Up to 700 people who were working on a Hollywood blockbuster to be filmed in New Zealand are out of work as everyone from A-listers to film crew join actors and screenwriters on the picket line.
The US actors strike, which started last week, is running alongside the writer’s strike which started in May, and has had ripple effects on Kiwis in the industry locally and internationally, and will ultimately have economic and tourism effects.
Some productions are on hold and some new movies and shows cannot be publicised with big questions hanging over the future of entertainment, from how content is delivered to the masses to whether or not people we see on screen are real or artificially created.
The plans of superstar Jason Momoa, who was due back here to film Minecraft next month, and up to 700 cast and crew are in flux, the Herald on Sunday has learned.
And big stars like Karl Urban and Martin Henderson are just some of the Kiwi actors whose work has been affected, joining big Hollywood names such as Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep. Stateside, Kiwi actors have hit the picket lines in solidarity including Rhys Darby, Craig Parker and Stefania LaVie Owen.
The promotion of Kiwi shows stateside has been affected after ongoing labour disputes between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA), and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (Sag-Aftra).
Season 2 of Kiwi post-apocalyptic dramedy Creamerie, starring JJ Fong and Kimberley Crossman, dropped on Hulu globally and on TVNZ+ last week but is not being promoted in the US as the WGA prevents it, director Roseanne Lang told the Herald on Sunday.
“This hurts because I’m really proud of Creamerie - but I also know that I’m not the only one in this position. There are so many in our industry wrestling with this conundrum, and we are all adrift in a big spiral of mixed feelings, which goes a bit like: ‘We’re proud of the work we made, but we can’t express our pride via the usual amplifiers, because we care about the bigger picture.”
Liang - who has been announced to direct major Hollywood action/thriller Maude v Maude, starring Angelina Jolie and Halle Berry - said she knows of struggling film crew now left without work.
“On a national level, the international screen industry has contributed hugely to Aotearoa’s economy and tourism, and the armies of Kiwis who work here on these overseas shows are all feeling the pinch, and worried about the future. I’ve spoken to many local colleagues who thought they had work going into next year, but those streams of revenue have disappeared because of the strike. Desperation feels like it’s just around the corner, and it comes with the dread of familiarity because we’ve been here before as an industry.”
Annie Murray, chief executive of the New Zealand Film Commission, told the Herald on Sunday the commission understands Minecraft - which had been in pre-production in Auckland for months - is in a holding pattern.
“We are looking forward to pre-production recommencing when SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP have reached an agreement.”
She added that the commission recognises that strike action will have an impact on the local industry.
Urban flew home this week in support of SAG-AFTRA. He is to star in Warner Bros’ Mortal Kombat 2, which stopped shooting in Australia this week.
“I hope and pray that the issues can be resolved expeditiously, not only for actors but also for the writers & all households affected by this unfortunate situation,” he said on Instagram.
In May, Henderson hit the picket lines outside Netflix to support his writer friends. Season five of his hit Netflix show, Virgin River, wrapped filming last year and was reportedly due to premiere in September. although it’s thought the cast will not be able to promote the season if the strike lasts. Filming for season six is expected to be heavily impacted.
The casts of Hollywood blockbusters Barbie and Oppenheimer stopped the promotion of their movies in the middle of their global press junket. Oppenheimer stars walked out of their London premiere last week.
Other movies affected include Dead Pool 3 starring Ryan Reynolds, Tom Cruise’s next instalment of Mission Impossible, Winona Ryder’s Beetlejuice 2, Tom Hardy’s Venom 3 and Brad Pitt’s Formula 1 movie.
New York Times entertainment reporter Brooks Barnes told the Herald’s Front Page podcast this week members wanted more royalties for their shows on streaming services as well as assurances that studios could not take their likeness or alter their image without approval or compensation.
It’s reminiscent of an episode of the recently-released Black Mirror where Salma Hayek’s likeness was used for a series on the fictional streaming service, Streamberry.
Equity New Zealand - the union which represents performers who work in New Zealand’s entertainment industries - says it stands in solidarity with its sister union SAG-AFTRA. Kiwi members working on productions by the studios and streaming companies involved in the American negotiations that are filming here will be called on to refuse to work.
Local independent productions in New Zealand are not affected - Equity NZ members are not part of the strike.
But some Kiwis are members of both unions and have chosen not to promote their local productions.
Carmel Sepuloni, Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage told the Herald on Sunday she wanted to reassure the sector that the Government is committed to supporting New Zealand’s innovative and world-leading screen sector.
“I acknowledge that the Hollywood strikes will be contributing to the sense of uncertainty many in the screen sector have been experiencing, and appreciate that our local guilds have expressed solidarity with their US counterparts.”
She said the final details for the Screen Production Rebate, flagged in May after a Government review, will be announced by the end of this month.
It offers a 20 percent rebate to international productions and 40 percent to New Zealand-made films.
“The changes will support more high-quality, locally focused shows that can keep our domestic industry humming, and ensure New Zealand continues to attract large Hollywood projects that bring big benefits to our screen sector and wider economy,” Sepuloni said.
The changes include expanding the criteria to include all domestic productions.
Sioux Macdonald, managing director at Film Crew Services Ltd, which has on its books freelance film crew that make up a big production, including camera crew, wardrobe, makeup, catering and lighting, said some of her clients had been working on Minecraft but that technicians were a sturdy and transient bunch.
The production of Momoa’s Chief of War was plagued by delays such as a cyclone and endless bad weather, however even with so many adverse conditions, the show must go on.
Macdonald sent out a “glass half full” email to film crew workers this week with helpful advice on surviving the slow times.
“The only drama we ever wish to see is that which plays out in front of the camera,” Macdonald said.
The North Island has had a good run recently on international productions and the South Island had a good run over the past few years.
Roseanne Liang said the average New Zealander might be tempted to wave away what is happening with the glitterati “over there in Hollywood”, but the strike is a microcosm of what is happening with labour all around the world, including in Aotearoa.
“As a New Zealand screenwriter working in Hollywood, I know that the strike only works if we stand in solidarity and hold the line together. I 100 per cent support the strike.
“Anyone who thinks the making of films and TV is soft and glamorous, simply doesn’t understand the labour it entails - the long hours, the mental and physical intensity, the conditions we work in.
“You’ll hear a lot of people talking about how bad the strike is, and I think it’s important to remember that the strike action itself isn’t the bad thing. The bad thing is the system of already obscene inequity. The strike is a necessary counter - the only effective and timely countermeasure available - to stop that obscene gap growing and becoming enshrined as ‘the way things are’.”
Liang said the studios were necessary in a symbiotic relationship with screen professionals.
“Creators and actors can’t get paid or seen without the studios delivering and selling their work to audiences, but the studios don’t exist without the work that creators and actors make. When studios deny professionals the very livelihood that defines the word ‘profession’, that symbiosis dies.
“It’s frustrating that a strike has become the only recourse to incentivise the powers that be, to negotiate as humans. No one takes this strike lightly. No one wants to not work.”