The first Hobbit movie has been made and released. And now so have some critical emails. Isn't it time for some full and frank answers from the players in the dispute?

And now we get to the nub of the matter. Timing, as it is said, is everything. So it is with the debate over The Hobbit, the indignation expressed by Sir Peter Jackson and the law change made by National.

Emails finally released today by the Council of Trade Unions demand clear explanations by National, Warner Bros, Sir Peter Jackson and Sir Richard Taylor, as we now know for certain the order of events at the end of The Hobbit debate.

We discussed this at length on Pundit at the time of the dispute (here, here and here) and I agreed the unions involved had misjudged their campaign, especially at the start. There has been much speculation and many hints over the intervening years. But these emails, combined with the cache of government emails released earlier in the week, put the end of the argument in a much clearer light.

Emails between the CTU and Warner Bros show that a settlement had been negotiated by the Sunday 17 or Monday 18 October, 2010, depending on which timezone you were in. Actors' Equity had agreed to lift the boycott. It was over bar the shouting.

But the shouting was delayed by Warners and, it seems, Jackson. They wanted time before releasing a public statement and the unions agreed. Thing is, at this point it seems that all the parties lined up against the unions cynically used this delay to their political advantage.

AFTER the boycott had been lifted that – but BEFORE the public had been told – Jackson continued to strongly criticise the unions, Taylor and his Weta Workshop employees held their impromptu and angry march through Wellington, and National ministers met with Warner Bros and agreed to change employment law and pay out 20-something million dollars in order to keep the movies in New Zealand.

All of that happened AFTER the dispute was over. So now it's time for long overdue questions to be asked, such as:

  • Had Warner Bros told Jackson the dispute was over and was he quibbling over the wording of the statement as the emails suggest?
  • If he knew the boycott had been lifted, why did he not stop his attacks?
  • Was Jackson out of the loop by the end and were Warners lying to the CTU or was Jackson lying in his subsequent public statements?
  • Why did Weta staff and others march in protest at a dispute that had already been settled?
  • Did Taylor know that? Did his staff? Or were they misled?
  • Why did National hand over millions of taxpayers dollars to settle the dispute when the unions had already caved?
  • And why did ministers change the law to retain the movies when Warners had no reason to move them elsewhere?
  • Was there miscommunication? Is there some innocent explanation? Or was this blatant political manipulation?

At face value, New Zealanders have every reason to feel angry and betrayed by their leaders and indeed movie-makers, who until now have been feted and even knighted. I hope they have an explanation and I hope they make it promptly. Because the timing of these emails calls their integrity into question and must be addressed.

Comments (14)

by Tim Watkin on March 01, 2013
Tim Watkin

While I can't find it online yet, John Drinnan's media column in today's Herald makes some similar points, especially about the March from Weta Workshop. He blames media hysteria and bias for poor reporting; sadly he has a point.

by Tim Watkin on March 01, 2013
Tim Watkin

Helen Kelly has blogged on this at The Standard, breaking her silence and saying:

Peter Jackson and Gerry Brownlee were aware that the do not work notice was lifted by the time the Sir Peter went public...

The Government and others lied to the people of New Zealand in an effort to retain the perception of a crisis in order to gain legitimacy for its actions. It was a shameful moment in New Zealand’s political history.

by mickysavage on March 01, 2013

Drinnan's column is at

And the answer to your first question, had Warners told Jackson the dispute was over seems to be a clear yes from the comment that he "had to be talked off the ledge" and the rather weird redrafting of the press release that occurred.  The redraft had to come from him because of the pro Jackson spin that it contained.

I must commend the CTU's and Kelly's restraint in waiting so long to release the email.  I would have disclosed it immediately that Warners and Jackson went on the offensive AFTER the dispute was resolved.

Their restraint and the desire to mend relations was commendable but misplaced.

by Tim Watkin on March 01, 2013
Tim Watkin

Thanks for the link, Micky. I agree it appears Jackson must have known, but I'm keeping the door open to an explanation from him that makes this look less like he led everyone a merry dance. Given that he got $20 million added to his movie's bottom line as a result of this dispute, he owes us that explanation.

Sad to note the lack of media coverage thus far. Surely there's at least a good headline in: "Unions release confidential documents" if they didn't go for "Did Gerry and Peter lie?"

by Andrew Geddis on March 01, 2013
Andrew Geddis

Sad to note the lack of media coverage thus far.

It was the second story on this morning's National Radio's Morning Report 7:00 - 8:00 am slot.

 As for "Did Gerry ... lie", Russel Norman tried to get an answer to that out of Steven Joyce in Parliament, with little success.

by Ross on March 01, 2013

Why did National hand over millions of taxpayers dollars to settle the dispute when the unions had already caved?

Well, I suspect Warners were still making noises (albeit muted) about moving the production offshore, though their heavy investment in the movie(s) made that unlikely. (Even if the production had moved offshore, it would not have been due to the blacklist.) It's worth noting that the Green Lantern was moved from Australia to the US because of the lower value of the US dollar. Coincidentally, the US dollar had fallen siginificantly against the NZ dollar by the time the dispute with the Hobbit had emerged. I imagine Warners knew they were going to take a big hit financially and wanted to extract money out of NZ taxpayers to compensate. The NZ government probably didn't want to be seen to be picking winners, or spending taxpayers money so casually, so tried to shift the focus to the unions, always an easy whipping boy.

by Andrew Geddis on March 01, 2013
Andrew Geddis


That tallies with my interpretation of events here.

by Tim Watkin on March 01, 2013
Tim Watkin

Andrew, yeah I heard that. But this has been RNZ's story cos they chased the OIA, so they were always going to push this... I'm said it hasn't got play elsewhere.

Looking at that transcript it was Grant Robertson who asked the relevant question:

Grant Robertson: Did the Minister for Economic Development become aware that the blacklist on The Hobbit movie imposed by Actors Equity had been lifted before 20 October 2010?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: ... I am not aware of the exact chronology, because there was a lot happening at that time, but if the member wants to put it down in writing, I am sure we could address it for him. But the reality is that the damage, in any event, had been done in terms of the confidence of the industry.

So National's answer thus far seems to be that the dispute had so unsettled the industry that it needed to hand over cash and a law change even after the dispute was settled. Boy, Warners must have seen them coming a mile off!

by BeShakey on March 01, 2013
From the Herald ( Mr Brownlee could not recall yesterday what took place in this period which prompted Government to push on with a law change. But he insisted the move was necessary: "There is no doubt the prospect of losing the film production to New Zealand was real." It appears the the John Banks approach to awkward questions is spreading.
by Tim Watkin on March 01, 2013
Tim Watkin

Thing is Shakey, that on their own there's nothing wrong with those words from Joyce and Brownlee. The movie was at risk... But not after October 18. Not when Jackson was putting out statements. Not when the march happened. Not when the cash and law change was handed over.

by Ross on March 01, 2013

The movie was at risk...

We don't know what the risk was. It might have been negligible. What we do know is that a lot of money had been spent on the Hobbit pre-production. How likely is it that the producers would have walked New South Wales?

by Tim Watkin on March 01, 2013
Tim Watkin

Ross,  if we take Jackson at his word then we know that they were scouting in the UK, depsite the money spent here. So while I struggle to accept the line - just made in argument with me on ZB - that Warners could have walked even after the dispute was settled cos they were so worried about the law and the dollar etc, I don't think it was negligible either. But you're right, they had spent a lot of pre-production money here and walking away would not have been easy or inexpensive.

by MJ on March 02, 2013

The movie can then always be at risk- the question is about how and why the government has represented us in the manner they have.Why did they agree to the concessions they did and in the manner they did?

It seems we were fundamentally misled about the facts of the dispute and then had poorly drafted employment relations legislation, that may not have in fact been anything other than window dressing or policital marketing, rushed through under urgency.

A disturbing process for us, especially with the TPPA coming up and Tim Grosser's post- NZ government career perhaps riding on it.

I'm sure it's been linked to before, but here is also the longer version of Kelly's events of the dispute:

In any case, it is a bit of a chilling precedent.



by MJ on March 02, 2013

Also linked Gordon Campbell concludes that despite Winston Peters grousing, the subsidies were money really well spent. The additional financial support for the production is not something that any New Zealanders can really get on their high horse over.

I think we basically underwrote the first three films with our tax base if I remember correctly?

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