The Hobbit Will Stay

Hobbit Ad

This is the full page ad that everyone contributed to, which appeared in yesterday’s paper.

It was great seeing the enthusiastic groundswell of support for this project first-hand. I really held out hope that Warner Bros. would have had a bit more heart, and not play the part of the big greedy multinational, but I suppose that was naive. The result is a bit bizarre, and amounts to a single company coming into this country and leveraging to have laws changed in a matter of days, in addition to getting more money directly from the government.

The change to the laws is about clarifying whether individual workers in the film industry are considered employees or independent contractors. Pretty much everyone at Weta and in most of the rest of film industry are independent contractors, but the rules which define that are vague enough that people have sucessfully sued over the distinction. Already being an independent contractor, I’m not sure that this will affect me much.

As for the increased tax incentives, I think the way most people see that is that the country will have a good return on that investment. Everyone’s pretty excited to have The Hobbit here, and are eager to get on with it. Myself included.

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7 Responses to The Hobbit Will Stay

  1. Here is an article that describes the change in legislation. Basically it says that now, by default, everyone in the film industry is an independent contractor unless their contract specifically indicates they’re an employee.

  2. Rolling Red says:

    A solid article thanks. this of course worries me:”The same approach is taken by courts in Australia, the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.” Does anyone find it ironic that PJ has had 1500 of you marching and shouting: “keep Australian unions out of NZ” but he opens the door and rolls the carpet out for an American corporation? They get to dictate the labor laws in NZ, discuss the strength of the national currency (really, that was part of the discussion) and distribute taxpayers money. No one find it strange? Will anyone stand up and ask that question in a meeting that no doubt will be called to “thank you for your support…blah, blah… without you we couldn’t have… blah, blah, blah…”. You’ve all been had royally. Sad thing is that it is a global precedent as the article mentions – we’re next. Thank YOU guys. Enjoy your Hobbit.

  3. Brad Lincoln says:

    Hi Rolling Red, Warners do not dictate our labour laws. Attention was drawn to a particular part of the law that was very ambiguous and vague, this was clarified. It’s essentially calling a spade a spade and making that legal. If I’m an independent contractor, I’ll stay that way, if I’m an employee, I’ll stay that way. If I fall in the middle…then it may have some effect but at least there will be a definitive answer to that without legal proceedings.

    If a majority, or the representatives of that majority, want to value a film and its impact on the economy – higher than the principle of not “bowing to a multinational corporation” (as you suggest is this case), I would call this a very democratic act indeed. Also it’s not entirely true that they are distributing tax payer money at the end of the day. The money coming into the country will be far more than the tax rebated. When you also take into account the spin off deals with the premiere and tourism packages, we came out of this pretty well considering the circumstances.

    Another thing to consider is that there have been several films waiting in the wings to see how this pans out, apparently the Avatar sequels were among them but that’s speculation. Thanks to Warners and our government sorting things out they will now go ahead in our country, jobs will be created and our film industry will grow.

  4. We will, thanks. The raised tax incentives bring New Zealand a little bit closer to Canada’s 33%, so what exactly would have been the victory if the film was shot there? Or in the UK, where most vfx people don’t get paid overtime? Or Eastern Europe where extras would be treated way below SAG standards? I don’t think it’s good that a company can influence government policy, but it happens every day in the US, and ironically Warner Bros wasn’t even considering shooting there. Every other country that was in the running was prepared to bend over backward to get the project, so I’m not sure what would have made the rest of the world happy. But everyone here is happy that the project is staying where most people agree it belongs. And I’m happy to be here, because I enjoy my job and standard of living. So I’m not sure what solution you’re proposing.

    And even though PJ had nothing to do with the marches, I don’t find it ironic, because the MEAA wasn’t bringing US$500 million to the economy, and in fact most people think they were doing a good job of making sure it didn’t come here.

  5. Rolling Red says:

    Despite the fact that I am in Canada which offers very generous tax incentives which have given me work, unlike you, I am able to make the following distinction: that which is personally desirable also happens to have disastrous consequences for the film production industry as a whole, namely the dangerous game of government subsidies which encourage bidding wars and the race to the bottom. The only direct beneficiaries are Hollywood studios. You must believe in trickle down economics to think that there will be significant benefit to you, your coworkers and friends. Yes, you’ll keep your jobs. But you must values yourselves very little if that is what your eyes are set on. As a contractor you won’t be able to sue the employer for wrongful termination as has happened in the past, see here . Independent contractor status for vfx artists especially is a scam and is similarly exploited in many countries. It plagues our industry. To quote a TAG blog post The Subcontracting Scam : “Companies that pass off employees as independent contractors avoid paying Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance taxes for those workers. ” You are not and would never have been classified as a contractor (as never was I), irregardless of what it says in your contract. According to the NZ Department of Labor these are the requierments in order to meet this classification, for brevity’s sake I’ll list the most obvious ones: 2. the contractor controls how and when the job is done – false. 3. payment is made in a lump sum at the end of a job, or in installments as progress is made on the job- false. 4. the contractor can choose who does the job and can hire other people without approval from the other party-false. 7. the contractor supplies equipment and materials-false. 8. the contractor is free to accept similar work from a number of sources at the same time-false. NZ dept. of Labor The new law will sanction the de facto practices for the film industry where they would be open to be challenged in court in any other sector.
    (Btw, did you know that video and games production was sneaked in under the same labor law provision? What does that have to do with the Hobbit – nothing of course. It is exploitative just as the core intention of the law in the first place.)

    On LOTR , “Barrie M. Osborne, the US producer of The Lord of the Rings, also told the Wellington press conference that local labour laws should be more “flexible” so that film producers could instantly fire employees they were not satisfied with. New Zealand employment laws, he complained, did not sufficiently define the difference between independent contractors and employed staff. Film producers, Osborne said, need to be able to terminate contractors who weren’t “working out” with minimum notice. This was “difficult” if they were regarded as employees.” – but those cannot remember the past are bound to repeat it.

    PJ did not have anything to do with the marches, Richard Taylor did, big deal (read no difference). How you sum up your response tells me exactly what your values are. MEAA and AE trying to advocate directly on behalf of 200 artists and not in any kind of “trickle way” neoliberally constructed machination means nothing to you, but a corporation spending 500$ million to easily double their investment is somehow considered to be the great benefactor despite keeping the PM and the entire country hostage to their bottom line.

    As for my “solution”, I and another noble soul I work with resolved ourselves in favor of boycotting the Hobbit had it come our way. We would refuse to work on it in solidarity with the Kiwi film artists. Multiply it by N across countries. Unthinkable? Sure, because to end with another adage: we are limited only by our imagination. The more people are driven by the narrow self interested predominant modus operandi you present – the further away we are from any real change.

    Happy Contracting!

  6. I had read that employee checklist and I do agree it’s a stretch of the imagination to be called a contractor. Taxes and benefits here aren’t the same as in the states, so I don’t know what the advantage is for companies to have independent contractors, but I’m sure there is one. I think I personally prefer being an employee because I feel more respected by the employer, not even in the sense of job security but just in principle. Here it seems a lot of people prefer being independent contractors though, because of the pay, tax benefits, and relative independence. But I don’t have strong enough opinions to suggest everyone be one or the other; I don’t feel taken advantage of, and I’m happy with what I’m doing and where I’m living.

    That is certainly a leverage that Warner Bros has over me, because I do want to work on The Hobbit, and I do want to live in New Zealand. And that is a bit selfish, but it’s a personal choice and of personal importance to me, and it supports myself and my family. People have said the actors were selfish for not considering the rest of the film industry when they blacklisted the film. Warners is certainly selfish for trying to get the most return on their dollar, but they’re also beholden to their investors, who I’m sure are also selfish. Boycotting, as you suggested, is honorable, but unfortunately another symptom of globalization is a surplus of talent. Warners already showed that the boycott wouldn’t stop the movie, and there’s plenty of other facilities around the world that would happily take the work. Global organization seems like the only way to circumvent that, but I guess maybe there’s still too many happy people in the industry for that to get off the ground. It’s hard to make the case to people (who like what they do and who have been waiting for this project) that refusing the work is going to make them better off.

    The fact that Warner Bros can influence law in a foreign country so quickly is unsettling. I don’t see them as the hero for bringing the money and the project, but I do think the industry and the country will benefit from it overall. I don’t see unions as the villains, either, but do think MEAA acted irresponsibly. It seems that the view from overseas is that everyone is simply anti-union down here, and while there is some of that sentiment, I don’t think that generalization has ever been the argument for why this happened. Unions can be good, they can also be corrupt, just like any other human organization, like a company or a government. I think people have made a good argument for the MEAA being misleading and hostile, or at best negligent and ignorant. I don’t want that to be the precedent for unions any more than I want Warners the be the precedent for studios. It was a bad situation all around.

  7. Brad Lincoln says:

    Rolling Red, I think you’ll find that you’d be alone in refusing to work on the hobbit, I think any NZ artists who is able will jump at the chance (Including NZ Equity members)

    I find it interesting that you have no trouble taking a stand on a hypothetical situation and yet when faced with the real thing you’re quite happy to stay employed and take advantage of Canada’s tax incentives.

    It must be nice sitting up there in your tower passing judgement on people fighting for their industry and their livelihoods. You’re obviously not a stupid person but I find your self righteous condemnation somewhat uninformed and extremely arrogant.

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