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Warner Bros. says 'The Hobbit' may not shoot in New Zealand after all

October 21, 2010 |  1:22 pm

So much for peace breaking out in the Shire.

A day after the Screen Actors Guild announced it was ending its do-not-work order on the production of "The Hobbit," seeming to put to rest a labor dispute that had threatened to derail the project, Warner Bros. denounced the unions that boycotted its production and said it is considering alternative locations for filming the two-picture project.

"The actions of these unions have caused us substantial damage and disruption and forced us to consider other filming locations for the first time,'' said Warner Bros., whose New Line Cinema unit is producing the film with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 

Warner Bros. noted that not all of the six international unions that participated in the boycott had rescinded their do-not-work orders. The studio also balked at demands by New Zealand Actors Equity, which has been seeking to secure union wages and benefits on behalf of performers in New Zealand who don't have their own union.

Warner maintains that the New Zealand performers are independent contractors, not union members, and has cited the opinion of the country's attorney general that it would be illegal for the studio participate in contract negotiations.

The statement appears to partially corroborate claims made by the film's director and producer Peter Jackson this week that plans were underway to move the production to another country even if the boycott was lifted because the "damage inflicted on our film industry" is "long since done."

Jackson told New Zealand media that representatives of Warner Bros. would be visiting New Zealand to "make arrangements to move the production offshore." 

A person familiar with the production, however, said Warner Bros. executives had not made a final decision and that the purpose of the trip was to seek assurances from the New Zealand government and Actors Equity that its $500-million investment would not be jeopardized by future labor unrest. Warner Bros. may be hoping that the threat of moving the production could prompt New Zealand officials to offer favorable financial incentives. Production on the first film is set to begin in February.

Concern that New Zealand might lose "The Hobbit" has divided actors  there and on Wednesday sparked protests among some 1,500 film industry workers who staged a rally in the country's capital, Wellington.

-- Richard Verrier

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