Labor strife roils local biz

Film prod'n may be shutdown unless dispute resolved

SYDNEY — Tony Buckley isn’t going to renew his membership of the technicians’ union after 51 years.

The film editor-turned-producer is appalled by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance’s hardline tactics in demanding all thesps receive a share of films’ net profits.

“I don’t wish to be associated with the MEAA if it continues to pursue this naive and destructive line of action against an industry which has enough struggles as it is,” says Buckley, who joined the union at age 15 in 1953.

The Screen Producers Assn. of Australia and the Independent Producers Initiative, an ad hoc group of about 50 producers, have vowed not to sign any more deals which give actors a share of the profits.

That raises the prospect of a virtual shutdown of film production in the next month or so unless the dispute is resolved in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, where the parties are conferencing June 2.

While no pic is immediately under threat, if the row isn’t settled quickly it could impact several films including “December Boys” and “Little Fish” which are due to roll October/November.

The actors’ reps will turn up at the commission reluctantly, as their Equity division director Simon Whipp said last week, “We are prepared to negotiate an industrywide agreement, but we do not see a role for the AIRC in that. We are opposed to any arbitration on the issue.”

SPAA exec director Geoff Brown responds, “We can’t understand why the alliance is unwilling to accept the umpire’s decision when we are prepared to have the reasonableness of our decision tested and to accept any reasonable recommendation from the commission.”

Since last July, the alliance has been insisting that 8.33% of net profits be put into a pot for thesps to share. The producers have offered 5% from the 50% cut they typically receive. The other 50% is returned to investors, who are unwilling to give up any of their upside (Variety May 17-23) .

Producers like Buckley contend they signed profit-sharing deals only under duress. He says he was coerced into agreeing to those terms for his pic “The Oyster Farmer” because the alliance said thesps would not sign otherwise.

Whipp slams the producers’ position on profits as “hypocritical and laughable,” noting the new investment guidelines issued by the government’s Film Finance Corp. give producers a share of its profits from the first dollar, whereas his guild is seeking a cut of profits after recoupment.

Buckley, a member of the FFC’s board, argues the FFC’s aim is to “try to save producers’ businesses,” and he estimates the industry has lost 40% of its producers in the past 10 years. “If the actors wish to be unemployed, they are going about it the right way,” he adds.

Brown describes the option of producers effectively shutting down production if thesps keep insisting on profit-share deals as a “reluctant step, but one we are prepared to take.”

Whipp believes a production shutdown is unlikely but avers, “We are happy to ride it out.”