New Zealand offers to mediate "Hobbit" union spat

Mon Oct 4, 2010 2:26am EDT
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By Jonathan Handel

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Where exactly is Middle Earth? Firmly planted in New Zealand, if the country's prime minister has anything to say about it.

In the latest development in the fight over unionization of actors on "The Hobbit," Prime Minster John Key has offered to have government officials mediate the dispute between director-producer Peter Jackson and the union seeking to organize the production.

Government mediation of a unionization dispute is unusual in New Zealand, but in this case, the stakes for the country are high.

"I would be very, very concerned if (the production) moved offshore," Key said. Underscoring the risk to the local film industry, he added, "If you can't make 'The Hobbit' here, frankly, what movies are you going to make here?"

It remains unclear where the movie will be shot. Jackson said late last week that Warner Bros., which is financing the two-part film "to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars," is considering moving the project from New Zealand to Eastern Europe.

Jackson's statement echoes an earlier one from Warner subsidiary New Line, which said that the studio was "exploring all alternative options in order to protect (its) business interests."

That's tough talk, but given the high stakes, it's hard to imagine that the producers and the union won't find some middle ground to keep the "Lord of the Rings" prequel shooting in the land of the kiwi.

Indeed, some media reports indicate a solution could be reached shortly. In an effort to further that result, the president of New Zealand's Council of Trade Unions, Helen Kelly, met with Jackson several days ago. Although no one's talking, one possibility might be a set of recommended, rather than mandatory, contract terms.   Continued...