Peter Jackson Running Into Union Trouble on 'The Hobbit'
by Will Leitch · September 27, 2010
You can be forgiven for being skeptical that "The Hobbit" will ever be made. Back in October 2007, Entertainment Weekly announced on its cover that Peter Jackson would be putting together a prequel to his "Lord of the Rings" films based on the J. R. R. Tolkien book series. Since then, everything has gone wrong: Jackson sued New Line over the rights to the film; the Tolkien family then sued them as well; MGM, one of the two studios planning to distribute the film, ran into the money woes (which are also holding up the James Bond films); Guillermo Del Toro, who was supposed to direct, worked with Jackson for two years before dropping out last May and handing the reins back to him. With Jackson taking over, and Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis and Hugo Weaving signed on to reprise their roles, the film was expected to finally be back on schedule.
But now Jackson has a more serious problem: The International Federation of Actors, along with the Screen Actors Guild, is discouraging actors to work on the film because of the non-union labor in New Zealand. This is serious business for SAG: Essentially, actors who work on the film, like McKellen and Weaving, would be in violation of the union's bylaws and subject to expulsion from the union. The Hollywood Reporter notes just how rare it is for SAG to be so strident about a big-studio picture.
Jackson isn't happy about it, according to BBC News:
Jackson said the wrangle was a "grab for power" and "an attempt by the "Australian bully-boy" to exert influence over New Zealand's film industry. "It feels as if we have a large Aussie cousin kicking sand in our eyes... or to put it another way, opportunists exploiting our film for their own political gain."
Jackson has threatened to move the filming to Eastern Europe, which would seem to lack the breathtaking vistas that made the "Lord of the Rings" films look like they really did take place in a fantasy world. It's a bit strange to see Jackson, one of the wealthiest filmmakers on the planet, complaining about having sand kicked in his eyes, and it's starting to look like the project is taking a toll on him. (It doesn't help that "The Lovely Bones" was a critical and commercial disappointment.) It's also worth noting that the weakest scenes in the "Lord of the Rings" movies take place in the shire where the hobbits live; basing two whole movies on just hobbit-land would seem far from the financial slam-dunk that the previous three movies were.
But considering the tortured history of "The Hobbit," it's more than a little likely that, three years from now, we'll be writing about how Peter Jackson is still trying to get "The Hobbit" off the ground.