Hobbit Squabbles: The Sequel

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In this newsletter:
*** Dwarven Dub
*** News & Current projects
*** Cool Things Friends Do: Tania Williams
*** Hobbit Squabbles: The Sequel

Dwarven Dub

Perhaps the main reason I got stuck on Doctor Who last month (apart from the sheer brilliance of the series – I did end up being entirely frivolous and investing in the season one to four box set, second hand, but still. No more lonely evenings at least til Christmas! Expect to hear more in a future newsletter) — was as a procrastination mechanism, to keep me from dealing with a task that has been looming for several months now:

One of the many very wonderful people who have been supporting my Travels in Middle-earth CD fundraiser a couple of years ago, has been proactive about establishing Fantasy Music as an official genre: about a year or two ago, he produced The First Ring, a sampler of Tolkien themed music. Apparently it was a success, for he is now working on Volume Two, and asked me, several months back, if I would contribute a track?

I was most happy to oblige. Offering an entirely new tune was not feasible at this time, but I promised to have a play on my computer and re-mix one of the tracks on my Travels in Middle-earth CD. The one I settled on was "Dwarven Blues" - of course it was going to be one of the tunes I'd written myself!

Quite some while ago, I starting tossing around some ideas, biked down to the local river to get some authentic Middle-earthian river pebbles to do some percussion-y stuff with, and recorded it. I then chased those recordings through a variety of audio filters and came up with some interesting sounds, and I gave the same treatment to some bits and pieces from the harp tune. I got as far as putting together a nice dub style intro, but that's where things stalled a bit.

Then came the exhibition, and I had to put the project to the side for two months while I was organizing, promoting, and getting some more paintings ready. By early September, the deadline was beginning to loom dangerously close, and I had to make a pact with myself to not touch a paint brush until I had got this mix out of my system. I may be able to both paint and musick to a reasonable standard, but it appears I can't be working on them simultaneously.

And this song was a bit of a challenge - more so than most of the paintings I have worked on lately. I know my way around a bit of sound software, but I am no trained sound engineer, and there is quite a bit of trial and error involved. And I've rarely been able to conceive a piece of music the way I often visualize a painting, as something reasonably finished and complete in my mind, that just needs to be realized in the physical universe. It's much more of a tentative process, a puzzle piece — try things and see if I like them, rather than knowing exactly what to do.

Instead of going back to my original mix of glued together sound clips in Soundtrack Pro, I started entirely afresh by putting down some accompaniment tracks in Garageband. Which is an entirely different way of working. Always good fun, since I can perform on the keyboard and basically improvise. At the end, I had two mixes, which both had some ideas I liked, but not much to do with each other.

Then the challenge was to throw out what was not conductive to achieving a harmonious whole, and pull the two versions together into something that (I hope) makes some musical sense.

The track "Dwarven Dub" is now available on my Reverbnation profile - you'll get prompted to "become a fan" and/or sign up for my mailing list, but no worries - there won't be any additional spam emails apart from this newsletter, which you're already subscribed to anyway. It is, of course, a cheap trick to boost my ranking, but then again, maybe not all that much to ask for making these tracks available online free of charge.

Oh, and if you thought you'd spotted the Doctor Who theme somewhere in there — you might not be imagining it. Just don't tell the BBC, will ya! :P

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Wellington Yoga Centre website Wellington Yoga Centre website Wellington Yoga Centre website

Wellington Yoga Centre website www.wellingtonyogacentre.co.nz

News & Current Projects

This month has been mostly busy with proper paid web design work, which is just how it should be. I've already introduced the Wellington Yoga Centre website in my previous newsletter - it is now properly online and live, and can be admired here: www.wellingtonyogacentre.co.nz

Next up was a business website for a client in the UK, Margaret Hiley. She is the sister of a fellow budding illustrator friend I met online, and a specialist on Tolkien and music! A little while ago she asked me if she might cite from my Travels in Middle-earth CD booklet for a review she was writing, and things sort of developed from there. Incidentally, her father is a professor of Musicology, and the author of a big fat scholarly study and reference on Medieval Plainchant, which has been gracing my bookshelf long before I ever met either of his daughters. Such is the smallness of the planet.

Margaret is a professional academic and keen folk musician, and - having grown up bilingual - has recently set up a business offering English/German translation, editing and proofreading services for academics, writers, and the cultural and creative industries. Her areas of specialist expertise include fantasy and science fiction literature, music and musicology, myth and mythology, media studies, and breweries … so we do have quite a few interests in common!

This site has been a real pleasure to work on - not least because I could play with the beautiful cartoons created by Margaret's sister Catherine, an illustrator and print maker currently residing in Edinburgh. I am really pleased with the look of this site, and even more pleased with some of the behind-the-scenes functionality, which is based on some smart and economical application of PHP scripts: for instance the "testimonials" page, where new referrals can easily be added by uploading a text file to the appropriate folder on the web server. This task is easy to do even for the not so computer initiated, and it is a much more simple and streamlined solution than setting up a complex content management system requiring a database.

The site can be viewed on my test server, awaiting approval from the client - I expect that it will be properly online and live next week at www.margarethiley.com

The first half of the month has been mostly taken up with making music, but by the time I had almost finished the Dwarven Dub, I was chewing my bit to get back into painting. Dad's birthday was coming up at the end of the month, so it was a good opportunity to do a spring still life, to go with the one I painted for my mother last winter. My father's birthday being in October, he used to get autumn themed images of fallen leaves all the time, so it was quite nice to give him a bouquet of spring flowers instead, for once. :)

I have been really enjoying painting these watercolour still lives - and have been quite happy with the outcome, too - so I've decided to open up the shop for commisions! This is an absolute first in my artistic career.

Up until Christmas, I will be accepting a very limited number of commissions for watercolour still lives at the seriously value-for-money rate of NZ $ 300 / € 160 / US $ 220 for an A2 size sheet, NZ$ 200 / € 100 / US$ 150 for an A3 size sheet, or NZ $ 60 / € 30 / US $ 45 for an A5 size sheet. Suggest a subject, or leave the choice up to me: there is a wide variety of flowers, herbs, New Zealand native plants, pebbles, flotsam, fruit, and home objects to choose from. And what's more, with the A2 and A3 sized paintings, I'll throw in a pack of 10 greeting cards with your motif, to send away to your friends! Please contact me as soon as possible, to make sure it can be ready by Christmas.

The garden has been demanding my attention again, now that it is spring: I've been digging up a few more vegetable patches, and watched the tulips, daffodils and irises blossom, followed by an abundance of forget-me-not, salvy and lavender, a symphony in blue, purple and green.

By now, the manuka is putting out flowers - quite early this year, last year it was still blossoming at Christmas. The first of the lettuces are ready for harvest, life has been spicier now that the various herbs are experiencing bursts of growth, and I am planning my vegetable crops for the year. Yesterday on my monthly shopping run to the Masterton Pak'n Save, I acquired a quite substantial young witch hazel from the "reduced for quick sale" rack, for all of five dollars! Just to help establish my reputation. ;)

Greetings from the garden Greetings from the garden Greetings from the garden Greetings from the garden Greetings from the garden

Greetings from the garden

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MasterShip by Tania Williams Tania Lucia by Tania Williams Red Rose by Tania Williams Courtship by Tania Williams

Artwork © Tania Williams :: www.taniawilliamsart.com

Cool Things Friends Do: Tania Williams

My social life has really been kicking off a bit this month - I truly think I had about five social appointments! For someone as reclusively inclined as myself, that's being quite the social butterfly.

Tania Williams is a fellow (recent) Featherston artist - like myself, she moved here last November, the very day after I did, in fact. I met her at an "alternative movie" DVD screening at a local pub, which is organized by a couple of locals whom I know through my Online Promotion classes. She spontaneously came over for a cup of tea one afternoon, after we'd established that we have quite a few things in common.

I like her colourful, whimsical artwork - quite a bit along the lines of my own, I think. It's definitely what you call "illustratorly" - some of it is fantasy themed, she also paints people and still lives. Tania has a special interest in ancient American cultures, and some of her artwork reflects that quite strongly. Have a look at her website, www.taniawilliamsart.com !

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Greytown street scene Greytown street scene Greytown street scene Greytown street scene

Small town New Zealand: Greytown, Wairarapa

Hobbit Squabbles: The Sequel

About one thing I was right: This turned out to be much bigger on the inside. How much bigger? I dread to think.

The last couple of weeks have seen the usually politically placid inhabitants of these shores embroiled in a national debate of epic proportions. I think it might even have made the international news! Except, wait. Actually, it wasn't a debate at all. More like universal finger pointing in one direction, and one direction only. The Evil Actor's Union, aka "bolshy left wing filth from Australia".

Now bolshy left wing filth we might be able to live with - as long as they are "young New Zealanders". But "from Australia" - that settles the matter. At least it seems to have settled the matter for Sir Peter and Sir Richard, who can of course not be wrong about anything, ever (after all, they are "Sirs").

Now before I indulge in more of the salacious sarcasm which seems to me the only possible sane reaction to what has come to pass, let me try to sketch an outline of events.

This is actually a lot harder than it should be: the facts got somewhat lost in so much opinionated yelling. Journalism in New Zealand, it has appeared, seems to be somewhat lacking in the discipline of Sticking to the Facts — let alone anything that might deserve the name "investigative journalism", or the application of Critical Thinking — in favour of going for the Biggest Possible Effect that Does Not Contradict Sir Peter or Sir Richard ("We're all a big noisy family"), and Feeling Very Important in the process. Finally something is happening in our little patch, and look the world is paying attention! Better make the most of it. Facts are boring, who wants to read about facts.

But yes, facts. Not sarcasm. At least I'll try. Admittedly, investigative journalism is hard to pull off in a culture where Speaking Your Mind can easily lead Not Being Hired Any More, Ever — an all pervasive fear when one tries to get an opinion, or indeed a few actual bare boned facts, from most anyone involved in the local film industry. Even having your name somehow associated in the wrong context can kill a career, it would seem. Or at least, someone has been very successful at inculcating that fear in a whole lot of people.

Fact one: New Zealand Actor's Equity, backed by the Australian actor's union MEAA, with whom they are associated (as I understand it) because numbers in New Zealand are too small to be legally entitled to run an independent union (the facts of the matter are elusive: it has not even been possible to establish how many members, exactly, the New Zealand Actor's Union has) - has been drawing attention to the fact that non-union New Zealand actors are being offered contracts to work on the Hobbit movie on conditions that are below the standard negotiated by the union. They have been calling for a collective agreement that would ensure minimum wages and work conditions for all New Zealand actors hired for the shoot. This has been backed by a number of international unions, who have been telling their members to not accept work on the Hobbit movie unless this issue is resolved.

NZ Herald article * another NZ Herald article * Peter Jackson's side of the story on TheOneRing.net * some background on PublicAddress.net * more background on RadioLive * an "opinion piece" in the NZ Herald * statement by Australian union boss Simon Whipp

It appears that this attempt was made rather at the point of gun - shortly after this union move became known, Warner announced that the production was finally greenlit, after a series of legal wrangles and financial difficulties that have been dragging on some seven years, ever since Lord of the Rings was in the bin - and which have already caused the shooting to be delayed for about a year. This was the reason Guillermo del Toro cited earlier this year, when he announced he would not be able to direct the movie. It has been said that the Actor's Union has had all this time to work on this issue, but has instead chosen to target a high profile production, because this was guaranteed to attract a lot of media attention. NZ Equity letter published on Onfilm website

It has also been said that ultimately, the initiator of this union action was the American Screen Actors' Guild, SAG, and that their aim is to keep Hollywood productions in Hollywood, rather than having them ship out to cheaper locations overseas, which are increasingly offering massive tax breaks to attract such productions. [Youtube Video] The ins and outs of this situation are far too complex for me to even begin to try to analyse in my little newsletter. If you are interested in these issues (and personally, I think every citizen of this planet should be, for their own self protection), Naomi Campbells insightful study of the symptoms and consequences of Globalization, No Logo, really is a highly recommended read. No Logo on Amazon

Fact Two: Peter Jackson released a statement in which he called the Australian Union a "bully boy" and hinted that Warner might move the production "to an Eastern European country". He also claimed that he had been excluded from a Union meeting in Wellington, though there have been claims on the other side that it was he who refused to meet with them, on the grounds that he personally could not negotiate a matter that would affect the entire New Zealand film industry. Again, I have been unable to establish the truth of the matter - a personal question I sent to an actor who was present has not been answered, and whatever statements have been published are confusing and contradictory, with mutual accusations of bullying taking the place of anything that could be called a constructive dialogue. It does appear that there were some serious irregularities at the Wellington meeting, with non union actors first being invited, and then excluded from voting for a resolution after the voting process had already begun.

It has also been much emphasized that actors (as well as a lot of the behind-camera crew, as far as I am aware), are employed as independent contractors, and that collective bargaining would therefore amount to "price fixing', and be illegal. [article in NZ Herald] There has been a case of a technician who had worked on Lord of the Rings, suing Three Foot Six (the production company) because he felt that although he was nominally an independent contractor (meaning, he did not have the rights and legal protection of an employee, and the production company did not have to pay Employee tax), he was being treated as an employee in every respect. The court that judged this case ruled in his favour. (Again, I highly recommend that you read Naomi Campbell).

Greytown street scene Greytown street scene Greytown street scene

Small town New Zealand: Greytown street scenes

Fact Three: Warner Brothers announced that it was considering moving the production to an unspecified location overseas.

Fact Four: in reaction to this announcement, a number of technicians working at Weta Workshops took to the street, waving banners demanding that the Hobbit stay in New Zealand and that the unions drop their boykott - amongst much railing against spoilt actors who never do a day of work and get to walk down Red Carpets and generally get all the pretty girls. And against the Evil Australians and their union, who are just trying to ruin the New Zealand economy anyway. Everybody knows that. Blog entry with video clips on The Movie Blog * Reports on TheOneRIng.net

I suppose it is understandable that a group of people who had already been working on these movies for at least a year, and suddenly saw their jobs threatened, reacted in such an emotional manner.

Personally, I don't consider it excuses the amount of unreflected prejudice that was washed up on the occasion, or the sheer stupidity of stirring up the pot and making a point of pointing out to the Warner representatives who were due to visit the next day, just how truly desperate New Zealand was to get this movie shoot. Squeeeeeze our balls, squeeeeeeeeeeeze them harder! Perhaps it is the same mindset that used to make bands of young men throw themselves enthusiastically into whatever opportunity offered to get themselves killed for King, Kong or country, under the illusion that it is a heroic and romantic and admirable thing to do. Perhaps it is what happens when a corporate culture models itself on the Boy Scouts.

If these people wanted to convince the world and the Warner representatives, that New Zealand possesses a mature film industry of grown up professionals, ready to be taken seriously on the world stage, this was not the way to go. And the media chimed in and did their bit - everybody knew exactly who was to blame, and guess what, it was exactly who Peter Jackson said was to blame, with a bit of emotional appeal to the "big noisy family" that is the New Zealand film industry thrown in, and how it made him even angrier that those union people were Australians. Well, he is a very successful film director, meaning he is a professional expert at grabbing people by the balls.

Fact Five: This week, the Warner Studio representatives visited Wellington and had talks both with Peter Jackson, and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. The result of these talks - surprise, surprise - is that the film shoot will stay in New Zealand.

Perhaps someone at Warner had done the maths and figured that just moving a whole pre-production that has already been going for a year, including preparations on the iconic Hobbiton film set which is just a wee bit hard to move, was going to require some massive tax breaks to set off the cost. Perhaps someone realized that the fan base, which associates these films very strongly with New Zealand, was not going to be pleased. Perhaps the whole thing was just shall we say a bluff. Did anyone, in those past two weeks, bother to question this, or do some background research? Not that I am aware.

What strikes me as a little odd, though, is that within the frame of about two weeks, the location the movie was going to move to went from "cheap countries in Eastern Europe" to "Ireland", and eventually, "Tasmania" (that's what the evil Australian union was after, see? Get the shoot for themselves, because Australia is really ideally suited to represent Middle-earth). Not to mention the fact that Warner seems to have had this plan B all planned out ready to announce a couple of days after the union made its move - but still they were "considering this only as a result of the union actions" and out of concern that the NZ film industry "was not stable enough to guarantee their investment". Does it really take such a very well developed bullshit detector to think that something smells a little strange here?

Warner most certainly spotted an opportunity to squeeze the New Zealand government for some extra incentives, and thus they did. $ 20 million new grants, and $ 13.4 million in marketing grants, over and above the original deal, according to the 3news website.

But Warner didn't stop at squeezing the New Zealand economy for money. No. They demanded a change to employment law. To make a clear distinction (on paper, mind you) about who is an independent contractor, and who is an employee. To make sure there would be no more pesky incidents like the aforementioned case of James Bryson, a model maker who had worked on Lord of the Rings, and who went and sued Three Foot Six - wait, isn't that *Peter Jackson's* production company ? - about his employment status.

He claimed that although he was nominally an indepent contractor, he was being treated as an employee in every way - including the payment of hour-based wages, and enforcement of longer working hours than he had originally agreed to. He was therefore demanding an employee's right to pursue a personal grievance claim against being made unjustly redundant. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, but was ultimately successful. Here is the James Bryson VS Three Foot Six court document - a fascinating read if you want an insight into the realities of the New Zealand film industry beyond the propaganda material published on the Lord of the Rings DVD extras and elsewhere.

A privately owned corporation from another country making a law change part of their negotiations with the government of a sovereign state? What a wonderful precedent does that not set. Oh Brave New World!

Funnily enough, I haven't heard anyone call Warner a bully boy yet. On the contrary: if you listen to the New Zealand Public Opinion, you'd think they're Santa Claus. What a fine ally to have against the Evil Australians and their wicked union's plot to destroy the New Zealand economy! Hurrah.

Shire with sheep Shire with sheep Country Scene

Country scenes from the Shire, with sheep.

One of my fabulous Facebook friends, Harold Rhenisch, a "Canadian poet, writer and editor" with German-Silesian roots (this is why we have a deal that he'll send me virtual Köstritzer whenever he's back in the old Motherland) - left this little piece of spontaneous poetry under one of my more exasperated Facebook posts:

"Icelandic horses! They have figured out this amazing deal. Men spend the lonnnnnng summer days baling hay. The horses spend the lonnnnnng winter nights eating it. This is considered a fair trade on both sides."

Sums it up neatly, I think.

Oh, and this is just in. Someone's started to think! What a relief.

PS: And this. There is at least one other person in New Zealand who thinks along the very same lines.

Arohanui, from Asni

From: Margaret Harper. Submitted 1 November 2010 8:09 AM NZDT

Hello Asni,
Thanks for continuing to send me your newsletter which I thoroughly enjoy.

I especially liked your Hobbit speil - I've been thinking exactly the same way and in expressing my views have been treated almost as a traitor. I have been somewhat ashamed as a New Zealander of the shenanigans of the "power players" and that we have been irreparably branded naive and gutless as a nation.

Our Prime Minister has "rescued The Hobbit" and in due course will be rewarded with his own deserved knighthood and perhaps a rolling credit - at the very least he'll get a red carpet appearance! Perhaps it is the task of making a living as a creative person in New Zealand that turns us into cynics.

Please continue to share your adventures with us.

kind thoughts,

From: Asni. Submitted 1 November 2010 10:32 PM NZDT

Hi Margaret,
Thank you for your thoughts! Well, few things are irreparable, but from my point of view as an "outsider" who has worked in a lot of different countries, I am well aware that things are a lot harsher out there, and I have felt for a long time that New Zealanders are often quite naive, and not able to imagine that some people simply don't care about moral considerations or decency or how many jobs are lost in New Zealand, when all they're interested in is their bottom line. I suppose it is the doubtful privilege of having grown up in post fascist Germany, that one really has no illusions about any of that - or about the danger of having control of the media fall into the wrong hands.

Public opinion witch hunts like the one we have experienced over the past two weeks, always get my hackles up - especially when it is so obvious that people are ready to swallow whatever they are being fed from a certain quarter with certain interests. I really think New Zealand could do with a few better journalists! People who are trained to ask questions, rather than just repeat whatever someone says in a press release.

Anyway --- that's why you got independent blogs!

cheers, Astrid

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Home sweet home: Featherston street scenes