Ever get the feeling you've been cheated? Good night

Whether the resolution of The Hobbit fracas is good or bad, the way it got resolved looks pretty dodgy to me.

At the time The Hobbit saga was threatening the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it, I wrote this post expressing some bemusement about its resolution. Specifically,

"So here's what I don't get. How does that law change, purportedly meant to put Warner Brothers minds at ease about our industrial relations landscape, have anything at all to do with the actor's actions that allegedly kicked all of this off? Because I can't for the life of me see any linkage whatsoever.

In which case, what just happened here?"

Well, the Herald has done what the MSM does at its best - spending the time and resources to keep following a story even after it is "over" - and received these documents under the Official Information Act. And they make it look very much like what happened was that the public got duped by a combination of Hollywood hardball, a PR blitz, and a Government not unhappy to poke a stick in the eye of the union movement.

Remember the purported reason behind The Hobbit crisis. (The Herald's "official history" ... before the most recent documents, of course ... is here.)  The actors' union "blacklisting" of the movie until its demands were addressed meant that the studio, Warner Brothers, were set to yank it from our shores and relocate it somewhere that such threats were not an issue. Cue fire-and-brimstone from the movie's director, Peter Jackson, and the somewhat odd spectacle of workers marching in the streets against the unions purporting to represent them. Then the Government stepped in to meet the executives of Warner Brothers, engages in a bit of hard-ball, toe-to-toe negotiation, and emerges with a deal to save the day.

Of course, the fact that this deal didn't say anything at all about the original "employment dispute" or "blacklist" or call it what you like was ... interesting. Rather, it threw a bunch more cash Warner Brothers way and promised to change the law to "clarify" the status of independent contractors working in the movie business. So, why the disjunct?

Well, according to emails obtained by the Herald, it's because by the time the Warner Brothers' executives hit New Zealand,  it already was accepted that the actors' union had caved and would not be taking any action against The Hobbit. According to Peter Jackson: "There is no connection between the blacklist (and it's eventual retraction) and the choice of production base for The Hobbit."

So what exactly was Warner Brothers problem at the time they hit New Zealand (apart from wanting more money from us, of course)? Peter Jackson continues: " "What Warners requires for The Hobbit is the certainty of a stable employment environment ... ."

You could read that as a demand, albeit filtered through an intermediatry, that New Zealand change some aspects of its employment law in order to meet Warner's desires. And yet, in answer to a question from Keith Locke, Gerry Brownlee informed the House that: "Warner Bros did not put any requirements on us to do anything. The New Zealand Government has recognised that there were employment issues that needed to be sorted out, and we are going to move to clarify those."

So - just what happened here? Well, assuming that Gerry Brownlee didn't outright mislead the House, here's my reading.

The actors' union tries to use a high-profile movie to flex some muscle and prove its mettle. They call in international backing (the "blacklist").

This gets up Peter Jackson's nose - he does, after all, seem to treat those involved in his movies better-than-average - as well as gets the attention of Warner Brothers. They spot an opening and begin to make noises about having to shift production.

The country panics at the thought and the actors' union becomes the bad guys. They withdraw the threat of a blacklist and try to retreat from the field, tails between their legs.

However, Warner Brothers are riding into town to try and squeeze a bit more cash out of the country on the back of this crisis. Meeting a straight "give us more cash or we'll leave" demand would be difficult for the Government, so the narrative has to remain "there's an employment issue behind all this." Thus, the "clarification" of independent contractors vs employees is thrown in as cover.

This law then gets rushed through the House under urgency, conveniently ending the saga and letting New Zealand reap the rewards of our talented film-makers.

And maybe we will. Maybe the extra $30-odd million is worth every penny. Maybe the existing law on the independent contractor/employee distinction really was unworkable in the film industry context. (But, then ... how on earth did Avatar ever get made?) So maybe the deal is in the best interests of New Zealand.

But ... ever get the feeling you've been cheated?