The convoluted progress of The Hobbit towards the big screen is fast becoming as protracted a saga as Frodo’s journey from The Shire to Mount Doom. We’ve had issues over who will direct, then holdups over funding and MGM’s bankruptcy, then came a boycott from New Zealand’s two main actor’s unions, insisting on a better minimum wage and various other assurances relating to pay structures. All of this threatened to leave the production in limbo, until all but the union issues were resolved, with Peter Jackson then threatening to move the production to Eastern Europe. You can catch up on all of our posts on these issues and more, here.

This seems to have had the desired effect and whatever the perceived or real reasons, the unions have backed off. However, that has left matters far from resolved. Deadline say that the aggressive stance of the unions have left Jackson and Warner Bros with a lot of hard feelings and accordingly they have been considering filming elsewhere. This has all reached such a crescendo that the New Zealand Prime Minister has sought to intervene to try to keep the shoot based in New Zealand, with other high-level ministers said to be siding with Jackson’s position on the matter. Public opinion also seems to be very much against the tactics employed by the unions and a group of technicians and actors opposed to Equity’s actions, possibly numbering in the thousands, picketed Equity’s offices and then moved their protest on to Parliament! To quote Ron Burgundy, “Boy, that escalated quickly”.

Peter Jackson and his writing/producing partner Fran Walsh are clearly thoroughly unimpressed by the way the two actors guilds have behaved, firing off a very strongly worded press release. You can read the whole release at Deadline, but here is how it begins:-

The lifting of the blacklist on The Hobbit does nothing to help the films stay in New Zealand. The damage inflicted on our film industry by NZ Equity/MEAA is long since done.

Next week Warners are coming down to NZ to make arrangements to move the production off-shore. It appears we now cannot make films in our own country – even when substantial financing is available.

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.

Serious stuff indeed. Off the back of this clearly genuine and serious rift, The Daily Telegraph are reporting that the UK is being considered by Jackson, Walsh and Warners. Walsh said during a radio interview in New Zealand:-

“They have had people in the UK taking location photographs. They’ve got a huge studio there that Harry Potter has vacated, the ex-Rolls Royce factory, that they say would be perfect for us.”

This is a reference to the Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire, which have hosted three Star Wars productions, as well as the Harry Potter films. Certainly it would be an amazing boost to the UK film industry to be hosting as immense a production as The Hobbit, although it would of course represent a corresponding disaster for New Zealand to lose it. Given also that Weta’s headquarters are in New Zealand, it may be that once everyone has calmed down, New Zealand will once again host Middle Earth.

We will keep you posted on all the news we hear. In the meantime, let us know below where in the UK you think might be able to convincingly double for Middle Earth.

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Dave has been writing for HeyUGuys since mid-2010 and has found them to be the most intelligent, friendly, erudite and insightful bunch of film fans you could hope to work with. He's gone from ham-fisted attempts at writing the news to interviewing Lawrence Bender, Renny Harlin and Julian Glover, to writing articles about things he loves that people have actually read. He has fairly broad tastes as far as films are concerned, though given the choice he's likely to go for Con Air over Battleship Potemkin most days. He's pretty sure that 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most overrated mess in cinematic history.