NZ actors 'feeling misrepresented' by union

By Hayden Donnell

 The Hobbit  dispute could mean other big budget films such  The Lord of the Rings   trilogy are no longer made in NZ, says a NZ actor and filmmaker.
The Hobbit dispute could mean other big budget films such The Lord of the Rings trilogy are no longer made in NZ, says a NZ actor and filmmaker.

Film workers are voicing fears for their future amid last ditch efforts to keep The Hobbit in New Zealand.

Actor and filmmaker Luke Hawker says an industrial dispute that threatens to derail the production could hobble the entire New Zealand film industry.

"If Peter Jackson can't get films done then what hope do I have?," Mr Hawker said.

"The thing about New Zealand is we are such a small industry that we do a lot of things that aren't standard. We work together to make films. That's how we survive.

"A lot of actors are feeling misrepresented by a union that is putting our industry in jeopardy."

NZ Actors' Equity, with the support of Australia's Media Entertainment Arts Alliance, advised its members not to accept work on The Hobbit until filmmakers entered into union-negotiated agreements with New Zealand actors.

Mr Hawker has worked on big budget films such as Lord of the Rings and Avatar and made his own independent films.

Different pay rates for different levels of production is just part of being in the film industry, he says.

"There are a lot of insecurities to deal with as an actor. There is feast or famine.

"If you want a job that's secure, become an accountant, become a lawyer. I didn't get into films to make money. I got into it because I wanted to make movies. I started on $12 an hour. If you come into this business to make money you're in the wrong business."

NZ Actors' Equity Union demands to standardise pay rates could cripple dozens of New Zealand films, he says.

"I made a low budget film and I couldn't pay anyone. If that was a unionised production I couldn't have made it."

Electronics Model Maker Martin Jago was at an emotional meeting that ended with film technicians picketing outside a planned NZ Actors' Equity meeting.

Some of the businesses he works with will have to close down if The Hobbitis shifted offshore, he says.

But he is convinced the damage done to the reputation of the New Zealand film industry is the greater concern.

"It's not just about The Hobbit. It's about the next five to 10 years. How are we going to attract another large budget film to New Zealand? If you have $500 million to invest, why would you take it somewhere unstable? The long range repercussions are quiet vast.

"People here love their jobs. They're working for a lot less than they would get elsewhere. They're going to have to look at either changing industry or try to get work in another country."

He emigrated from England to make films in New Zealand.

That decision would not have come easily after the events of this week, he says.

"I came to New Zealand to be part of the film industry. New Zealand would not have been as attractive a place for me to come to as of yesterday."

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