Like the name of Bilbo Baggins' sword, threats being made by acting unions regarding production of The Hobbit are really starting to sting.
So much so that Peter Jackson, the executive producer behind the Lord of the Rings prequel, is now suggesting that shooting could very well move to Eastern Europe—or even shut down—if things don't get resolved with the various acting unions in New Zealand that are encouraging its members not to work on a film that employs nonunion actors.
And it sounds like the various studios involved are right behind him.
"It feels as if we have a large Aussie cousin kicking sand in our eyes," Jackson said in a statement. "Seriously, if The Hobbit goes east, look forward to a long, dry big-budget movie drought in this country."
Jackson insisted that he "has always attempted to treat my actors and crew with fairness and respect," adding that any nonunion actors involved with the movie would be part of a profit-sharing pool.
Meanwhile, the involved studios—MGM, New Line and Warner Bros.—say that they are "concerned" by the allegations, but are convinced in this case that they are "baseless and unfair to Peter Jackson and his team in Wellington who have been tireless supporters of the New Zealand motion picture community."
"To classify the production as 'non-union' is inaccurate," the studios' statement continued. "The cast and crew are being engaged under collective bargaining agreements where applicable and we are mindful of the rights of those individuals pursuant to those agreements."
If Australian union MEAA continues to insist that the New Zealanders working on the film join their union, they said, it "would expose the production to liability and sanctions under New Zealand law. This legal prohibition has been explained to MEAA. We are disappointed that MEAA has nonetheless continued to pursue this course of action."
As for the possibility that the production could move, the studios said that they're "exploring all alternative options in order to protect [their] business interests."
Of course, this isn't the only issue The Hobbit is dealing with. There's also the matter of which studio will pay for the production (due to MGM's messed-up finances) and who will actually direct it, now that Guillermo Del Toro is no longer attached. Possible option? Jackson himself.
(Originally published Sept. 27, 2010, at 11:20 a.m. PT)
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