As some of you may know, my day job is in New Zealand's film industry. It is a dynamic and exciting area to be working in, but the events of the past few weeks surrounding The Hobbit have brought the industry as a whole into great peril, and things could not be worse.
However, this in not being seen in the media. All we have been hearing is "actor's conditions" and "Peter Jackson refuses to meet with the union." Until yesterday, we had not heard a whimper of support for the filmmaking genius that brought us LOTR and King Kong. For years we have all presumed that Sir Peter was impervious, a rock that could weather any storm and bring us all through it with him intact. The selfish and destructive actions of the Australian MEAA have proven otherwise.
Last night I joined a thousand other technicians marching through the streets of Wellington in an unscheduled demonstration in support of Peter Jackson, and in support of our local industry. It was well past time that the people who have been so supported by Peter and his tireless work in this country over the last 25 years stood up and showed him that we value and respect him. We owe him a great deal, and we will not stand silent while he fights the fight of his life. He has fought for us. We will fight for him.
These are the basic dynamics of this conflict:
- The Australian Union (the MEAA) is threatened by the dynamic and creative independent NZ film industry that is flourishing on its doorstep, taking projects and doing them better than they could.
- The MEAA has manipulated Actors' Equity into industrial action against The Hobbit specifically because of the massive impact it will have on our small industry.
- Even if The Hobbit is not shot in Australia, but in Ireland or Prague or wherever, losing it will have disastrous effects on the New Zealand film industry.
From the cynical point of view of a film technician seeing his industry being ripped out from under him, it seems pretty clear that whatever machinations are at work here at higher levels, whoever is being played by who, the outcome of all of this will not be better working conditions for actors, as the smoke and mirrors are leading us to believe.
It will be no work for actors, fullstop. Or for technicians for that matter, or the myriad of support services that prop up the industry, or the hundreds of suppliers downstream who prosper on the downstream value of a project of this size.
What many Actors' Equity members don't seem to understand is that by supporting this boycott they are, to all intents and purposes, committing career suicide. Not in a "if you support this boycott we won't hire you in the future", sort of way, but a "there will be no industry in this country anymore" sort of way. I won't argue that there are issues to be discussed, but these relate to employment law and should be taken up with the New Zealand legislature, not with a production company working within that law.
If The Hobbit goes away, the amazing creative workforce we have here, which has been nurtured by Sir Peter for almost three decades, will also go away.
It's time for more than just the puppets of the union to be heard. Last night we marched, and we tried our best to get people to understand just what is at stake here. We want to do this job. We can do this job better than any other country. Sir Peter is a highly collaborative artist, and the success of his work is not simply the result of his own genius, but the combined efforts of hundreds of people, many of whom I brushed shoulders with on the streets of Wellington last night.
Peter Jackson cannot pick up the hundreds of people who comprise this amazing community and take them overseas. These are the people who brought you The Lord of the Rings. These are the people that hand-sculpted the miniatures, who drizzled the blood, who aged the costumes, who hammered and dressed the sets, who rigged the lights. New Zealand is Middle-Earth.
But something drastic needs to happen if that is going to remain the case. The Hobbit made anywhere else will not be drawing on the extensive expertise of a community that have been there and back again, who spent upwards of seven years perfecting the craft that made LOTR the stunning work it is. The only way we can hope to keep this job in New Zealand where it belongs is by making our voices heard.
If you're a fan of The Lord of the Rings, and you want to see another glowing masterpiece on cinema screens in two years time, not a tawdry imitation, then you need to speak up.
Tweet this link, if you're on Twitter.
Post this page to Facebook.
Blog about it, let the world know that The Hobbit is on the precipice of falling into mediocrity, and that you won't stand for it.
Let the studios know that you don't want a cheap knock-off, but a shiny polished original.
Spread the word. Do it now.
Save The Hobbit.