New Zealand’s prime minister held a crisis meeting with studio bosses today in a bid to keep filming of 'The Hobbit' movies, but warned his country would not be drawn into a bidding war.
Plans to make the £316m (€357m), two-film project in New Zealand fell into disarray last week when the film-makers made it known they were considering moving production because of a pay dispute with the local actors’ union.
The union says it called off its boycott of the production last week, but director Peter Jackson said the studios were not confident there would not be more trouble during the production.
Executives from Warner Bros and New Line Cinema flew to New Zealand this week for meetings before making a final decision.
The dispute has become a national issue in New Zealand. Hundreds of people marched in several centres yesterday to support the movies being made in the country.
'The Lord Of The Rings' films based on JRR Tolkien’s novels relied heavily on the rugged landscape of New Zealand, which in turn received a tourism boost after becoming associated with Tolkien’s Middle Earth fantasy world inhabited by hairy-footed little people and host of other colourful beings.
The three-film production also kick-started an international film industry in New Zealand.
'The Hobbit' is Tolkien’s prequel to the story of 'The Lord Of The Rings'.
Prime minister John Key said before today’s meeting that he thought there was an even chance the project would stay in New Zealand. But he said he would not be offering more tax breaks to ensure that was the case.
“I’ve made it quite clear that if it comes to a bidding war New Zealand is out. I don’t think that’s the right way to run this,” Mr Key told the TV One programme.
He said it was a good sign that the studios had sent “a fairly heavy-duty team” to New Zealand for the talks.
“If they were just coming to say No then they wouldn’t bother actually to send such a senior team,” he said.
The industrial dispute began last month when Actors Equity arranged an international boycott of the movies when Jackson refused to hold talks on a union-negotiated agreement on wages and conditions for local actors.
The US-based Screen Actors Guild and British actors joined a worldwide work blacklist of 'The Hobbit'. But last week New Zealand Actors’ Equity called off their boycotts and pledged there would be no industrial action during the films’ production.
Mr Key said he believed the studios did not trust the union.