While the movie still doesn’t have an official green light from New Line and whatever still exists of MGM, all the recent rumours have been pointing to The Hobbit getting ready to make formal offers to actors. Except that now Peter Jackson and his fellow producers have hit another, potentially more serious problem: trouble with the acting unions.
On Friday, official union representatives including the Screen Actors Guild, Canadian Actors Equity, US Actors Equity, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance of Australia and Britain’s own Equity, sent a warning to their members not to accept work on the film.
The problem apparently stems from the producers refusing to lock in certain rights and payments, with contracts leaving out crucial terms on working conditions, residual payments and cancellation fees.
While the specifics are wrapped in a maze of legal entanglements, it boils down to the fact that member actors who take work on the movie won’t necessarily be stopped from doing so, but they could face punishments including fines, suspension or expulsion.
On Sunday, Peter Jackson hit back at the announcement, claiming that what it really represents is an Australian move to gain control of the New Zealand film industry. "Personally speaking, I'm not anti-union in the slightest," he said in a statement. "I'm a very proud and loyal member of three Hollywood unions - the Directors Guild, the Producers Guild and the Writers Guild. I support the Screen Actors Guild.”
And then he brought out the big guns – a veiled threat that The Hobbit could journey elsewhere to shoot, which would be a real blow to the New Zealand film industry. “There is a twisted logic to seeing NZ humiliated on the world stage, by losing the Hobbit to Eastern Europe," he said. "Warners would take a financial hit that would cause other studios to steer clear of New Zealand. Seriously, if the Hobbit goes east (Eastern Europe in fact) - look forward to a long dry big budget movie drought in this country."
We have to wonder whether Warners (which owns New Line) and MGM would actually allow that to happen, and chances are these are more tactical threats than actual promises, but it’s just one more issue Bilbo and co didn’t need on their quest. Here’s hoping it all gets resolved soon…