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Hobbit protesters were 'patsies' - union rep

Wednesday 27 Feb 2013 8:19 a.m.

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An actors' representative says a protest held to keep the filming of Sir Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy in New Zealand was a "march of the patsies".

Phil Darkins, an organiser with New Zealand Actors Equity, says an agreement between the union and movie studio Warner Brothers had already been reached – several days before thousands took to the streets in October 2010 to protest against an Australian union-led boycott of the film that could have seen production taken off-shore.

Mr Darkins told Firstline this morning the union was advised not to comment publicly on the deal until it was official, and instead wait for Warner Brothers to make the announcement – which never came.

"And then we ended up with a march to Parliament," says Mr Darkins, "which I'm calling the 'march of the patsies', because unfortunately those people who marched that day were being played for patsies by people who, based here in Wellington, knew precisely what was going on, and that the dispute was in fact over."

He says the union was "aghast" when Hobbit fans took to the streets, accusing Kiwi actors and unions of jeopardising the film's production.

"We were sitting there aghast with what was going on, and wondering what the real game was," says Mr Darkins.

"I think now, looking back, we do understand what the real game was… somebody was trying to get a better deal out of the New Zealand Government."

In the union's view, there was never any credible threat of the production going off-shore.

"The Hobbit was never going off-shore, that is a ridiculous notion... Originally they said they were going to go to eastern Europe. When that sounded a little unplausible (sic) they decided no, actually we're going to go to the UK, and when that started to sound unplausible, now we see, in these documents, that no, actually they were going to go to New South Wales.

"Well we've actually spoken to people in New South Wales who would have been approached if that had been the case – no such approach was made by Warner Brothers during that period."

He says part of the blame rests with Sir Peter, who should not have intervened.

"I'm not having a go at Sir Peter here, I'm just saying that had he actually stayed out of the argument and not jumped in there so quickly and taken it so personally, the whole thing would have been over very, very quickly."

The Government changed employment laws under urgency to satisfy Warner Brothers and protect the industry, but Mr Darkins says it has backfired, costing Kiwis their jobs.

"When an actor performs in a screen production, quite often that will be a very short period of filming. There might be a lot of preparation required beforehand, but the filming itself will take a very short period of time.

"So now what the Government has done is they've changed the immigration law so that any actor from anywhere in the world can come to New Zealand as long as they're not here for longer than 14 days. To give you an example, Dame Judi Dench won an Oscar on a performance that took a day-and-a-half to shoot. There's an example of what it means to work in the film industry.

"So allowing actors to come into New Zealand for no more than 14 days is taking jobs. It's taking many jobs off New Zealand performers. It is taking Kiwi jobs."

The Government says keeping The Hobbit in New Zealand created 3000 jobs.

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