Weta Digital staff hopeful about investigation by top lawyer into alleged workplace misconduct

Staff at Wellington visual effects studio Weta Digital say they're hopeful a Queen’s Counsel investigation into alleged misconduct at the company will improve conditions for workers.

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The investigation was ordered by the owners of the visual effects studio. Source: 1 NEWS

The investigation was ordered by the company’s owners including filmmakers Sir Peter Jackson and Dame Fran Walsh after 1 NEWS revealed allegations of bullying, sexism and harassment last week.

To date more than 40 current and former Weta Digital workers have come forward to 1 NEWS with serious concerns about the company's culture.

Weta Digital has not named the QC or the terms of reference, and didn’t respond to 1 NEWS' requests for comment today.

It said in a statement yesterday, the company said, "we will not be making further comment until the review is completed".

One staff member who’s welcoming the investigation says he believes the allegations being made by current and former staff.

“Clearly there's still things happening, and I feel like we can't sweep it under the rug. We have to face it head on and stop it.”

He says the allegations being made public will “absolutely” help change things at Weta Digital.

“Coming out of this I'd like to know that there's training for all leadership positions to ensure everyone is safe and respected. If there's anyone left at the company who isn't excited to continue building a safe, inclusive Weta Digital, now is the time to change or leave. They're holding the rest of us back.”

Another current staff member who says misconduct is still an issue at the company is hopeful too.

“I think the investigation is a good sign Weta has the desire to be better than it has been and will sort out some of the problems some artists have been through.”

Some former workers say it’s been emotional hearing the allegations made public.

“This whole situation has been very triggering for quite a few ex-Weta Digital people I have spoken with” one woman said.

“We just assumed it was the way things were, and that we had to suck it up or move on… it's really gratifying to see some action.”

But others say the culture at Weta Digital won’t change until the leadership does.

“The senior execs that are often the perpetrators of this, of this culture…are still in their positions. We've all said to (Weta Digital), nothing’s going to change until you show us, show us that this is important to you, fire these people.”

“They've got each other's backs, it’s a boys club there, there's no way any of those senior people are going to change.”

Workplace Relation’s Minister Andrew Little says he’s pleased the investigation’s going ahead.

“When you've got 40 or more allegations of harassment or bullying there's a clearly a problematic workplace culture. It's incumbent on the employer to do a credible investigation, it has to be independent, they appear to have stepped up to the mark and that’s good.”

He says the film industry has a reputation for “self-exploitation”, because people are so keen to get their foot in the door. He says the investigation will put powerful companies on notice.

“The message it sends to every corporation is no matter how high profile the workplace is, it has to be a safe place to be, not just in the physical sense, but in the emotional and psychological sense as well.”

Associate Professor Deborah Jones from Victoria University is an expert on the NZ film industry and organisational ethics. She says she hopes the scope of the review will be wide, and there’ll be transparency around the terms of reference and the findings.

“If they would like to show people that it's safe to work there, and that they're taking this seriously, well then they certainly will make some of this public in terms of what they've found, and what they're going to do.”

“I'd also like to see an emphasis not just on bullying or harassment, and sexual harassment, but a broader way of thinking about equality more generally…What's the situation for women there? Are there racism issues there? Are there issues to do with disabilities? There might be other issues that are really important too.”

She acknowledged the bravery of those speaking out and says it’s “absolutely crucial” that current and former staff are able to submit their experiences totally anonymously.

“It's actually really hard and really brave for the people that've spoken out about Weta to actually say, look this is going on.”

Andrew Little says he’s confident the QC investigation will be thorough.

“When you engage a QC they have obligations beyond the client that is paying them, they have their own reputation to maintain …These are people who are trained to and geared up to get to the facts.”

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