'The Hobbit' can be saved: Key

John Key
John Key
Prime Minister John Key thinks The Hobbit movies can be saved and he is going to do his best to achieve that when Warner Brothers executives arrive next week.

He said today he was seriously worried about the future of the film industry if the studio moves them to another country because of union strife over conditions for New Zealand actors.

"I don't think we should write off our chances of retaining the movies,'' Mr Key told NZPA today.

"My concern is that if Warner Brothers deems New Zealand is not a good place to make movies, then there is a real risk other major film production companies will also believe that to be the case.''

Mr Key intends meeting the studio executives to talk through the issues that concern them.

"There's work to be done, and the Government hasn't given up trying to do its best to secure the movies,'' he said.

"This is a very successful growth area for New Zealand and to have the film industry destroyed on the back of the actions of the unions is, I think, reprehensible.''

Mr Key said he understood Warner Brothers' main concern was industrial uncertainty, not the 15 percent tax break New Zealand gives to film companies.

Other countries are reported to have offered 30 percent in bids to get the movies.

"That uncertainty has been created by the actions of the unions,'' Mr Key said.

"Warner Brothers has already invested $100 million in The Hobbit movies so they have, historically at least, been of the view that New Zealand is a good place to make movies and it's only the actions of the unions that encouraged them to start looking at other locations.''

The actors' union which has been at loggerheads with producers of The Hobbit cancelled a meeting in Auckland tonight after 24 hours of high tension between supporters and opponents of the actors' stance.

Actors' Equity has rescinded its advisory to members not to accept work on the two-part adaptation of the JRR Tolkien novel after the filmmakers refused to enter into a union-negotiated agreement.

Sir Peter Jackson, who will produce and direct the film, said in a statement released overnight the studio executives were flying to New Zealand next week to arrange for the production to move overseas.

His statement came after a New Zealand Actors' Equity meeting in Wellington last night was called off following a march of technicians and others involved in the film industry who said the actors were threatening the local industry's livelihood.

After the Wellington meeting was called off, police escorted an Actors' Equity group, which included Outrageous Fortune star Robyn Malcolm, past a group of protesters who were outside a cafe where they were dining.

A second meeting had been scheduled in Ponsonby, Auckland at 7pm tonight but it has now been called off.

Actors' Equity industrial organiser Frances Walsh told NZPA they had heard it was going to get ugly, as it had in Wellington.

The union said it had not only lifted the do not work order, it had provided a clear undertaking that there would be no industrial action during the filming of The Hobbit.

"We can provide absolute certainty that industrial issues are no longer a barrier to The Hobbit's production in New Zealand,'' Actors' Equity president Jennifer Ward-Lealand said.

Sir Peter's statement about Warner Bros coming to New Zealand to discuss moving the production overseas came overnight, following the protest.

"The spectacle of [the union] suddenly cancelling their Wellington meeting, because film workers wanted to express to them their concern at losing The Hobbit, exemplifies the pure gutlessness of this small, self-centred group,'' he said.

Sir Peter said in his statement that Actors Equity's earlier actions had undermined Warner Bros' confidence in the New Zealand industry.

"They are now, quite rightly, very concerned about the security of their $US500 million ($NZ669.32m) investment", he said.

Lifting the blacklist would not help the situation because the damage inflicted on the industry had long since been done.

"l would be deeply disappointed if it does not proceed.''

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