The battle to keep The Hobbit
Wed, 28 Nov 2012 6:13p.m.
By Patrick Gower
By Political Editor Patrick Gower
There was a sub-plot to today’s premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – a battle over whether the movie would actually be made in New Zealand.
There were threats of a union boycott and a stand-off with Warner Bros before the the Government stepped in and did a deal.
And this is how the deal went down: A convoy of Crown limousines carted the bosses of Warner Bros up to the Prime Minister's residence. It was all about whether The Hobbit would stay or go.
So John Key did what he does best – a deal. It stayed and today he says, we won.
“Absolutely it was worth it,” says Mr Key. “If we hadn't taken the actions we took, then this would be the worldwide premiere being filmed in London. Three-thousand-odd people wouldn't have had some role, some job, and New Zealand wouldn't be being promoted on the world stage.”
It all started with a threatened boycott by actors on The Hobbit, until they got a unionised collective agreement. It was led by Simon Whipp, national director of the Australian Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, with backing from New Zealand's Council of Trade Unions (CTU).
That union threat was quickly countered by another threat – that Warner Bros would take the $670 million trilogy offshore.
That caused a backlash against the unions and a march on Parliament by Hobbit workers, so by the time Warner Bros arrived at Mr Key's place, they wanted more than a free ride. They wanted more taxpayer cash in subsidies, and they got it – $20 million of new grants and $13.4 million for marketing, all on top of the $60 million they already had locked in: a $93.4 million payday.
“We wouldn't have paid away all the subsidies, but we wouldn't have got all the revenue we earned on the other side,” says Mr Key. “To me [it was] absolutely worth it.”
But what Warner Bros really wanted was a change to New Zealand's labour laws. They'd been spooked by a Lord of the Rings contractor taking them to court, arguing he was an employee.
So the Government gave them that too – a law change meaning movie workers are contractors only.
“The people that clarified the law wanted us to do that so they could keep their job and get other work,” says Mr Key.
So Mr Key rolled out the red carpet for Warner Bros to keep The Hobbit here, and this is the proof. Today it is on Courtenay Pl, but the debate still rages on. Was it about saving the movie as Mr Key says, or was it about selling the law to Hollywood?
“The law change that the Government passed at the ask of an international company removed all of the employment rights of any worker in the film industry – those of the minimum wage, the Holidays Act, the employer levies to ACC,” says Helen Kelly of the CTU. “The right to security against unfair dismissal was completely stripped away for no reason at all.”
Actors and workers don't have the same rights as their overseas colleagues, like The Hobbit stars. But Weta Workshop boss Richard Taylor was straight up, saying Mr Key did what needed to be done.
“[It was] critical, as you saw with the march on Parliament with our desperate need to keep it here,” says Mr Taylor. “This is a New Zealand project and it deserves to be made by New Zealanders. I was very pleased that we managed to keep it here.”
“I guess this country is starting to see the power of Hollywood in this country,” says Ms Kelly. “We've got a Prime Minister who has got a taste for celebrity, and he seems willing to do anything to please those masters.”
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30/11/2012 10:09:31 p.m.
A big thanks to Key and Jackson for making this possible. To all you leftie loosers and whingers - get lost.
30/11/2012 9:02:29 p.m.
I get sick of moaning, the whinging and the negativity from the moronic left here on this forum - they are anti progress, anti business and just plain stupid. We nearly lost thie movie due to the moronic actions ot the Unions and Labour. Go and live in North Korea [a great Socialist success story there]
you moronic socialist and let the rest of us get on with living in a progressive, democratic and free society.
30/11/2012 9:10:19 a.m.
KATUBALDY, it's pointless pointing that out to Chris and his mates on here. They all sound like their master Key, programmed to sound the same, just like a car salesman.
30/11/2012 2:42:53 a.m.
Hey Chris, what really happened was that the Hollywood moguls said that none of the kiwi workers on the film would get the same pay as their international counterparts and Jonkey negotiating stance was, "Righto sorry about that inconvenience could I interest you in another multi-million dollar bonus, which they got. (That was after they'd already been promised a $60M sweetener into the deal). So why would the Unions want to try and stick up for the NZ workers is that your main whinge? Unions aren't becoming increasingly unpopular buddy, they are just more often than not having to stand up for NZ workers against a govt that's been screwing the blue collar vote since they got in. What makes me think that? An over valued currency nailing our exporters,record unemployment numbers, record numbers leaving NZ to find work in OZ no sign of the 177 000 jobs they crapped on about earlier, (not IN NZ anyway)....that the unions fault as well is it? Whatever National bungles blame it on the unions? Yeah right!! Try considering the fact that every benefit and right that NZ workers have was fought for them by the unions and even non-union workers get to enjoy the same rights. Put things in perspective Chris instead of going on another union bashing rant that holds back on what the argument was really about.... otherwise you might as well go looking for real estate in Hobbiton or somewhere else in middle earth cos like your political comments they're both in a fantasy world too.
29/11/2012 11:14:33 p.m.
A battle at a cost to many more NZers who have lost their jobs in the past 4 years. Thanks to this government who has been doing nothing other than blame, blame, blame. Where are the 170,00 jobs you promised Key?
29/11/2012 7:42:49 p.m.
Its is easy to see why the Unions are increasingly unpopular. Their efforts to derail this movie nearly happened and NZ would have lost jobs, GST, tourism and the multiple spin ofs for associated industries that emplu 1000's that happen when we make big movies here. The branding of NZ overseas in immeasurable. Kellys vindictive personal attack on Key says more about her then anything else. The Unions are being shown up for what they are , bully boys, resentful, anti bosses and big business, anti progress, they assume all workers are idiots and they are self serving, redundant, dinosaurs.
29/11/2012 5:17:32 p.m.
Battle is the last word that comes to mind when describing this lottery give-away. "Let's go further than the initial $60M tax break for the Hollywood moguls and feather that nest with another multi-million dollar bonus.
Then all we have to do is insulate the whole deal with a complete stripping away of our fundamental labour laws, keeping it industry specific and we're good?"
The only battle was the race to get in front of the camera and take the credit for these surreal negotiations, and we all know who wins that contest in this govt.....Jonkey, son of Shonkey and brother of Wonkey.....the Dwarves of the Big Deal.
29/11/2012 3:50:23 p.m.
We should be asking people who worked on the film if it was worth it. Not some union fronting overseas interests.People who actually worked on the movie have typically come out in support of. Given human nature, the number for the movie vs against makes Warner/Peter Jackson better than most businesses to work for."Australian Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance" and our CTU played prostitute for them. Thats not in NZ interests and why is NZ unions folding to oversea interests? No doubt they had their hands greased with a few diners and under the table payments.Even without the law change contractors do not get the same protection as employees. All the law change has done is draw the line more heavily and clearly as we already had that line and the union claims are garbage. Under NZ law we have had dozens of cases of contractors take businesses to court, and some they won the case claiming they were employees and due extra gravy, some they didn't. The law change just made the difference clearer to avoid giving lawyers lots of money to tie up our courts for years.The PAYE already collected on wages paid to contractors already exceeds the credits warner getting. ie a win/win for NZ.
29/11/2012 1:38:27 p.m.
I was frankly appalled at the way Peter Jackson treated his workers during the whole debacle. I was flabbergasted that he or John Key or any sensible thinking New Zealander would think it was acceptable for two people working side-by-side, in the same country, doing the same job, for the same company, to be paid different wages merely on the basis of their nationality. That's what happened in this dispute. Warner Bros threw their toys out of the pram because they objected to paying New Zealand actors the same wages as their equivalent American actors, even though both actors were doing exactly the same job. How profit-hungry could Warner Bros possibly be? Helen Kelly's comments aren't nasty. No, no. What's nasty is the superior Rich Man attitude of John Key, Peter Jackson, and Richard Taylor toward their workers.
29/11/2012 1:17:09 a.m.
@CHRIS- What 'nasty' comments did she make? Was she right or wrong?
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