25 Oct 2010

Warners sending 'large team' to discuss Hobbit fate

9:54 pm on 25 October 2010

Prime Minister John Key says Warner Bros is sending a large team of "heavy-hitters" to New Zealand for two days of talks over the future of The Hobbit.

Doubt has been cast over where the films will be made following a boycott by actors of The Hobbit until producers agreed to meet and negotiate terms and conditions.

The ban was lifted by unions in New Zealand and the United States last week, but executive producer/director Sir Peter Jackson has warned it may not be enough to save the films from going overseas.

Warner Bros is financing the films and says the unions' actions has caused it substantial disruption and damage, forcing it for the first time to consider other locations.

Representatives are in New Zealand this week to meet with the Prime Minister and Sir Peter.

Mr Key says he had a conversation with a senior Warner Bros executive on Sunday, but it is far too early to say whether The Hobbit will remain in New Zealand.

"They're sending down a big team of very heavy-hitters from the west coast of the United States and one of their senior executives from the east coast."

Mr Key says Warner Bros has previously spent over $US1 billion on productions in New Zealand - but there is no question that the union dispute has caused it to be very nervous.

Hundreds of people gathered at rallies in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton, Queenstown and Matamata on Monday to try to convince Warner Bros to keep the films in New Zealand.

Jackson blasts Australian union

Sir Peter Jackson on Monday delivered another strong blast against an Australian trade union that has been advising New Zealand union Actors' Equity and was behind the international boycott.

He warned against turning New Zealand into another state of Australia under the sway of a "destructive" organisation.

At a rally in Wellington, Weta Workshop head Sir Richard Taylor read a statement from Sir Peter, saying interference by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) puts at risk the heart of New Zealand films.

"As an industry, we are perfectly well-equipped through our various guilds to provide excellent terms and conditions for all our film workers.

"We don't open up the door to an Australian trade union, who will never put the interests of Kiwis first, and invest that union with the power to destroy everything we have built."

In the statement, Sir Peter says the rallies will not go unnoticed by Warner Bros executives.

"I know your message to the studio will not go unnoticed. You have said loudly and clearly New Zealand is where The Hobbit films should be made. Their creative DNA is here, this is where Middle Earth was born and this is where it should stay."

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed in New Zealand and grossed nearly $US3 billion worldwide at box office. Statistics New Zealand has put revenue for the entire screen industry at $NZ2.8 billion in 2009, a rise of 6% from 2005.