Kiwi actors suffer after Hobbit dispute - union

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 the 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".

STARS TO LIGHT UP WELLYWOOD'S BIG NIGHT

THE stars of The Hobbit will stroll down a new 500-metre-long red carpet at the film's premiere, although Gandalf will be missing.

Martin Freeman, who plays Bilbo Baggins, and Richard Armitage, who stars as dwarf warrior Thorin Oakenshield, will accompany Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving, and film-makers Sir Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens when The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has its global premiere in Wellington on November 28.

But Sir Ian McKellen, who plays the wizard Gandalf the Grey, said in a statement put out by Warner Bros that he could not be there, and would envy those who could.

"I know they will have a wonderful welcome from the fans and I envy them. As ever, my heart is in Wellington, and I send my love."

Also attending the premiere will be dwarfs Jed Brophy, Adam Brown, John Callen, Mark Hadlow, Peter Hambleton, William Kircher, Graham McTavish, James Nesbitt, Dean O'Gorman and Aidan Turner; as well as Barry Humphries, who plays the Goblin King; and Sylvester McCoy, who appears as the new Wizard Radagast the Brown. Entertainment on premiere day will begin at 3pm and the film-makers and stars will begin to arrive at 4.30pm.

The 500-metre carpet will stretch from Taranaki St, along Courtenay Place to the Embassy Theatre for the premiere.

The carpet has been bought by Warner Bros and Wellington City Council, to be used for the three Hobbit movies and other events.

It weighs 3.6 tonnes, and has a surface area of more than 1900 square metres.

Carpet layer John Atkinson said he could not reveal how much it cost, other than "it would buy you a few oysters on a Friday night".

Mr Atkinson will head a small team who will work through next Tuesday night to lay the carpet. "I'll be on my hands and knees in Courtenay Place at 2am in the morning, and I'll be sober!"

He previously laid the red carpet for films including the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Lovely Bones. "The best thing about it is meeting up with the people that you've worked with before."

It would take stars such as Blanchett - who will be reprising her role as elf queen Galadriel - less than 10 minutes to walk the red carpet, even in high heels, he said. "There's no obstructions like traffic lights or anything."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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