Move comes as films' producers refuse to ink deal with N.Z. performers

Jackson slams unions over ‘Hobbit’ boycott | Statement from Jackson

The seven major actors unions have told members not to work on “The Hobbit” due to the refusal of producers to sign a deal with local New Zealand performers.

The unions issued the admonishment Friday, noting that “The Hobbit” producers have indicated they intend to make “imminent” offers to performers.

“The makers of feature film ‘The Hobbit’ – to be shot in New Zealand next year – have refused to engage performers on union-negotiated agreements,” the member alert said. “Members of Canadian Actors Equity, US Actors Equity, the Screen Actors Guild, UK Actors Equity, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (Australia) and the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists are advised not to accept work on this non-union production. If you are contacted to be engaged on ‘The Hobbit’ please notify your union immediately.”

The move has been coordinated through Intl. Federation of Actors, of which the unions world are members, to support the New Zealand performers. “All unions remain hopeful that this situation can be resolved with goodwill on all sides,” the group said.

Move by the unions adds more uncertainty to the fate of the back-to-back “Hobbit” films, which have still not been greenlit by co-financers New Line and MGM. A New Line spokesperson said the studio had no comment and reps for Peter Jackson — who’s exec producing and may direct — were not immediately available.

Guillermo del Toro departed the project in late May as director and Jackson had been in subsequent talks to take over as helmer, according to sources close to the situation. Additionally, MGM’s debtholders remain in the midst of sorting out the future of the studio, hobbled by debts of $3.7 billion, with Spyglass toppers Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum having recently signed a non-binding letter of intent to operate MGM once it completes a restructuring that’s expected to include a pre-packaged bankruptcy.

“The Hobbit” films are based on the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, who obtains the ring that was the centerpiece of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy of books and films. Del Toro, who committed to direct “The Hobbit” pics in 2008, said in May that sets, wardrobe, animatics and planned battles sequences had all been fully prepared.

The admonition by the unions to their members doesn’t prevent actors from working on “The Hobbit” but puts them on notice that they could be punished.

SAG, for example, enacted a Global Rule One initiative in 2002 that urged its 100,000 members not to violate a key provision of its constitution that bars members from working for producers not signatory to its agreements. Violators face suspension, fines and expulsion — although SAG’s never disclosed whether it’s disciplined any members for Rule One violations.

The Intl. Federation of Actors — known as FIA — said that New Zealand initiative dates back to 2006, when performers contacted the Australian actors union (the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance). It asserted that the New Zealand performers have been working under contracts providing no minimum guarantees of wages or working conditions, no residual payments and no cancellation payments.

The announcement said that the New Zealand branch of the Alliance has sought since 2006 to negotiate with both individual producers and with the producers’ association but to no avail. “At a recent meeting FIA decided that the situation had persisted long enough and that it was time for action to be taken,” it said.

The FIA resolution reads, “Resolved, that the International Federation of Actors urges each of its affiliates to adopt instructions to their members that no member of any FIA affiliate will agree to act in the theatrical film ‘The Hobbit’ until such time as the producer has entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance for production in New Zealand providing for satisfactory terms and conditions for all performers employed on the productions.”

FIA said that it had contacted the production company on Aug. 17 about the potential “do not work” order. Three days later, the unions in FIA wrote a joint letter to the producers of the film advising that they were adhering to the FIA position. The Australian union contacted MGM and New Line on Aug. 31.

FIA said the producers, through their lawyers, have refused to negotiate with the union, adding, “The producers claim it would be unlawful (and a breach of New Zealand competition laws) for the producer to enter into an agreement with the union covering the engagement of performers on the production.”

FIA disputed that assertion. “The Alliance has obtained legal advice that there are a variety of lawful means which could be used to establish the minimum wages, working conditions and residuals for performers on the production,” it added.

FIA also said that the producers have indicated that they intend to make imminent offers to performers and plan to pay residuals “significantly less” than the Alliance’s usual agreements on such projects as “Mad Max 4″ aka “Fury Road” and “Happy Feet 2, which provides for residuals equivalent to those under the SAG agreement.

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