Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hooton on The Hobbit

Matthew Hooton has written about The Hobbit and ancillary matters in his NBR column. Under the heading More Hobbits please, Mr Key Hooton opines:

OPENING SALVO
My children have decreed that I shall attend The Hobbit
I shall do so under protest. 
Enduring the three-hour long Fellowship of the Ring was enough for me and I am now the grumpy old bastard who won’t watch Air New Zealand’s new hobbit safety video.
I am also deeply ideologically opposed to governments doing deals with individual companies, whether Mediaworks, SkyCity or Warner Brothers.  At best, it risks misallocating resources.  At worst, it creates crony capitalism.  Always remember that it was Sir Robert Muldoon who first played silly buggers with the tax laws to benefit the movie industry.
And yet …
3000 jobs
In 2010, local union bosses Robyn Malcolm and Jennifer Ward-Lealand put The Hobbit at risk, backed by Council of Trade Unions supremo Helen Kelly, Australian union boss Simon Whipp and Phil Goff’s Labour Party.

Similar threats had been made, unsuccessfully, against Outrageous Fortune.
The detail of the dispute was never made clear – Ms Malcolm and Ms Ward-Lealand wailed that they just wanted to talk, and prattled on about the long-since-repealed Employment Contracts Act – but its essence was that foreign actors’ unions wanted to reduce the competitiveness of New Zealand’s film industry against their own.
There was talk of a global union boycott of New Zealand films.
In a wonderful display of defiance against union thuggery, local actors took to the streets to harass and abuse Mr Whipp, despite him claiming to speak for them.
John Key, Gerry Brownlee and Steven Joyce then became involved, and controversially provided VIP treatment, including government limousines and airport facilitation, to Warner Bros executives.
On the face of it, the deal they struck at Premier House was outrageous.
New Zealand employment law was immediately changed to suit the company and criteria for Trevor Mallard’s Large Budget Screen Production Fund expanded to deliver more cash rebates.

 Indeed. The Government's intervention to provide tax breaks and a very small tweak to our employment law was outrageous; outrageously good, as it turns out. Hooton continues:

In fact, the prime minister gave nothing away.
The amendments to the Employment Relations Act simply clarified that someone who got a part riding a warg around the South Island for a couple of months was a contractor and couldn’t claim to be a full-time warg rider.  They were nothing a National government shouldn’t have done anyway.
Mr Brownlee also noted that Sir Peter’s Return of the King had been the biggest selling DVD of all time.  He suggested that, in return for the concessions, Warner Bros be required to include a video promoting New Zealand, to be made by no less than Sir Peter, in all downloads and DVD packs of the movies for all time.
The Sound of Music affect
While Mr Brownlee’s insistence irritated the Warner Bros executives, who would have preferred a free lunch, they agreed and the value of that promotion will vastly exceed its cost to the taxpayer.

The deal also made Tourism New Zealand a strategic marketing partner for Time Warner, the largest media company in the world.
While it seems implausible that anyone would fly across the Pacific to see where a film was made, tourism experts insist otherwise.
Their market research suggests that Sir Peter’s movies are the single biggest factor raising awareness of New Zealand as a tourism destination at the present time.
Nearly 50 years on, Salzberg still attracts tourists who believe its hills are alive with The Sound of Music.
The government can also to point to 3000 jobs which would have gone offshore had the union campaign been successful.
It’s also better that Air New Zealand has the vulgar hobbit safety video and plane than Qantas or British Airways.
What’s more, by all accounts, the movie is good enough to be nominated for Academy Awards with all the publicity that will bring, sending a message to other studio bosses that New Zealand is a place where they can make history-making productions.

We weren't previously aware of Gerry Brownlee's insistence on a promotional DVD for Tourism New Zealand. If what Hooton is reporting is true, then that is a huge coup for the Government and for the country. And a promotional DVD produced by Sir Peter Jackson himself would be a first-class act, such is Jackson's devotion to his craft.

Matthew Hooton isn't done though. In closing, he compares John key to a much-admired Asian leader:

Deal making
For better or worse, when Mr Key deposed Don Brash as National Party leader it was interpreted as a shift from a strict belief in markets to more Singaporean-style corporatism.

Voters also continually endorse greater government intervention.
The Hobbit deal is one Lee Kuan Yew would have done.
In doing such a deal, Mr Key cannot be criticised for governing the way he promised.
If there is criticism, it is that he hasn’t done enough of them.

John Key came to politics after a career in trusting his instincts and making deals.And the events of this week would suggest that his instincts were absolutely on the money. 

The Hobbit deal has delivered big time for New Zealand already, and that is something that we should all celebrate. 3000 jobs and 93,000 hotel bed nights are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential economic benefits to New Zealand.  
 

18 comments:

Edward the Confessor said...

"3000 jobs and 93,000 hotel bed nights are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential economic benefits to New Zealand."

A massive overstatement given the economic activity it displaced. Why didn't the government just pay the money directly to hoteliers and let them spend it on crack? That would have had a bigger economic benefit. In any event, can you please quantify the other economic benefits you so recklessly proclaim are just around the corner?

Anonymous said...

Probably the biggest advantage is that the Hobbit ensure the continuing of the movie industry in NZ, keeping the skilled people in NZ, hence making it likely that more movies are going to be made in NZ.

If the movie had been moved elsewhere, the skills would move with it and probably never come back to NZ.

Bunk said...

"Why didn't the government just pay the money directly to hoteliers and let them spend it on crack?" - innovative policy, Labour style.

Edward the Confessor said...

"Probably the biggest advantage is that the Hobbit ensure the continuing of the movie industry in NZ, keeping the skilled people in NZ, hence making it likely that more movies are going to be made in NZ."

Wrong. They're all contractors who have been fired and left. They might be back if the government pays enough money to another studio though.

NotAnonymous said...

Hey Anonymous.

1. We will delete anonymous comments. Please use either a name or pseudonym. We are not asking anyone to reveal their secret identity. Just don't call yourself "Anonymous".

Bunk said...

"Probably the biggest advantage is that the Hobbit ensure the continuing of the movie industry in NZ, keeping the skilled people in NZ, hence making it likely that more movies are going to be made in NZ.

If the movie had been moved elsewhere, the skills would move with it and probably never come back to NZ"

Well said.

Quite So said...

Quite so, Bunk.

Quite so. Quite so.

bsprout said...

"The detail of the dispute was never made clear – Ms Malcolm and Ms Ward-Lealand wailed that they just wanted to talk, and prattled on about the long-since-repealed Employment Contracts Act – but its essence was that foreign actors’ unions wanted to reduce the competitiveness of New Zealand’s film industry against their own."

Yet from the Employed Journal I linked to and you have ignored it says:

A central issue in the dispute was the question of employment status and whether workers are, or should be, contractors or employees. The topic of contracting, as an aspect of non-standard employment, is not particularly new. Recent decades have seen the conversion of many permanent workers to contractors and the topic is contentious. The definition of a contractor centres on the distinction between employees who are engaged under a contract of service, and contractors engaged under a contract for services. Legally, this classification of a person‟s employment status is pivotal, influencing a range of issues. Employees gain a range of protections under in the ERA 2000, the minimum code, and common law. Independent contractors lack those protections, but instead have more autonomy, organising their own work, and theoretically, being able to determine their remuneration.
The topic has evolved over recent decades. The era of the Employment Contracts Act saw the growth of contracting arrangements. Employee advocates, however, expressed concern that although workers were classified as “contractors”, their real working arrangements were more consistent with an employer-employee situation. Where the worker was dependent on one organisation the practice was known as “dependent contracting”. Those workers were seen as being deprived of both the legal protections that accrue from employee status and also of the wider theoretical benefits of a “non- dependent” contracting arrangement. The intent of those drafting the ERA 2000 was to address this issue and ensure that the reality of the arrangement was also taken into account when determining employment status, so that it reflected the “real nature of the relationship” (s6(2)). The application of this legislation was publicly tested in Bryson v Three Foot Six [2005] NZSC 34 where a model maker on a film production set contested his classification as a contractor; a decision that had significant implications for the Hobbit dispute.

This now happens a lot in NZ where a worker gets all their work from one employer and work for them on an ongoing basis and yet are called "contract" workers which allows the employer to walk away from all employer responsibilities.

Keeping Stock said...

The mere fact that you keep pushing this line bsprout does not make it right. People will form their own opinions, as I have done.

Edward the Confessor said...

You're entitled to your own opinions, not your own facts. You get confused on that point sometimes.

Robert Winter said...

I think bsprout's point is a fair one. A wealth of technical opinion - in the journal qioted by bsprout, in the media and in the DoL - was opposed to contingent labour law being used as a sweetener for this deal. It offends our international commitments to the ILO, it offends our profound sense of sovereignty and is, in the end, poor policy. Presumably, you would be happy to allow any number of other changes to law to allow FDI into the country. For example, if a reduction in health and safety might lead to higher FDI, would you accept it?

Its not easy being Green said...

You can dig up all the biased and so called unbiased reports, dissertations and opinions you want. The telling piece in all of this is that the very workers the Unions were claiming to protect marched in protest against what the Union was doing. Second to that is that the actions almost caused the film to go overseas meaning that none of the film workers would have gotten jobs. Helen Kelly would still have got paid, that B grade actress would still have been on that Westie drama and the Aussie Union mercinary might have seen production end up in Australia! And I bet had the Hobbit gone elsewhere that right now BS Prout, Kermit and the others would be laying the failure at the feet of the National Party.

bsprout said...

An agreement was reached and the Hobbit dispute was actually settled in the middle of October but Jackson and Weta Studios pretended a settlement had not happened to lever more concessions. The Government was also complicit in keeping the public in the dark here is what really happened:

"Despite this agreement, Warners held up making the release. MEAA did not feel able to release the information to the media until Warners did (because MEAA had agreed not to), and on the evening of 20 October (at least 3 days after Warners had been notified of the settlement), WETA studios called the Wellington film community to its studios and the now infamous march against the union was organised.

The Government was also aware of this and the only group left in the dark was the public!

It is also clear from information released late last year under the OIA that, following the settlement in Auckland involving Minister Brownlee, he had contacted Peter Jackson to advise him that the dispute was settled and the “don’t sign” orders would be lifted. Jackson then advised the Minister by email on 18 October (before the rally), that it was not the “boycott” that was influencing Warners to consider moving the film.

The CTU could not understand why the information regarding the settlement was not being released by Warners, leaving the public unease about the dispute to continue. MEAA was getting meetings planned with Equity members in New Zealand to discuss the upcoming negotiations with SPADA and, as far as it was concerned, the delay in the media release was essential, given the undertaking it had given to the studio that it would not announce anything until Warners was ready. However MEAA was getting more and more anxious about it and questioning why the information was being held. No one would know the actual reason until the 20 October.

At 3pm film agents in Wellington were contacted and asked to contact film workers in Wellington to attend a meeting at the Stone Street studios (WETA studios) at 5pm to hear some important news. It is a little unclear what happened at the meeting but it appears that Richard Taylor from Weta Workshops was there, as was Philippa Boyens.

Despite Peter Jackson knowing otherwise, workers at the meeting were told that the dispute was not settled, the ”boycott” was still in place, and that the Hobbit was moving off shore. An inflammatory handout was distributed repeating much of the previous misinformation about the dispute and reiterating that it was ongoing. Attendees were also told that Equity was meeting that evening in town (ironically to discuss progressing negotiations with SPADA) and they might think about protesting at the meeting.

The “impromptu” rally was supported by pre-prepared signs including “lift the boycott’ which were available at the studio."




Keeping Stock said...

Is that lengthy epistle your own take on the situation bsprout, or is it an unattributed quote from someone looking at the issue from a position of having a vested interest? After all, pro-union propaganda is just that; propaganda.

Whichever, it is easily rebutted. Just because you claim it to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth does not actually make it truthful.

Personally, I prefer this version, which is duly attributed to its author:

In closing:

My personal opinion is that this is a grab for power. It does not represent a problem that needs a solution. There will always be differing opinions when it comes down to work and conditions, but I have always attempted to treat my actors and crew with fairness and respect. We have created a very favourable profit sharing pool for the non-Union actors on The Hobbit — and now the Union is targeting us, despite the fact that we have always respected SAG conditions and residuals.

I can’t see beyond the ugly spectre of an Australian bully-boy, using what he perceives as his weak Kiwi cousins to gain a foothold in this country’s film industry. They want greater membership, since they get to increase their bank balance.

The conspiracy theories are numerous, so take your pick: We have done better in recent years, with attracting overseas movies — and the Australians would like a greater slice of the pie, which begins with them using The Hobbit to gain control of our film industry. There is a twisted logic to seeing NZ humiliated on the world stage, by losing the Hobbit to Eastern Europe. Warners would take a financial hit that would cause other studios to steer clear of New Zealand.

– Seriously, if the Hobbit goes east (Eastern Europe in fact) — look forward to a long dry big budget movie drought in this country.

– Others gain from that too. SAG would much rather have it’s members hired on movies — as opposed to non-SAG actors. The easiest way to control that, is to stem what are called “runaway productions”, which are American funded films made outside of America. The Hobbit is one of them, as was King Kong and LOTR. SAG, which is naturally supporting MEAA, would see it’s own benefit in studios having a miserable experience in Australia/New Zealand. That may well be pushing the conspiracy theories one step too far, and it’s perfectly natural that one Union would support another – but the point is that in the complex web of Hollywood intrigue, you never really know who’s doing what to whom and why.

But it sure feels like we are being attacked simply because we are a big fat juicy target – not for any wrong doing. We haven’t even been greenlit yet! It feels as if we have a large Aussie cousin kicking sand in our eyes … or to put it another way, opportunists exploiting our film for their own political gain.

Peter Jackson

http://www.theonering.net/torwp/2010/09/26/38803-peter-jackson-takes-the-gloves-off/#more-38803

Edward the Confessor said...

That's right IV2, 'coz Jackson never had a vested interest in this issue so his recollection of events has to be completely objective. It wasn't as if he benefited directly from having the government hand over more money to the film makers eh? Now what colour is the sky on your planet?

Keeping Stock said...

You illustrate my point perfectly Edward, so thanks for that. Any one of us can quote anything we want to support our argument, and it will naturallt reflect our own view.

But at least I gave a source for mine :)

bsprout said...

KS if you had taken the courtesy to read the links I have provided twice now you would have known that quote came from Helen Kelly. I guess the only way you could dispute her version of events is by calling her a liar and she has already been accused of this.

My first quote was from Dr Bernard Walker from Canterbury University.

i probably should have acknowledged both of them, but as I linked to both sources I was hardly hiding anything.

All that you are quoting is Jackson's view of the unions motivation and it is really sad to see someone as talented and respected as Jackson using his power to manipulate the truth.

You are still ignoring the fact that Jackson had sent an email to the government explaining that the actions would have no effect on where the Hobbit would be filmed in direct contradiction to what he was saying in public. I was also concerned that you misquoted me earlier in an attempt to diminish the value of my argument.

I know that you will probably ignore all of this, KS, and write a sixth or seventh post supporting the myths around the dispute, however I hope some of your readers will show a more open mind to what I've presented.

Meti said...

"I know that you will probably ignore all of this, KS, and write a sixth or seventh post supporting the myths around...."

Visitors to bsprout's blog will be thinking of pots and kettles as they read this.