Editorial: Actors have killed their golden goose

Last updated 05:00 22/10/2010

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OPINION: Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. The full stupidity of the Actors' Equity members who arranged an international boycott of The Hobbit is now apparent.

The films' American financiers are scouting the globe for cheaper locations and Sir Peter Jackson, the man who has almost single-handedly transformed local film-making from a cottage industry to a global force, has taken personal affront at being branded a bad employer internationally. Who knows how committed he now is to making films here?

If Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly and the Actors' Equity spokespeople who occasionally poke their heads above the parapet are to be believed, actors have a legitimate beef with film and television producers. They are denied the standardised contracts that are the norm in other parts of the English-speaking world, stiffed on the "residual" fees that actors elsewhere earn, and have been unable to secure meaningful discussions with the industry despite years of trying.

However, it was lunacy for them to target The Hobbit to press their claims. In case they have not noticed, this is not the only country with hills and atmospheric forests. It is also not the only place in which actors are available for employment.

What makes New Zealand unique in terms of film-making is that it is where Sir Peter lives and where, despite the blandishments of Hollywood, he has chosen to build his empire.

A film set is not like a meatworks or an old-fashioned cotton mill where workers are interchangeable. It is a place where individuals have a chance to make a difference and to be rewarded for their talents.

Members of the Australian-based Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance and its local offshoot, Actors' Equity, who do not back themselves to shine are under no compulsion to offer their services to Sir Peter. If they prefer, they are at liberty to deliver one-person shows in empty provincial theatres. But they should not seek to deny others the opportunity to build film careers or to experience the excitement of working on a project that will be seen around the world. Unfortunately, that is exactly what they are doing, not only by jeopardising the production of The Hobbit, but also the production of other major movies here. If Sir Peter goes, Sir Richard Taylor, Weta Workshop and many skilled staff will surely follow.

For that reason, the Government has no choice but to step in to try to repair the damage done by the actors' union. It is not just the future of The Hobbit that is at stake, but the future of the industry that has grown up around Sir Peter. If that requires the Government to bump up the 15 per cent tax break already available to the producers of The Hobbit, Finance Minister Bill English should get out his chequebook.

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The purity of the tax system be damned. The consequences of losing an industry that has revitalised Wellington do not bear thinking about.

Perhaps the shortfall could be made up by cutting Creative New Zealand's theatrical budget.

- The Dominion Post

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