"Hobbit" debate rages in NZ parliament

Thu Oct 28, 2010 7:33pm EDT
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By Pip Bulbeck

SYDNEY (Hollywood Reporter) - Furious debate is underway in New Zealand's parliament on legislation sought by Warner Bros. to amend the country's labor laws and make unionization of the local film industry more difficult, a condition of the studio's recent decision to shoot "The Hobbit" there.

The government has the necessary votes for the law revision and passage is expected later Friday (New Zealand time). A member of the center-left Labour Party opposition said it was a "day of shame." Both Labour and members of the Green party have hammered the government on the loss of sovereignty implied by negotiating legislation with a foreign corporation, and then ramming it through under an urgency procedure.

The ruling center-right National Party has emphasized the financial benefit of retaining the "Hobbit" production in country.

As the law changes got under way, "Hobbit" director-producer Peter Jackson thanked the film technicians, actors and fans, the New Zealand government and Warner Bros and its New Line Cinema unit for their support in their monthlong fight to keep "The Hobbit" films in New Zealand.

"We are grateful to the government for introducing legislation which shall give everyone in the film industry certainty as to their employment status. This clarification will provide much needed stability and reassurance for film workers as well as investors from within New Zealand and overseas," Jackson and partner Fran Walsh said in a statement.

He added that the support from the film technicians, actors and fans and the thousands who had written to them in their month long battle to keep the films in NZ, "made all the difference."

Essentially what the new law does is create a default position, categorizing all film production workers as independent contractors, Jim Roberts, partner at law firm Hesketh Henry told the New Zealand Herald.

"Most workers engaged by screen production companies in the New Zealand film industry had indicated they were reasonably happy with being engaged as contractors, with the advantages that brings in terms of expenses and taxation in New Zealand and it certainly makes sense for production companies who largely work on a project to project basis," said Penelope Borland, CEO of producers guild SPADA.   Continued...