Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Anatomy of a Shambles

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  • Kyle Matthews,

    True but irrelevant. That is nothing to do with the residuals.

    The claim was made that MEAA were completely different from the SAG because they were looking at a 15% cut.

    Given that the SAG takes almost the same amount of salaries, which are the majority of the actor's income, and they're a much larger operation so have economies of scale advantages, 15% doesn't seem too bad, particularly given that residuals would have a pretty high overhead tracking down actors for years, rather than just clipping the salary during a shoot.

    Personally I think that mixing up the role of union as representative and union as business clipping further incomes is a bad idea, but 15% isn't exactly out of line with SAG.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • rodgerd,

    Surely the point of unions is to raise working conditions and wages above the absolute minimum that one would work for?

    Sure, so long as bragging about the political heft of a Winter of Discontent doesn't ultimately get you Thatcher and your members on the dole queue.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 512 posts Report Reply

  • Pat Hackett,

    Speaking of "union as business" - is it common for unions to own commercial buildings, as MEAA does?

    Auckland • Since Oct 2010 • 95 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    This has been a good thread. I missed 3 days, celebrating Labour weekend off the 'net, and it took some catching up, but it's good to see that in the 15 pages since then, it hasn't descended into some tedious flame war. Also good to hear persistent and informed commentary by new voices.

    Regarding conspiracy theories, my mother-in-law reckoned, the moment she heard that Ireland was the other main contender for location, that it was all an Irish conspiracy, that whenever you look beneath the surface of unions, it's the Irish making all the trouble. This from a French-Mauritian-Australian.

    No more cracked than most of the other ones that are bandied about. I think this is much more likely to be the result of an under-staffed union overreaching its capabilities, and a foreign producer overestimating the threat of that. Unfortunately it's led to a crisis that endangered the production being made here.

    Which does highlight how tenuous that actual production always must have been. NZers feel that The Hobbit must be made in NZ, anything else would be an outrage. Outside of NZ, sorry to say, most people never think of NZ at all.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming,

    Thanks Pat

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2935 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca,

    and a foreign producer overestimating the threat of that.

    No, This is how they roll, they have been here before..... which is where it always was.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    the moment she heard that Ireland was the other main contender for location, that it was all an Irish conspiracy, that whenever you look beneath the surface of unions, it's the Irish making all the trouble.

    Love it! Looking forward to passing that on to my Irish colleagues!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Personally I think that mixing up the role of union as representative and union as business clipping further incomes is a bad idea, but 15% isn't exactly out of line with SAG.

    On the face of it, I think it's way out of line.

    SAG's 13.8% provides healthcare and pension cover -- two things that are hard for Americans to get if they're not in steady employment. Its actual commission on residuals is said to be 1-3%.

    What would MEAA be providing in return for such a large cut on top of its membership fees?

    It should be noted that Apra manages to return to members 87% of the rights money it collects, and it has a vastly bigger and more complicated rights system to manage. It also plays a highly constructive role in its own industry.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    ...and a foreign producer overestimating the threat of that.

    It was the SAG boycott that was the main threat and I don't think the studios were overestimating that threat. It's serious business in LA. Something our unions did not appreciate and still do not appreciate.

    Some people seem to think that anyone with $500m to play around with can't be that easily spooked but its $500m placed at risk in a risky business. Sure with PJ the chances of sucess are good but there've have been flops that were supposed to suceed before that lost people a lot of money.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Pat Hackett,

    From the 2008-2009 Annual Report:

    ABOUT EQUITY TRUST

    Residuals
    Equity Trust is responsible for distributing residual fees
    (residuals), which are fees paid by distributors or
    producers to the performers concerned. They are
    sometimes referred to as “royalties”, “repeats” or
    “second usage fees”. These fees are negotiated by the
    Alliance and paid to qualifying performers who work on
    film or TV productions, after the initial use or exploitation
    of these productions.
    We collect these fees on behalf of the performers and
    then calculate the residuals for each of them.
    These calculations are audited by the Alliance’s external
    auditors, prior to the issue of cheques to performers
    each quarter. On occasion, there are discrepancies
    relating to performers’ entitlements to residuals or the
    attributed portions and these need to be resolved before
    payments are made.
    Equity Trust monitors exploitation or sales which may
    trigger residuals and contacts the producer and
    distributor when money is due from them. Producers and
    distributors are required to provide regular reports on all
    income they have received and residuals owing.
    In the last seven years, Equity Trust has received over
    $49 million on behalf of performers. The Trust aims to
    pay out all residuals received, but some performers are
    difficult to trace.
    Superannuation contributions
    Equity Trust also negotiates, monitors and collects
    superannuation contributions on behalf of Australian
    performers working overseas and forwards their
    entitlement to the appropriate superannuation fund.
    Bonds
    To safeguard the wages of performers and crew working
    on productions, Equity Trust may require a bond to be
    lodged by the producer. In such cases, Equity Trust
    releases the bond after the production has provided a
    certificate from its accountants, certifying that all
    performers’ and crews’ wages, including superannuation
    and annual leave, have been paid.

    Auckland • Since Oct 2010 • 95 posts Report Reply

  • Andre Alessi,

    I see this argument come up time and time again. Surely the point of unions is to raise working conditions and wages above the absolute minimum that one would work for? I'd do my job for less money and worse conditions, especially if I was cornered into a take it or leave it situation... but surely we can aspire to improve on those bare minimums? Otherwise the "will work for free" placard will become something to aspire to.

    Sorry, that's not quite what I was suggesting, though it may not have been clear from my post. She was actually paid very well for what she did. The conditions she worked in were the result of the nature of the work being done-no contract, collective or otherwise, could change the fact that flming in snow on the side of a remote mountain is cold, hard work that totally relies upon the right weather and lighting conditions, and means that as much filming as possible needs to happen when conditions are ideal. That's the case for both actors and techies.

    Now, if anyone suggested that someone was being forced to work in these conditions, either to keep their job or to make a decent paycheck, then sure, an update to the contracts involved would be a relevant. But for The Hobbit, that hasn't seriously been raised by anyone as an issue, as far as I'm aware. Making films is inevitably hard work, requiring a level of discomfort and flexibility, and the people who actually do the work are fully aware of what is going to be asked of them right the way through, or they're free to walk off the job at any point.

    What is going to be the real test of Actor's Equity's performance (pun intended) is the effect on local film productions in a few years' time. Will we look back and say that whatever changes come out of AE's discussions with SPADA, or the government's proposed law changes, or whatever, were a net positive for individuals and for the industry as a whole? It'd take a braver man than me to make a prediction until we see how things progress.

    Devonport, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 864 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Will we look back and say that whatever changes come out of AE's discussions with SPADA, or the government's proposed law changes, or whatever, were a net positive for individuals and for the industry as a whole?

    Likely to be a mixed bag. The government's changes are possibly going to be worse for people working, better for the industry, but may be neutral or they may do not much at all. I think the union will end up with some positive changes out of this, though obviously they've been very damaged.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Andre Alessi,

    Which does highlight how tenuous that actual production always must have been. NZers feel that The Hobbit must be made in NZ, anything else would be an outrage. Outside of NZ, sorry to say, most people never think of NZ at all.

    I've got a bunch of friends overseas who are all fans of the series and who all want the films made in NZ. They might be nerdy fangirls who name their cats Finarfin, Fingolfin and Feanor, but they definitely see New Zealand as the "authentic" Middle Earth.

    Devonport, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 864 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    It was the SAG boycott that was the main threat and I don't think the studios were overestimating that threat. It's serious business in LA. Something our unions did not appreciate and still do not appreciate.

    Sure, but I don't think they realized just how easily the instigating unions here could be persuaded to capitulate. It's not like they're experienced hard-arses or anything, and they don't have a groundswell of support, either in the industry, or outside of it. Certainly they're not in the same league as the unions that WB will be dealing with in Ireland.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming,

    Kyle said

    The claim was made that MEAA were completely different from the SAG because they were looking at a 15% cut.
    Given that the SAG takes almost the same amount of salaries, which are the majority of the actor's income, and they're a much larger operation so have economies of scale advantages, 15% doesn't seem too bad, particularly given that residuals would have a pretty high overhead tracking down actors for years, rather than just clipping the salary during a shoot

    Except that:

    The Pension & Health system is based on contributions by signatory producers who pay 15.3% for TV/Theatrical contracts and 15.5% for commercial contracts separately of actors’ salaries to the Fund.

    http://www.sag.org/content/global-rule-one

    i.e. MEAA takes it from actor revenues, SAG takes it from producers.

    [edit] meh, Snap, Russell.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2935 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Mr Whipp didn't have a whole lot to say for humself on Morning Report today

    Here's the link (streaming, 7mins).

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Cox,

    Certainly they're not in the same league as the unions that WB will be dealing with in Ireland.

    I think you'll find that the Irish Guild is as underfunded and understaffed as the NZ guild. However, I suspect they'd have a rather more cogent sense of their own employment law.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    they definitely see New Zealand as the "authentic" Middle Earth

    Until they see how incredibly Middle-Earth like the UK is, it having been the actual place Tolkien wandered around in when he was dreaming it all up.

    Personally, and as a Tolkien fan myself, I've never been able to see NZ as Middle-Earth. To me, it will always be The Shire.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    SAG's 13.8% provides healthcare and pension cover -- two things that are hard for Americans to get if they're not in steady employment. Its actual commission on residuals is said to be 1-3%.

    Good point. I guess you'd need to see the potential income and costs associated with collecting it and passing it on to see how it's justified.

    Certainly less work than an agent would do for an actor, so a single figure cut would seem better.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • rodgerd,

    Until they see how incredibly Middle-Earth like the UK is, it having been the actual place Tolkien wandered around in when he was dreaming it all up.

    The actual place Tolkien grew up in is the site of abandoned steel and glassworks. The bits the EU have funded the clean-up of aren't too gross, but it's all (ex-)industrial conurbation now.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 512 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    To me, it will always be The Shire.

    Me too. Who can forget her? Adriaaaaan!

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    'The Scottish Thread' was 74 pages and 2202 responses.

    Keep going, chaps.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Some people seem to think that anyone with $500m to play around with can't be that easily spooked but its $500m placed at risk in a risky business.

    Can't see what the Government is going on about, they borrow the equivalent of a Hobbit project every 3 weeks - I dread to think who from...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7953 posts Report Reply

  • Jonathan King,

    The conditions she worked in were the result of the nature of the work being done-no contract, collective or otherwise, could change the fact that flming in snow on the side of a remote mountain is cold, hard work ...

    Thanks, Andre, your whole post was much like I was going to say. Filmmaking is NOT for everyone -- it can be physically VERY hard work, day after day and, as you say, no union improving 'conditions' is going to change that. And, I would point out, that (on a NZ film, at least) the boss -- i.e. the director -- is standing on the very same cold, windy, muddy hillside that everyone of the troops is. And before anyone shouts 'trailer' at me, I would offer that I didn't have one on either of the films I've made. Only the actors did.

    Since Sep 2010 • 185 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    Until they see how incredibly Middle-Earth like the UK is, it having been the actual place Tolkien wandered around in when he was dreaming it all up.

    Oh, what's this?

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

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