Hobbit meeting at Beehive

BY MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 15:12 04/10/2010

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Film makers Sir Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh met Government ministers in a top level Beehive meeting this morning, it has been confirmed.

A spokesman for Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee said the meeting took place this morning in Mr Brownlee's office. Arts and Culture Minister Chris Finlayson also attended.

Sir Peter had briefed the ministers on the background to a dispute with actors on his upcoming project, The Hobbit.

The spokesman confirmed there had also been phone conversations between Mr Brownlee and Jennifer Ward-Lealand of the Actors Equity Union.

Prime Minister John Key confirmed this morning the Government was offering to "facilitate" discussions between actors and Sir Peter to resolve the dispute.

The dispute threatens to send the production overseas, alarming the Government over the potential impact on what it says is a $3 billion industry.

OTHER COUNTRIES VYING TO MAKE HOBBIT

At least half a dozen countries, including Australia, are lobbying to win the right to film The Hobbit and Hollywood accountants are now doing the numbers of rival offers, the movie's co-producer and co-writer Phillipa Boyens says.

She told National Radio's Nine to Noon programme that the film was ready to begin filming in January but has now been thrown in turmoil by an actors' boycott.

She said New Zealand Actors' Equity seemed to believe the whole thing was a bluff.

"I am concerned over some of the statements made... by New Zealand Equity that there is still a misunderstanding on the seriousness of what is involved here and what is at stake," she said.

"That is very real and that has put at risk the livelihood of countless thousand New Zealand industry workers," she said.

Scotland, Ireland, Canada and Eastern European countries had entered the negotiations in a "feeding frenzy" inspired by the threat of union action.

"Get this, Australia, (are) making a huge play for this production," Ms Boyens said.

She said Jackson had been given, as a courtesy, the opportunity to set-up The Hobbit in New Zealand.

Now with the boycott threat and rival offers, the movie backers have asked for the opportunity to check the new numbers.

Some of offers, which come with big government rebates, would involve tens of millions of dollars in savings if the production moved elsewhere.

The threat of union unrest had made Warners uneasy and they had asked Sir Peter for the opportunity to "run the numbers".

The employment of thousands of New Zealanders had been put in jeopardy. Actors should have begun work a fortnight ago, she said.

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Ms Boyens said it was a lie to say The Hobbit was a non-union production.

The problem was that New Zealand actors were independent contractors.

"When this demand was made by overseas unions, instituted quite cynically by the Australian union, and not in consultation with New Zealand actors... I was gobsmacked."

The Australian union made the decision without talking to New Zealand counterparts.

"They never took a vote, they went for industrial action, they pushed the nuclear bomb, without a vote being taken by New Zealand actors," she said.

"A lot of damage has been done to New Zealand's reputation."

She said Sir Peter had been characterised as an anti-union man.

"This is just appalling. He offers his actors some of the best working conditions and always had done that."

- with NZPA

- Stuff

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