The crew who will work on the $150 million US production will be paid less than the rates for Australian films.
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4 Apr 2013 - 4:43 PM  UPDATED 4 Apr 2013 - 4:43 PM

The Walt Disney Co.'s decision to shoot 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo in Australia will create up to 2,000 jobs, the government said when it announced it's giving the Hollywood studio a one-off payment of $21.6 million.

But the Australian crew will receive less than the rates and conditions they get for working on local films, prompting complaints from some technicians and their union, the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA).

Casting and the locations have not been finalised but the Fox Studios in Sydney and the Village Roadshow Studios in Queensland, which has a large water tank, are expected to share the studio shoots.

“Crew are desperate for work as there isn't much around so I don't begrudge them negotiating different conditions for different productions, but as far as I can see there was no give by Disney, only take,” Jenny Ward, a co-founder of the Australian Screen Editors guild and a former MEAA NSW vice-president, told SBS Film.

“Disney just stood their ground and didn't actual agree to any of the crews' concerns. It was quite a blow for those of us who have been around for a long time.” Ward readily acknowledges the “excellent and tireless work that the MEAA have done in the past and for this campaign especially”.

Disney proposed paying double time after a 12-hour day, not the standard 10 hours for Australian productions, and triple time after 15 hours (usually 12 hours). The studio also demanded on-set crew agree to forgo all night loadings and asked non-shooting crew to accept a 10-20 percent night loading.

Crew from Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales voted on Disney's proposals last week and they were narrowly approved.

“We did manage to move Disney to concede on a number of issues but what they came with was a fait accompli,” said Mal Tulloch, director of the Entertainment Crew and Sport section of the Alliance. But Tulloch acknowledged Disney rejected a demand to offer journey insurance for every worker engaged on the production.

“The MEAA feels very strongly about protecting our members' livelihoods and are currently considering offering this journey insurance to our STAA [Screen Technicians Association of Australia] members working on this production,” he said. “It could make a significant difference for a film worker injured travelling to and from work.

“The clear feedback regarding workplace health and safety from Disney is they don't believe they need to have an agreement with the union, that they will deal with it at a production level.

“We have unfinished business regarding health and safety with Disney and will ensure with the support of our members that this production will be the safest production to come to our shores in recent years.”

The government's $21.6 million subsidy was criticised by Labor backbencher Ed Husic, who argued the money would be better spent on funding hospitals, such as buying an MRI machine for his local hospital at Mount Druitt.

That struck a chord with some readers of the Sydney Morning Herald which ran a poll asking if the $21.6 million was a worthwhile investment. Just 8 percent said yes, 21 percent disagreed and 71 percent weren't sure.

“The entire thing stinks,” Revolution Pictures' Stephen Amis, who wrote, produced and directed sci-fi action adventure The 25th Reich, posted on Facebook. “I can't help thinking this could have been 20, million dollar Aussie movies, employing over 2,000 people.”

Pictured: The poster for the 1954 version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.