Hobbit film to go offshore?

Sir Peter Jackson is warning The Hobbit, part of which is due to be filmed in Matamata, could be instead filmed in Eastern Europe because of a threatened actors' boycott which he says is orchestrated by an "Australian bully boy" union.

Australian-based union Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) says Hollywood stars Sir Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving support a boycott of the film because actors may be employed on inferior non-union contracts.

The three A-list actors are reported to be taking part in the Lord of the Rings prequel.

But in a four-page statement last night, the usually media-shy Jackson hit back by saying he is a "very proud and loyal member" of three Hollywood unions and "is not anti-union in the slightest".

Jackson said he always honoured actors' union conditions, if they were union members, and the MEAA had clear agendas "based on money and power".

"I can't see beyond the ugly spectre of an Australian bullyboy, using what he perceives as his weak Kiwi cousins to gain a foothold in this country's film industry. They want greater membership, since they get to increase their bank balance.

"I feel growing anger at the way this tiny minority is endangering a project that hundreds of people have worked on over the last two years, and the thousands about to be employed for the next four years, [and] the hundreds of millions of Warner Brothers dollars that is about to be spent in our economy."

Losing The Hobbit would see New Zealand "humiliated on the world stage" and "Warners would take a financial hit that would cause other studios to steer clear of New Zealand," Jackson said.

"If The Hobbit goes east (East Europe in fact), look forward to a long dry big budget movie drought in this country.

"We have done better in recent years, with attracting overseas movies  and the Australians would like a greater slice of the pie, which begins with them using The Hobbit to gain control of our film industry."

MEAA national director Simon Whipp said "all performers" were concerned about the lack of standard union contracts for the US$150 million (NZ$204m) two-part The Hobbit films.

"Members of British Equity have certainly spoken to Ian McKellen about it ... In fact we have spoken to all the performers who have been approached, or are rumoured to be involved, in the production and all have expressed strong support [for the boycott]."

A lack of union contracts has led to concern about whether The Hobbit producers will pay fees contained in a standard union contract such as payments from DVD sales and video rentals, Mr Whipp said.

Keith Barclay, New Zealand editor of industry publication Screen Hub, said, at worst, the stoush could mean international actors dropping out of the production. At best, that would delay it.

The Dominion Post