Filmmaker threatens to pull Hobbit from New Zealand

Filmmaker Peter Jackson threatened on Monday to move the troubled production of his latest Tolkien saga The Hobbit from New Zealand over a dispute with an Australian actors’ union.

In an open letter, Jackson said The Hobbit, a two-film prequel to the Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy, may be moved to eastern Europe if the row with Australia’s Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance was not settled.

The MEAA has called for an international boycott of The Hobbit until producers agree to meet its demands over union representation, a move Jackson said may drive the project from his homeland.

“I can’t see beyond the ugly spectre of an Australian bully-boy using what he perceives as his weak Kiwi cousins to gain a foothold in this country’s film industry,” Jackson said.

“They want greater membership, since they get to increase their bank balance.”

New Zealand’s mountainous landscape provided a stunning backdrop to The Lord of the Rings, which helped kickstart a local film industry Jackson—a New Zealander himself—said was now under threat.

“If The Hobbit goes east—east Europe in fact—look forward to a long, dry, big-budget movie drought in this country,” he said.

“We have done better in recent years with attracting overseas movies and the Australians would like a greater slice of the pie, which begins with them using The Hobbit to gain control of our film industry.”

The Hobbit has been stalled by financial woes at movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which is facing a debt of $3,7-billion and is negotiating a streamlined bankruptcy with creditors.

Mexican-born Guillermo Del Toro quit as director in May, citing almost two years of delays, with Lord of the Rings director Jackson expected to replace him at the helm.

Jackson denied being anti-union and said he was angry “a tiny minority” of actors could potentially derail a project that would create thousands of jobs and inject hundreds of millions of dollars into New Zealand’s economy.

The filmmaker said he had always treated both union and non-union actors fairly on his sets and accused the MEAA of unfairly singling out The Hobbit.

“It sure feels like we are being attacked simply because we are a big fat juicy target, not for any wrongdoing,” he said.

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said minimum employment standards needed to be met and Australia’s MEAA was simply assisting its counterparts in the New Zealand labour movement achieve the goal.

“It is totally unjustified to describe the union assistance from Australia as bullying,” she said, calling on the film’s producers to work with unions on conditions, “rather than simply threaten to remove the film from New Zealand”.

MEAA assistant federal secretary Simon Whipp told Radio New Zealand the union was concerned actors involved in The Hobbit were not being offered contracts which were standard throughout the industry.

Whipp said the MEAA had no interest in driving work away from New Zealand and wanted to work with the movie’s producers.

Actor Ian McKellen, who is likely to reprise his role as the wizard Gandalf, reportedly told a British newspaper this month that back-to-back shooting of the two movies was set to begin in January. - AFP


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