Peter Jackson rebuffs union

Last updated 15:12 01/10/2010

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Sir Peter Jackson will not meet the New Zealand Actors Equity union to resolve a dispute over employment terms for actors in his adaptation of the J.R Tolkien book The Hobbit, a spokesman at his Wingnut Films company says.

"The simple fact is we can't," Matthew Dravitzki told NZPA. "The equity want to meet with Peter and Peter is one producer in a country of many producers and anything we agree to do in that meeting, would have an effect on everyone else working in this industry. And not everyone is working on a multi-million dollar production."

Mr Dravitzki said the union wanted to set a precedent with The Hobbit that would affect everyone else in the industry, "and that can't happen".

The union should instead discuss its concerns with the local producers' body, the Screen and Development Association (Spada).

NZ Actors Equity has joined forces with the Australian-based Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, which is calling for actors worldwide to boycott the production as producers refuse to enter into a union-negotiated agreement.

Sir Peter has said his rates exceed the minimum set by the Screen Actor's Guild of America.

At an Actors' Equity meeting with its members in Wellington yesterday, the majority voted to meet Sir Peter to resolve the standoff -- a call that was soundly rejected today.

"They're using The Hobbit as a means of getting this discussion happening, but that can't be the way forward... We can't help but feel we're being targeted because we're high profile."

Mr Dravitzki said Wingnut representatives wanted to explain their position at last night's meeting, but were turned down.

Sir Peter has blasted the union for damaging the New Zealand film industry, warning that studio backers Warner Brothers were considering taking the movie offshore, possibly to Eastern Europe. He also said that the demands for collective bargaining by actors were illegal in New Zealand - a view backed by the Government which sought advice from Crown Law.

But president of the NZ Actors' Equity, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, said today there was no desire to jeopardise the production or see it move offshore.

Its wishes were "miniscule" and "entirely reasonable".

"Our members are simply seeking fair and equitable employment terms for New Zealand actors, in line with the terms and conditions that their colleagues elsewhere in the world enjoy.... Many have no cost implications for the production, and the overall impact of our demands is miniscule for a production of this size."

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She believed a solution could be found if producers would sit down "calmly" with the union and discuss the issues.

Sir Peter has said that a New Zealand actor in a small supporting role could expect to earn about $NZ5000 a week, higher than SAG's published rates of $NZ3800 per week.

Spada spokeswoman Sandy Gildea said the association was willing to meet the union to discuss the issue. Spada has previously said the MEAA has no legal status in New Zealand, and it was not legal for any production company to enter into collective bargaining with performers who are independent contractors.

- NZPA

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