right, so it’s OK to give tax payers money creating special privilege to union supporting bosses but if they don’t play the game according to the unions then it’s wrong to give them special privilege.

        Just stop being an apologist for self serving govt and come clean about this. The ticket clipping unions have really shown their true colours on this one – It’s OK to give business tax payers money when unions benefit.

        I do understand that a reduction in union member numbers reduces the amount of donations the unions can make to Labour and that reduces the influence unions have in shaping employment law in their own best interests. However I don’t think that justifies letting the ticket clippers set the rules and dictate when it is OK to give tax payers money to private business.

        • IrishBill 8.1.1.1

          Right, so it’s OK to give tax payers money creating special privilege to union supporting bosses but if they don’t play the game according to the unions then it’s wrong to give them special privilege.

          Nope. But it is okay to use taxpayers funds to kickstart industries if it creates decent sustainable jobs. Personally I’m not sure if film is one of those industries, although the numbers might stack up if flow on benefits such as increased tourism jobs are taken into account.

          The rest of your comment is ridiculous conspiracy theory.

  9. Bed Rater 9

    “I’m resisting the urge to lash out at Peter”

    Yes, can you imagine the headlines; “Blip Slams Sir Peter Jackson, Hurts Feelings”

  10. the sprout 10

    Jackson is a prick.
    Good on the NZ actors standing up for their rights. It’s not like they’re making outrageous demands FFS, they just want a fair deal, to be treated and paid the same as others doing the same work.

  11. felix 11

    Meh. He might be a technically clever filmmaker but it’s not exactly high art, is it?

    Boring, overblown, pompous, hollywood blockbuster slop, that’s all he’s made for years. Predictable and safe. Glitzy and vacuous. Money in the bank. Big whoop. Why is everyone so fucking proud of it?

    p.s. Tolkien’s books are rubbish too. Just saying.

    • LOL. I had to read them for my English literature test in Holland way back and never good get past the first book and I had the same with the films.

  12. the sprout 12

    agreed, technically clever but artistically pedestrian.
    like the filmic equivalent of Phil Collins

    • felix 12.1

      Ha, I was trying to think of a musical equivalent too; that one’s perfect.

    • Supermaorifella 12.3

      “like the filmic equivalent of Phil Collins” – nice, love it!

      • luva 12.3.1

        fucking amazing how nasty you lefties can get.

        The nasty side of politics clearly on display here in your desciption of a kiwi hero

        • felix 12.3.1.1

          Fuck off luva, you’re proud of him ‘cos he’s made a lot of dosh.

          I don’t factor that into my critique, sorry.

          p.s. You remind me of the titles of all 3 of my favourite Jackson films. And no, you’re not a Heavenly Creature.

        • Supermaorifella 12.3.1.2

          I’m not a leftie mate, more of a centrist, but credit where credit’s due, that was a nice line by The Sprout!

        • lprent 12.3.1.3

          1. You obviously lack a sense of humour.
          2. You haven’t established why PJ is a hero.
          3. Your contribution to the debate consists of a single nasty comment.
          4. Having observed smf’s (who you were responding to) comments for a while, I’d put him as bouncing around the centre.

          Personally I’d class you as a bad critic; good at making snide remarks and useless at being creative or contributing. Plus of course being unobservant.

  13. bobo 13

    “In the massive Mt. Doom battle scene at the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring, a DVD pause reveals at least half a dozen of the 50,000 Orc Warrior extras are wearing modern tennis shoes.”

    Even the orcs must have had a better union contract deal with Peter than kiwi actors..

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