By Emma Jolliff and Simon Shepherd
Sir Peter Jackson has finally spoken about his frustration at Actors Equity and his battle to keep filming of The Hobbit in New Zealand.
The union has lifted its blacklist of The Hobbit, but Jackson says the damage has already been done, and the American movie studios putting up more than $500 million for The Hobbit are on the verge of pulling out of this country.
Prime Minister John Key has also jumped into the fray, saying he'll talk to American studio executives when they visit here next week.
Along with co-writer Philippa Boyens, Jackson fronted today to explain just how close his latest project, The Hobbit, is to being moved off shore by Warner Brothers.
Frustration has been boiling over amongst film staff too – last night in Wellington they picketed an Actors Equity meeting.
"You guys are directly responsible for The Hobbit going," on protester told them. "Well done, congratulations, be answerable for the entire New Zealand."
"It will be because Warner Bros have decided they can make more money elsewhere," says Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly.
Mr Key says a few are jeopardising the livelihoods of many
"Fundamentally it looks to us as if the unions have now undermined the confidence of Warner Bros," he says.
Mr Key plans to meet with studio executives when they come to New Zealand next week to organise moving the production to another country.
"I'd like to have a meeting with Warner Brothers and see if we can talk through the issues, and restore the confidence and see if the movies can be made in New Zealand."
So how big a part will tax incentives play in Warner Bros' decision about a location?
"New Zealand has quite a generous tax incentive scheme for movies like The Hobbit but our understanding from Warner Bros is that's not the salient point under which they're making their decision," says Mr Key.
But the Government's not ruling out an approach by the studios for more money
"It's possible," says Bill English. "They're coming here next week, and if they've got something to say they'll say it. The rough estimate of taxpayer support for this film is $50-60 million."
The Government says if New Zealand loses The Hobbit, it'll tell other production companies there's a real risk in investing in New Zealand.
Members of Actors Equity were planning to meet in Auckland tonight, and as with Wellington, technicians were again planning a protest rally there - but it was all called off late this afternoon.
After last night's rowdy protest in Wellington, Actors Equity decided to cancel the meeting in case there was an "unruly mob".
It shows emotions are running high in an industry that's worth so much.
A united stable and relatively cheap industry has generated billions of dollars for New Zealand. Now the doomsayers believe all that international goodwill is in jeopardy.
"Every other studio, every other producer is watching this on the edge of their seat, 'cause it is going to indicate to them whether New Zealand is going to be a place they are going to want to come to or not, and it is not looking good," says casting agent Liz Mullane.
Mullane has already signed nine New Zealand actors for The Hobbit, and can't believe anyone's complaining about conditions on a Peter Jackson film.
"There's never been a complaint about a film I've worked on, 'cause there's nothing to complain about," she says. "So I wonder what there is to make better - you want liquid soap over hard soap? You want three-ply toilet paper over two-ply?
"I don't understand."
Since the success of the Lord of the Rings, international finance has played a big role. From 2003, big budget films have enjoyed a 15 percent tax rebate.
In return, overseas companies have spent $1.4 billion in New Zealand. Last year film and television revenue grew to $2.8 billion.
But industry sources say the Hobbit row is already putting other overseas projects in danger.
3 News has been told that at least three international productions worth $100 million are on hold while it all plays out.
And the ramifications go further than just film. Tourism could be a big loser.
"People still talk about New Zealand being the place of the Lord of the Rings," says Suzanne Carter of Tourism NZ.
"The thing about film is that it has a life of its own, it's enduring, and so we'd be deeply disappointed if The Hobbit wasn't filmed in New Zealand."
Many feel the same way.
source: newshub archive