Peter Jackson

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New Zealand's film community has decided that it can't lose Middle-earth to the Northern Hemisphere.

The Shire staying put isn't a sure thing yet, pending whatever director Peter Jackson and the studios have to say about it, but the country's Actors' Equity and Screen Production & Development Association have abandoned plans to boycott production on The Hobbit.

According to Radio New Zealand, 1,500 concerned film industry workers marched through Wellington on Wednesday, chanting "Save Middle-earth!"

But we like to believe it was Fran Walsh's suggestion that the Harry Potter set in the U.K. would work just as well that did it.

Several New Zealand unions, urged on by the Australia-based Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, told their members last month to steer clear of the two-part Lord of the Rings prequel, claiming unfair treatment of nonunion performers and crew at the hands of the producers.

Jackson, a native of the Wellington area, was pretty appalled by the accusation, saying he always tries to create a fair, respectful environment on his shoots.

"Seriously, if The Hobbit goes east, look forward to a long, dry big-budget movie drought in this country," he said at the time.

But earlier today, after he and Walsh announced that Warner Bros. reps were traveling to New Zealand to make arrangements to move the production "offshore," Actors' Equity decided to play ball.

"Talks are to take place over the next six months," SPADA said in a statement to Variety. "As a sign of good faith, while negotiations occur, Equity has agreed that those productions which fully comply with the current guidelines for the engagement of cast in the industry—'The Pink Book"—will not be subject to industrial action."

New Line, MGM and Warner Bros. jointly greenlighted the film last week and cameras are set to roll, somewhere, in February. Jackson is directing and cowriting the script with production partners Walsh and Philippa Boyens.

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