[Update: The Actors' unions have ceased their protest, but The Hobbit may still be leaving New Zealand.]
There have been several developments in the ongoing saga of The Hobbit, a film whose behind-the-scenes troubles are almost more epic than the movie itself will ever be.
The latest: The New Zealand Press reports that at the behest of Weta Workshop head Sir Richard Taylor, over 1,000 New Zealand film technicians have marched in Wellington, NZ in support of The Hobbit's planned production in New Zealand. However, Peter Jackson is claiming that it's too late, and that The Hobbit will almost certainly shoot in another location.
A quick recap on this mess: About a month ago news surfaced that the New Zealand Actors' Equity was boycotting The Hobbit in order to secure a new deal that would resolve what the unions felt were unfair policies toward New Zealand and Australian actors. Peter Jackson fired back, claiming that the NZAE only represented a very small portion of New Zealand/Australian actors, and was primarily concerned with 'increasing their bank balance.' As a flier from one of the protesting technicians in Wellington read: "This is not about Actors' Equity, nor is it about The Hobbit. It is about an Australian trade union making a blatant play to take a controlling hand in the New Zealand film industry."
Even with this rebellion by the NZAE, The Hobbit was greenlit and confirmed for a 3D format. The production would reportedly pump $200 million (USD) into the New Zealand economy, and needless to say, parties not associated with the actors' unions - such as the aforementioned film technicians and even the New Zealand government - want The Hobbit to stay in Kiwi Country.
However, the latest report is that these actors' unions may have spoiled the party for everybody else in New Zealand. According to the The New Zealand Press, Jackson and his wife/movie-making partner Fran Walsh (both New Zealand natives, pictured above) had the following to say on the matter:
"The damage inflicted on our film industry by [the actors unions] is long since done...[Warner Bros.] are now, quite rightly, very concerned about the security of their $500m investment...Next week Warners are coming down to New Zealand to make arrangements to move the production offshore. It appears we cannot make films in our own country even when substantial financing is available."
When Sir Richard Taylor and his fellow technicians descended upon Wellington to show their support for The Hobbit, the actors unions reportedly canceled their own planned meeting for that time, citing that the protesting technicians made the planned meeting "too dangerous" to hold. That claim prompted Jackson to once again fire back, claiming:
"The spectacle of NZ Actors' Equity suddenly cancelling their Wellington meeting, because film workers wanted to express to them their concern at losing The Hobbit, exemplifies the pure gutlessness of this small, self-centred group.They don't appear to care about the repercussions of their actions on others, nor are they prepared to take responsibility for decisions made in their name. NZ Equity constantly refer to 'good faith' discussions but they have never acted in good faith towards our film."
The unions are already apparently in damage-control mode, claiming that it will be Warner Bros.' frugality and not their own fault if The Hobbit is moved to another location for production (sure...). UPDATE: An official cease order has been issued by the unions, calling off the protest, but it's looking like the damage has already been done, as Peter Jackson said.
While it's understandable why some New Zealand / Australian actors might feel they are entitled to more of the benefits gained from these massive film projects, just as many people involved in the countries' film industry have been all too vocal about the industry being in a good place, and this small fraction of rabble-rousers being motivated by self-serving motives rather than the benevolent ones they've worn on their sleeves.
Will it be a shame if The Hobbit leaves New Zealand? For the sake of continuity (the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed there) it most certainly will be. There's also the fact that Jackson's Weta Workshop is based there, and that Jackson, Walsh, Taylor, and a lot of the technicians, actors and crew members involved with this production all hail from the country that would benefit from their collective movie-making efforts. I won't even get into the fact that there are a lot of sets, miniatures, props and locales that are already established in New Zealand thanks to Jackson's work on LOTR and his and Guillermo del Toro's early pre-production work on The Hobbit. This film departing New Zealand would be a shame in a so many ways...
Still, we've seen this The Hobbit dragged to hell and back through everything from changing directors, studio financial woes, legal disputes with the Tolkien family and this latest hiccup with the unions. At this point, I'll be personally glad to see The Hobbit get made in any way it can be, wherever it can be, if only to avoid a much greater tragedy: that this film ends up as another entry in the list of great movies which "could have been."
Now, if we can only figure out which actor will be playing The Hobbit...
The Hobbit is expected to start production soon (once a location is settled upon). Part 1 is scheduled to hit theaters on December 19th, 2012, with Part 2 following a year later in December, 2013.
Source: New Zealand Press via SR reader "Jeremy"