1 Mar 2013

Emails reveal how studio controlled announcement

2:45 pm on 1 March 2013

Emails from Warner Bros confirm the Hollywood studio had reached agreement with Actors' Equity over the filming of the Hobbit movies in New Zealand in October 2010 but withheld announcing the deal.

The new documents released by the Council of Trade Unions show to what extent to the US film studio went to control the announcement of a decision by the actors union to lift the boycott of the films.

In the emails, Warner Bros legal counsel Stephen Carroll acknowledges Actors' Equity had lifted the boycott on the Hobbit on 18 October 2010.

Mr Carroll then negotiates the wording of the statement on the end of the dispute, but no statement was ever released.

CTU president Helen Kelly says it was played by Warner Bros so the company could strike a deal with the Government to change employment law and get more money to make the Hobbit movies in New Zealand.

Both this set of emails and the documents the Government was finally forced to make public earlier in the week confirm a deal had been done to settle the Hobbitdispute by 18 October, despite ministers continuing to deny it, Radio New Zealand's political editor says.

It was a week later that Warner Bros executives turned up in New Zealand to meet Prime Minister John Key and and other senior ministers, and the Government agreed to change the labour laws to make clear actors and crew were independent contractors and give an extra $30 million.

Agreement to lift boycott

The dispute centred on the demand of Actors' Equity, which is backed by Australian union Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, to negotiate a collective deal for The Hobbit.

To get support for that, they had other actors' unions around the world place a boycott on the film.

By 17 or 18 October, according to these new emails, Actors' Equity agreed to lift the boycott and suggested a draft press statement saying "in the spirit of good faith" it recommended the boycott be lifted.

Based on the agreement reached at the meeting the previous week the statement was not to be issued without support of the others involved in the dispute.

The draft statement was sent to the other parties, including Mr Carroll, the studio's vice-president senior labour relations counsel, and John McGuire of the American Screen Actors' Guild on 17 October.

Mr McGuire wrote back to Simon Whipp of the Media Alliance saying the statement looked very good to him.

The following day Mr Carroll came back with a different statement which he said Warners' writers thought they could sell to Sir Peter Jackson.

That statement read: "New Line Productions, Warner Bros Pictures and MGM are pleased that the Screen Actors Guild, the Federation of International Actors and New Zealand Actors' Equity have retracted their various Do Not Work Orders for The Hobbit. The producers have a long history of treating performers in New Zealand and elsewhere in a fair and equitable manner. For The Hobbit it has been, and will be, no different."

The email exchange occurred before actors and crew were called out on a march on Wednesday 20 October demanding the boycott be lifted.

An email from Mr Carroll of Warner Bros on the day of the protest (Tuesday night US time) stated that Sir Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh had reacted badly to the good faith aspect of Equity's earlier statement and this had delayed Warners' response. He went on to say "New Line talked him off the ledge".

A few hours later, a demonstration demanding the boycott be lifted took place.