SAG ends boycott of 'The Hobbit'
The Screen Actors Guild said it was lifting its do-not-work order on the New Zealand production of "The Hobbit," removing a major hurdle that stood in the way of the two planned movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien's classic novel.
“Today, our sister union New Zealand Actors Equity issued a statement recommending all international performers’ unions rescind their member advisories on the feature film production The Hobbit," SAG said in a statement. "In light of this recommendation, Screen Actors Guild will be alerting its members that they are now free to accept engagements, under Screen Actors Guild contract terms and conditions, on The Hobbit.”
Warner Bros., New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer recently announced that production on the "The Hobbit," the prequel story to the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, would begin in February. The studios sorted out rights and financing issues to clear the way for the estimated $500-million production of the two-picture project, to be shot in time for the first film to be released in December 2012 and the second the following year.
The project's future was cast into doubt last month when SAG joined six other unions that represent performers in the U.K., Canada and Australia urging their members not to work on what they termed a "non-union" production. The action was in support of a group in actors in New Zealand who are seeking union contracts for performers that include minimum pay rates and residuals. New Zealand actors aren't unionized, although many actors who belong to SAG and other foreign unions are covered under their contracts.
Peter Jackson, the film's director and producer, said the actors' demands were unreasonable, that the Australian union seeking to represent New Zealand actors had no standing, and that the boycott threatened to force the production to shoot elsewhere. This week Jackson told the New Zealand media that plans were underway to move the production to another country even if the labor dispute is settled. A Warner Bros. spokesman declined to comment.
SAG's announcement came after the government of New Zealand itself got involved in an effort to mediate the dispute, fearing it would threaten the country's film industry. The government's minister for economic development convened a meeting last week between New Zealand's main producers group and union representatives.
The groups issued a statement saying they "have entered into an agreement to commence good faith negotiations for a new set of conditions which will govern the way in which performers are engaged in the local screen industry."
-- Richard Verrier
Photo: Gandalf (Ian McKellen) guides Frodo (Elijah Wood) through the perilous caverns of Middle-earth in New Line Cinema's "The Lord of the rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." Credit: Pierre Vinet / New Line Cinema