Union: NZ actors suffer after dispute

TOM HUNT AND PAUL EASTON
Last updated 05:00 20/11/2012

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Since the infamous actors' dispute over terms and conditions on The Hobbit, some Kiwi actors have had to endure on-set conditions that include sharing coloured prop contact lenses, their union says.

Phil Darkins, of Actors' Equity, told a conference in Wellington yesterday he had also heard of actors being verbally abused, denied shelter, and not being offered blankets or warm drinks after long shoots in the water.

Those who spoke out would not get further work, he said.

"To go public is essentially falling on your sword and saying your career is over."

Two years ago, Actors' Equity had already spent 18 months trying to talk to the Screen Production and Development Association about getting binding terms and conditions for New Zealand actors - a move that would bring New Zealand in line with the rest of the English-speaking world.

New Zealand had guidelines only - and still did - and these were sometimes ignored, he said.

The dispute in 2010, in which unions called for actors not to sign up with The Hobbit until the row was sorted out, led to studios New Line, Warner Bros Pictures and MGM Pictures, as well as Hobbit director Sir Peter Jackson, saying this could force the production overseas.

The Government cut a deal, changing employment law - essentially making film workers contractors rather than employees - and giving Warner an increased tax concession to secure the films.

But documents provided to The Dominion Post under the Official Information Act later that year showed Jackson had emailed Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee's office saying: "There is no connection between the blacklist [and its eventual retraction], and the choice of production base for The Hobbit."

Mr Darkins said yesterday the "Hobbit dispute" was never an attack on The Hobbit.

But when the International Federation of Actors agreed to ask its worldwide members not to sign on to The Hobbit until binding terms and conditions were enshrined in New Zealand, it gave clout to the small New Zealand union, which decided to take action.

The fact that actors around the world had been asked not to sign on meant the production could never have been taken overseas, he said.

Mr Darkins - speaking at a Victoria University conference on work matters - also said the days of big-budget international film shoots in New Zealand were numbered.

When the "fad" of the fantasy film genre ended, most of the work would be in post-production, he said.

TOLKEIN'S GRANDSON DISCUSSES FAME'S DOWNSIDES

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The grandson of JRR Tolkien has revealed how Sir Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies tore his family apart and provoked a feud with his father.

Simon Tolkien, 53, told Britain's Daily Telegraph that the immense popularity of the film adaptations was akin to being "hit by a juggernaut".

The former barrister, now himself a successful novelist, said he began to lose sight of his identity and became "suffocated" by being known as JRR Tolkien's grandson.

The problems also sparked an "incredibly, dreadfully painful" feud with his father, Christopher, with the falling out becoming so bad that the pair did not speak for a while.

Christopher Tolkien, now 87, did not attend the premiere of the first Lord of the Rings movie, saying the Tolkien estate was better off avoiding any specific association with the trilogy.

Earlier this year, he told French newspaper Le Monde: "They gutted the book, making an action film for 15 to 25-year-olds."

Simon Tolkien said the pair had since "sorted out all our differences".

The arrival of a Tolkien blockbuster no longer filled him with trepidation and The Hobbit wouldn't mean another "sideswipe from the juggernaut".

- © Fairfax NZ News

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