A visiting film consultant, apparently not involved in the production of Lord of the Rings, nonetheless told New Zealand’s The Press that the local extras working on the film are being exploited with sub-standard wages and conditions.
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Hollywood-based actor, producer, and film consultant Anna Wilding, who is visiting family in Christchurch, said New Zealanders hired to supply and ride horses in the epic were being treated like “slave labour”.
The film company Three Foot Six has been filming the trilogy at various locations around the country since last year and is currently filming around Queenstown and Twizel. Recent locations have included sites near Methven and Mt Olympus in the Kahurangi National Park.
Wilding said the riders, who were receiving daily rates of $200 and meals, would be paid at least $500 plus allowances if the film was being made in America.
“They certainly wouldn’t be sleeping in tents or in their horse floats in the cold and rain in Twizel as they are now. That’s appalling and someone has to stand up and say so,” she said.
While all the riders were volunteers, they felt bound by their contracts or believed that was all they could expect, she said.
“A lot of them are too scared to do anything because of the confidentiality agreements they signed and they don’t want to lose the $200 a day. They don’t know anybody but I suggest they would strike if they could,” Wilding said.
“New Zealanders are all so depressed about the country at the moment that nobody is sticking up for themselves. New Zealanders should not be accepting this,” she said.
The riders were not paid float fees or any allowance for working away from home as they would if they were working in the US. They should also be housed in a reasonable standard of accommodation.
Wilding believed the film company was paying many riders as extras when under US conditions they would be classed as stunt people who were paid up to $1500 a day.
“American companies make their films here because it’s cheaper and that’s fine. But with the low New Zealand dollar they can still make a big saving if they pay the going New Zealand rates for the jobs,” she said.
Film company publicist Claire Raskind said the riders were only too happy to be on the set. They were provided with three meals a day, showers, toilets, and movies at night.
Ms Raskind said the production’s horse co-ordinator Steve Old, who previously organised the Great New Zealand Horse Ride event, believed people would pay to have the same experience and conditions.
“It’s a holiday on horseback for them,” she said.
It was a New Zealand movie and the company believed its pay rates were comparable and competitive in the New Zealand context. The riders had all known what they would be paid and auditions had been well attended.