Hobbit actors 'political pawns'

By Frances Morton

Sir Peter Jackson. Photo / Supplied.
Sir Peter Jackson. Photo / Supplied.

Kiwi actors are being used as pawns in a high-stakes game involving Sir Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, in a bid to keep all movie production in the United States.

That's the claim from the Screen Production and Development Association (Spada) which believes the powerful American union, the Screen Actors Guild, is trying to impose their working conditions on New Zealand productions.

Actors Equity is battling Jackson over working agreements. He has threatened to take production offshore if it is not resolved.

Spada chief executive Penelope Borland believed Kiwi actors may not be aware of what political games were behind the issue of stopping "runaway" productions setting up outside the States.

Actors Equity spokeswoman Frances Walsh would not comment yesterday.

Actors Equity, backed by Australia's Media Entertainment Arts Alliance, has instituted a stop work order, with the support of performers' unions from the States, United Kingdom and Canada.

This prevents union members from signing up to work on The Hobbit until the producers negotiate a collective agreement with actors.

Jackson has refused to do so because he says it would be illegal under New Zealand law.

He is also reluctant to set a precedent for the industry by negotiating such an agreement.

Borland says the dispute is throwing future film and television work into doubt.

But film industry veterans are worried about losing work here.

Film technician Daniel Birt, who worked on King Kong, District 9 and Avatar, is nervous that if union rules are introduced, New Zealand will lose its competitive advantage as a film location to countries such as Czech Republic or South Africa which have also developed state-of-the-art facilities.

"If we set up these unions the Americans won't come here," said Birt.

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