The Hobbit: Time for answers John, Peter & Richard

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.