Technicians unhappy with Gods of Egypt deal

19 December, 2013 by Don Groves

The Australian technicians’ union is at loggerheads with the producers of Gods of Egypt, Alex Proyas’ fantasy adventure starring Gerard Butler, Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Geoffrey Rush and Brenton Thwaites.

The union accuses the producers of trying to drive down wages and conditions that were negotiated for Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner and The Great Gatsby.

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The producers are seeking the same conditions as for Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken which, the union alleges, entail significant cuts to overtime, night loadings and travel time. Their offer was put to a vote by 27 crew members that have been employed in pre-production on the film which is due to start shooting on March 24 in Sydney or Melbourne.

Mal Tulloch, director of the Entertainment Crew and Sport section of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, tells IF that 20 voted in favour with seven against.

He says the union will oppose the agreement when the producers seek to register it with the Fair Work Commission because the conditions will apply to all crew employed on the film, which qualifies for the 40% producer offset. “The majority of the people who work on the film will have no say in their conditions,” he says.

The producers are Summit Entertainment, Basil Iwanyk’s Thunder Road Pictures and Proyas' Mystery Clock. They contend the overall offer is fair and they needed to strike a deal now to give certainty to investors and to meet the production timetable.

Butler is cast as Set, a god who kills and mutilates his brother Osiris. Coster-Waldau is Horus, the son of Osiris, who seeks to avenge his father’s death. Rush will play the sun god Ra, father of Set and Osiris who is Set’s ultimate target. Thwaites is Bek, a human thief who cares little for the affairs of gods. The script is by Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama, the team behind Universal’s upcoming Dracula.

The MEAA says the budget is $100 million-plus. It says the producers increased their original offer so the standard week will be 5 days in 6 (Mon-Sat), instead of 5 days in 7 (Mon-Sun) and Saturday overtime will be time-and-a-half for 5 hours before double-time kicks in, rather than 10 hours.

But the union says there was no improvement in daily overtime after 12 hours, or night loadings. “The agreement winds back penalty rates which prevent people from working long hours,” Tulloch says. ”We think it is a retrograde step.”

The MEAA believes the producers are seeking to set new, lower standards for big-budget Australian films and it is not appropriate to import offshore conditions to productions that are receiving a 40% tax incentive to shoot in Australia.

Its national screen committee, which represents crew in all States, voted to oppose the agreement in the Fair Work Commission.

On another front, the union is not happy with a deal being negotiated with reps of the Walt Disney Studios for the Australian crew to be engaged  on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Caption Nemo.

The previous Labor government agreed to pay Disney $21.6 million to ensure the remake shoots here. Production has been delayed due to cast and director availability.

The terms of the offer do not meet the Fair Work 'better off overall test' according to Tulloch, who adds, “A lot of work needs to be done before we are in a position to sign off on that agreement.”
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • eddie

    So the Australian producer wants to have his cake and eat it too. Gets a 40% Producer Rebate for a film which no sensible person would define as Australian but then doesn’t want to comply with the award for Australian films. Time for George Brandis to tell us just what he thinks is an Australian film. Proyas has form on this. The last film he made Knowing, was also an offshore American film which shot here and got the rebate. Yet another case of subsidising Hollywood. Is this government stupid or what?

  • Bobby Galinsky

    While ‘a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’ is always what everyone wants to achieve—the nature of today’s economy and the ability for Australia to attract massive overseas gigs STEADILY rather than every few years would require a bit of malleability for the unions to ‘get real’ and not stand in the way of both progress and a better scenario for EVERYONE.

    If dozens, or hundreds, or yes even thousands of productions over the next decade are realized in this country then it’s good for everyone on every scale from writers to directors to actors to crew to caterers and cafe’s. Mal Tulloch might say it’s a ‘retrograde step’ but he night want to walk over to the Holden factory (which could make a great studio or location in a few years….) and learn the difference between retrograde and economy of scale.

    Producers put their lives into projects and take all the blame when a film tanks and a 20 hour day every week of their life is not uncommon. As a writer the same thing applies and there is NO CERTAINTY to success or a payday. Investors risk their years of savings and investments to bring a film to fruition and create the tens of thousands of jobs that result out of the dreams of writers and producers.

    So for a guaranteed wage on a project and guaranteed work to just…maybe… bend a little bit and perhaps move towards being able to work 52 weeks a year if you like because of the VOLUME of work instead of hoping to crew up on the sparse amount of projects currently available doesn’t require a lot of deep thought. It requires thinking of the greater good and the future instead of the instant ‘of me and now’.

    We have amongst the best crew on the planet here, and with solid remuneration plans. If private and foreign investors are going to continue to funds projects in Australia they have to be viable.

    The closure of our auto industry and related manufacturing means there are going to be hundreds, perhaps thousands of people out there looking to retrain and enter other industries. The film and TV industry are prime examples of recession-resistant industries with massive growth potential. Many of these people will hopefully be entering some facet of our industry and they are not ‘competition’ they are new players on the field.

    Isn’t it better to be occasionally paid a bit less to get a lot more work? Some lawyers do work pro bono (for free) for certain clients, and charge top dollar to others. Writers are occasionally compensated very highly but often spend years on spec scripts and never see a penny. If you took the average income of a writer and producer and compared it to CREW across the board I would unscientifically but speculatively say that crew earns more $$ and works less hours by far ON AVERAGE. And take no risk!

    When investors and producers can’t see a profit, they move elsewhere and no movie production means NO employment. And with government money to fund films so minimal, the only way for steady growth is from the private and corporate sector.

    This applies across to the MEAA’s often ridiculously tough stance on bringing in foreign actors, which they have often claimed ‘take’ Australian jobs—they CREATE Australian jobs by bringing gigs that employ dozens or hundreds that wouldn’t exist without a key bankable foreign actor.

    And by promulgating the idea that we don’t want to negotiate on rates or imports or anything we are telling the world “we don’t want your fucking business mate we’re happy the way we are…”

    But we’re not…. we want to be, deserve to be, and CAN be the number one destination for film and TV production in the English-speaking world and if we’re willing to play on a global stage we better pay on a global stage.

    I’m proudly Australian but I’d rather we be THE MAJOR PLAYER of a ‘world film community’ and wave that flag; instead of flying the Aussie flag over a dead and empty battlefield of deserted studios and productions that never saw the light of day because somebody just didn’t get enough overtime or enough sleep.

    That’s the difference between teamwork and selfish unreality.

  • The Truth

    Every year, for the last 3 decades at least, some one has come over and said – ‘your union is scaring off productions because of the unreasonable terms.’ They always point out ‘In mexico we pay only this’, in ‘Bulgaria they bring their own lunch’ or what ever the latest sweat shop analogy is..

    But the funny thing is.. there is a line they won’t go below..funny that..because the work suffers.

    How could the work get worse — say than the conditions of tv?.Well it does and they know it.

    This deal is your typical deal for a film they know is going to be a stinker.
    Why should we pay our taxes to give a 40% rebate to a film which in a free market would loose 100%?

    — Fact is — with these terms – They will just end up with the regular poverty stricken c list crew. You know them as they are the nameless shufflers identifiable as grumpy, depressed, chain smoking, drug addled and burnt out ( – usually suffering from their relationships and health falling apart because of the hours – plus drug and alcohol abuse.)

    These crews seem to spend more time trying to figure out ways to fleece the production of money and get jobs for friends they are cahoots with than anything to do with the production. The only time they work together is to send the shoot into over time as a way to make more money.

    This model also takes the onus off the failures of the production departments. ( First on and last off). Their inability to plan realistic schedules, their complete misunderstanding of the dynamics of productions and their failure to learn is endemic.

  • Bobby Galinsky

    In response to the comments from Eddie and The Truth (above) with great respect to their opinions which are as valid as anyones:

    Eddie, while the government here is generous with the potential (based on the production and various Australian elements) 40% rebate, more often than not (as in 90% ++ of indie productions) it is used as part of the budget and doesn’t go ‘into the producer’s pockets’ but simply allows him or her to make the project and to take a fair payday regardless of the success, or failure, of the project. A paycheque for YEARS of work which ultimately employs hundreds, or THOUSANDS of people. And KNOWING was done with primarily Aussie cast and crew, Aussie director, shot in Australia. What is the problem with that?? And if the film is highly profitable against all odds, why shouldn’t the people who took the majority of the risk to bring the dream to the screen reap the majority of the rewards?

    Mr. Truth: For a producer to actually be able to take a payday when those past 30 years have also been fraught with producers who haven’t made a cent getting a film up but ensuring the CREW got paid is a good thing. It ensures that projects get up, that the producer can pay him or herself to keep a project alive for two, three, TEN years or longer…. And if “they’re falling apart and their relationships are falling apart from ‘the hours and alcohol and drug abuse’ then please go get another career because when writers and producers go MONTHS or YEARS without income they figure out how to keep their dream alive. And when writers and producers go through relationship problems and drug abuse it’s ‘research’, boys and girls 🙂

    How many crew would ever put themselves out there for ten YEARS let alone ten DAYS without pay following a dream? Count them on one hand. Closer to Zero. Zilch. Nicht. Nada.

    So the big big big point here is the crew are not RISKING. They are bending a bit, but not taking any of the risk. Everyone LOVES a great crew. It’s like having a great FAMILY. And if they were working 50 weeks a year instead of FIVE they’d be a lot less grumpy.

    As far as shitty crews… you’re right. They’re out there and they are rife in every industry. But all one needs to do is bend a little to ensure everyone wins, instead of holding fast on something that might ensure NO work.

    No Mr. Truth, we’re not in Mexico (regrettably, when searching for good burritos….) or in Bulgaria (fortunately, as I can’t think of one reason Bulgaria should exist with the exception of EXPENDABLES 2 and some fine scenery and torture porn slave girls from what Eli Roth says…) so we’re not asking anyone to work for free. We’re asking everyone, including ourselves (writers/producers/you name it) to give…so that everyone can get.

    Australia should be known, and WILL in the next few years I firmly believe– be known, as “THE place in the English speaking world to make a film”, not as “a union stranglehold for every industry”. And you’re talking to a WGA supporter not an ‘anti-union’ person.

    I just feel that there is a shocking attitude of ENTITLEMENT that is like an incurable virus in this country that needs to be addressed. I couldn’t be prouder of being an Aussie, but I could be far prouder about our attitude to what we believe is ‘owed us’ rather than earned…

  • James With

    Australia’s constantly expanding legislation and over-regulated environment has created an uncompetitive, ignorant, bickering work force backed up by unions that are too gruff, badly managed, ill-advised, playing catch up on legislative changes and are behind the times. This is affecting EVERY industry in Australia, not just the Australian film industry “Down Under”. Pricing is one aspect of a very complex undertaking – that is making a film designed to be distributed globally – and producers balance market conditions, foreign exchange rates and a thousand and one other parameters when they embark down the road of making a film; the higher the budget, the higher the risk and the heavier the responsibility.

    Professional producers, as Bobby Galinsky has stated in the earlier posted comment, put their lives into projects and invest hours and hours day in and day out for years to get a film INTO production. The setting up of a production, establishing legal structures and production companies, polishing the screenplay, re-writing, breaking down, pacing about, securing deals, financing, investment, rebate deals, discounts, choosing locations, casting talent, balancing budgets, scheduling, employing people, dealing with the legal issues, and more… are all considerations.

    Generally, Australians have become mired in corruption, nepotistic policy and abject laziness. In this article the focus is on a few people backed by a union wielding complaints about wage rates causing issues at a crucial juncture in the preparation of Gods of Egypt, presently in pre-production, slated for a 12 February 2016 release in the US, and this article highlights an obvious trend in terms of pricing for services Down Under, demonstrated by other films having successfully brokered deals previously. If Australians think they can hold a plastic gun (likely a cheap imported Chinese-made Luger as one doesn’t need a license for owning toys in Australia – yet) to the heads of the producers and thus the project to ransom they are deluded, the gun will quite obviously crack and mis-click, most likely resulting injuring themselves and they’ll bound off set, kangarooing to the nearest bar to commiserate and drown their sorrows. Their fellow pilgrims bearing riches will choose fairer shores to set up a more balanced and reasonably priced colony and process to make a film elsewhere. Australia’s early pioneers are surely revolving in their desert graves as they are trampled over by worm-eaten wethers, being herded into road-trains and then onto cargo ships heading to Oman and other ports in the Middle East.

    There are no guarantees in life. It is entirely unrealistic to assume one can ask for higher and higher wages and remain competitive in the global economy, especially as Asian markets create more efficient trading partnerships. The US and EU are struggling to keep the home fires burning as they furiously sweep the snow building up in front their frozen doors, and both economies have huge populations that drive them. Australia suffers from a shortage of people and this has driven up prices and wages over many decades. It’s time for a drastic overhaul of Australia’s structured economy that is now busting at the seems due to the weight of lever arch files spilling over in inept legalese. The country’s politicians elected by the people must wake up and really work for the country as a whole – God forbid that actually means working longer hours at lower rates! Australians need to look outside the boat and see what is happening beyond its leaking hull before Australia is attacked and wiped off the face of the global, economically, that is. Perhaps though, the changes are happening whether the politicians like it or not – no amount of legislation can stem a rising tide of boat people, that may actually be a Godsend, leading to a stronger more vibrant country? More people arriving, settling and willing to work and building new lives in that sun-burned country, creating the new “Great Australian Dream” – with a reel or two from Hollywood sporting a white dove with an olive branch in its beak and all the makings for a happy ending.

  • Bobby Galinsky

    And as a further footnote to this saga, as a Victorian it’s sad that this production which could been been headquartered here ended up in Sydney because certain travel accommodations were refused and so now people who could be enjoying the benefits of this massive production based down here are sitting around reading this thread instead of being on set…