Unions urge "Hobbit" boycott, angering Jackson

Sun Sep 26, 2010 8:56pm EDT
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By Jonathan Handel

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - All is not well in Middle Earth.

The Hollywood actors guilds and several international unions have issued an alert against the big-budget adaptation of "The Hobbit," stating that their members "are advised not to accept work on this non-union production." The guilds say the producers of the MGM/New Line fantasy blockbuster, to be directed by Peter Jackson, have rebuffed organizing efforts by the New Zealand unit of an Australian actors union.

Jackson shot back in a long statement issued on Sunday, hammering Australia's Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) union, threatening to move the "Hobbit" shoot to Europe and claiming his film is being used as a political football to secure gains for the guild.

"It sure feels like we are being attacked simply because we are a big fat juicy target -- not for any wrong doing," Jackson said. "It feels as if we have a large Aussie cousin kicking sand in our eyes ... or to put it another way, opportunists exploiting our film for their own political gain."

MEAA's Simon Whipp told The Hollywood Reporter that success with "The Hobbit" might pave the way for unionizing other productions in the country, but he also said that in a secret ballot held earlier in the decade, about 80% of 800 Kiwi actors voted to have MEAA open a New Zealand branch. MEAA did so in 2006.

Whipp also expressed hope that Jackson would be "the key to unlocking a solution." That does not seem likely now.

"The Hobbit" is not officially greenlighted but Jackson, his WingNut Films and Weta Digital have been actively preparing the adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien novel. The "Lord of the Rings" director has been casting the two-film "Rings" prequel for an anticipated 2011 shoot, while New Line parent Warner Bros. and the financially troubled MGM work out an arrangement to finance and distribute the pictures.

The labor discord in Jackson's home country of New Zealand, where "Hobbit" will likely be shot, has simmered for several weeks. MEAA, the International Federation of Actors (FIA), and others have written to the producers objecting to the refusal to sign a union contract.   Continued...

<p>Producer Peter Jackson speaks before a preview and panel session for the upcoming movie "District 9" during the 40th annual Comic Con Convention in San Diego July 24, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>