Bilbo Lives: No ‘Hobbit’ Boycott in New Zealand

New Zealand actor's union agrees to end the labor strife that threatened to hold up the production — but is it enough for Peter Jackson?

A New Zealand actors union has lifted a labor boycott that threatened to disrupt production of Peter Jackson's recently greenlit film "The Hobbit."

The New Zealand Actors' Equity, which had announced it would boycott the production over what it felt were unfair labor terms, said Thursday (New Zealand time) that it had reached an interim agreement with the producers to lift the boycott and keep the production on schedule.

Read a statement released by Kiwi labor officials: "In an effort to restore the confidence of the international and domestic film financing and production communities, and to ensure a peaceful stable period … we negotiated an interim agreement until 31 March 2011 when it is expected that the (labor negotiations) will be concluded."

The question now is whether the move will be enough to satisfy Jackson.

Ending the boycott, he told the New Zealand Press, "does nothing to help the film stay in New Zealand … The damage inflicted on our film industry by (the actors unions) is long since done."

The film, with Jackson finally at the helm, got the go-ahead last week from U.S. studio backers Warner/New Line and MGM to start production in February.

Backed by U.S. labor unions, the New Zealand groups were seeking terms similar to those commanded by the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists.

At one point, even New Zealand Prime Minister John Key offered to have government officials mediate dispute.

And the heat got turned up on local labor officials on Tuesday (or Wednesday, if you're Down Under). That's when 1,500 local film workers marched on the facilities of Wellington, N.Z., visual effects shop WETA Digital, pleading with union officials to end their boycott.

Following the agreement, however, both SAG and AFTRA issued conditional statements, saying their members were free to work on "The Hobbit."

"In light of (the interim agreement), the Screen Actors Guild will be alerting its members that they are now free to accept engagements, under (SAG) contract terms and conditions, on 'The Hobbit,'" read SAG's missive to the press.

Here's the full press release:
Last week SPADA held a meeting with representatives of NZ Actors’ Equity (Equity). Helen Kelly from the CTU also attended and the meeting was chaired by Hon Gerry Brownlee.

There was an acceptance by the parties that the targeting of individual productions by the union had not been a successful strategy and that henceforth the parties would discuss matters with each other in the first instance.

At the meeting SPADA and Equity agreed they would enter a period of discussion and good faith negotiation on the Pink Book. While all matters of form and content relating to the engagement of actors in the screen industry will be discussed, you should be aware that this is no more than what would normally happen in such discussions and that these are the discussions we were trying to have with the union around 18 months ago.

This recent period of industrial unrest has been damaging for New Zealand's reputation as a shooting location and created a lot of uncertainty.

In an effort to restore the confidence of the international and domestic film financing and production communities, and to ensure a peaceful stable period while we discuss the Pink Book, we negotiated an interim agreement until 31 March 2011 when it is expected that the Pink Book negotiations will be concluded.

Any production that commences pre‐production before 31 March 2011, and adheres to the guidelines as set out in the Code of Practice for the Engagement of Cast in the New Zealand Screen Production Industry dated 6 June 2005 (and more commonly known as the “Pink Book”), will be covered by this agreement.

Equity has contracted with us that they will not enter into any negotiations or undertake any industrial action against those productions or encourage or facilitate any of its affiliate bodies or members to do likewise.

Over the weekend, Equity were to request their affiliated international unions to lift the “boycott” on the Hobbit.

We were hopeful that this action, together with the green-lighting of the picture and the interim agreement between SPADA and Equity during the negotiation period, would mean that The Hobbit and other productions would go ahead in New Zealand.

In the case of The Hobbit, the situation is obviously uncertain but SPADA wish Peter, Fran, Philippa and Carolyn all the best in their efforts to persuade Warner Brothers to keep the film here. The difficulty of this task should not be underestimated.

Penelope Borland, CEO, SPADA