Warner Bros., New Line and all the other financial players involved in The Hobbit have yet to green light the movie, yet there is already another hurdle this troubled production must jump over in its quest to begin filming. What is it this time? Actors. It seems the Screen Actors Guild is urging actors to boycott the upcoming epic production as part of an international effort being organized by New Zealand’s Actor’s Equity and its umbrella company, the Australian Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), to force the production into a contract for its actors, not just the ones covered by SAG. The unions claim they have the support of the SAG actors, which could foresee a future where Ian McKellan doesn’t reprise his role as Gandalf.
Peter Jackson, the film’s producer and expected director (though he has yet to officially sign on after Guillermo del Toro dropped out back in May) is furious with the labor groups. Jackson has pumped millions of dollars into his home country’s economy by locating his previous epic adventures such as Lord of the Rings and King Kong there – not to mention his state-of-the-art special effects studio WETA. He issued a scathing tirade to the New Zealand press calling the MEAA “an Australian bully boy” with an agenda based solely on “money and power.” Jackson threatens that the production could move to Eastern Europe if the proposed boycott is not called off. He warns that these business practices could lead to a “long, dry big-budget movie drought in this country.”
Members of New Zealand’s Actor’s Equity are supposed to meet in Auckland Tuesday. New Line, Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM issued a statement late Monday night, saying the unions’ claims are baseless and unfair to Jackson. It also elaborates on Jackson’s point that there is a legal prohibition preventing the production from engaging from collective bargaining with the MEAA. It then concludes with, “Motion picture production requires the certainty that a production can reasonably proceed without disruption…. As such, we are exploring all alternative options in order to protect our business interests.”
Between the financial woes of MGM, a rights holder and co-financier in the movie, departing directors, and now a labor dispute, it’s a wonder if we’ll ever get a closer look at Bilbo Baggins.