New Zealand actors devided on 'Hobbit' stance

Some fear that the guilds' unionization stand will drive out production.

A split is developing among New Zealand's actors, with some opposing the guilds' stand for unionization of "The Hobbit" out of concern that it and other productions might be driven out of the country.

About 90 actors and others met in Wellington during the weekend to discuss the matter amid reports that Prime Minister John Key wants a resolution within the next week or so.

A day after the meeting, the gathering's organizer, New Zealand actress Yvette Reid, provided The Hollywood Reporter with a statement circulated by an actor at the meeting. Addressed to New Zealand Actors Equity, the union seeking to organize the film, the statement calls on the group "to advise its affiliate international actors' unions that a boycott of 'The Hobbit' is an inappropriate strategy for achieving the desired outcomes."

Actors unions across the English-speaking world, including SAG and AFTRA, have issued what amount to "do not work" orders against the production.

Those orders came in solidarity with the New Zealand union, but they also help the U.S. unions because unionization of New Zealand actors reduces the likelihood that American productions will shoot in New Zealand to avoid union residuals and other costs.

Actors in New Zealand are not unionized. NZAE has been engaged in an ongoing campaign for recognition from the country's Screen Production and Development Assn., which represents producers and production companies.

The statement also praised "Hobbit" director Peter Jackson for "dealings with actors (that) have been fair with regard to rates and working conditions."

In an interview with THR, New Zealand Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly questioned the resistance to unionization on the part of the film's producers.

Actors in New Zealand generally are offered standardized contracts based on SPADA's so-called "Pink Book." In light of this, Kelly said, a standardized union contract should be equally lawful.

The New Zealand government has weighed in on the side of the producers, but Kelly gave little credence to this.

"It's a right-wing government, very anti-union," she said, adding that the country's attorney general did not even consider the union's legal arguments before making a public statement favoring the producers' position that unionization of actors would be impermissible under New Zealand law.

The Wellington meeting included a panel with Kelly and a number of the country's producers, including "Hobbit" co-producer Philippa Boyens. No one was on the panel from NZAE, but Kelly said that the union asked her to attend instead because of scheduling conflicts.

At least one local media report said that the actors attending the meeting were considering forming their own negotiating group, separate from NZAE.

Kelly and Reid told THR this was not true, with Reid explaining in an e-mail that "there was no talk of forming another group/union whatsoever."