New Line topper says director not welcome

The feud over “The Hobbit” is getting hotter and meaner.

In the most recent sturm und drang over J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel, long-discussed as a project for “Lord of the Rings” helmer Peter Jackson, New Line co-chairman Bob Shaye told Sci Fi Wire that Jackson would never direct “The Hobbit” as long as Shaye is running New Line.

New Line, which released the “LOTR” trilogy, is in a public feud and lawsuit with Jackson over money the helmer says is owed him from the “Rings” pics. Trilogy grossed more than $3 billion worldwide in ticket sales alone.

“It will never happen during my watch,” Shaye said of Jackson directing “The Hobbit” along with an “LOTR” prequel. New Line and MGM own the rights to both films.

Shaye’s words are a more explicit snub to Jackson than occurred last November, when Jackson posted a letter to his fans on the “LOTR” fan site Theonering.net saying that New Line had alerted him that they were proceeding to make “The Hobbit” without him.

The severing of ties was prompted by Jackson’s declared refusal to make a movie with New Line until his ongoing lawsuit is settled. (Suit was filed in August 2005 after accounting issues were raised in a partial audit of the first “LOTR” film.) New Line told Jackson that because the studio’s option to the property, obtained from Saul Zaentz, was set to expire, New Line would proceed sans Jackson.

People close to the situation say the lawsuit is nowhere near being settled.

Shaye’s attack was more acerbic, and definitive, than simply walking away from the table.

Jackson got “a quarter of a billion dollars paid to him so far, justifiably, according to contract, completely right, and this guy … turns around without wanting to have a discussion with us and sues us and refused to discuss it unless we just give in to his plan,” Shaye said. “I don’t want to work with that guy anymore. Why would I? So the answer is, he will never make any movie with New Line Cinema again while I’m still working at the company.”

Shaye also went on to say that he was “offended” that Jackson, as well as several “LOTR” thesps (“because, I’m guessing, of Peter’s complaint”) would not participate in a video celebrating New Line’s 40th anniversary.

On Wednesday, Jackson issued a statement in response to Shaye’s outburst, saying, “It is regrettable that Bob has chosen to make (the argument) personal. I have always had the highest respect and affection for Bob and other senior management at New Line and continue to do so.”

Jackson addressed the suit by saying: “Contrary to recent comments made by Bob Shaye, we attempted to discuss the issues raised by the ‘Fellowship’ audit with New Line for over a year, but the studio was and continues to be completely uncooperative. This has compelled us to file a lawsuit to pursue our contractual rights under the law. Nobody likes legal action, but the studio left us with no alternative.”

As for the anniversary video, Jackson said, “In light of these circumstances, I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to be involved in (the video). I have never discussed this video with any of the cast of the ‘LOTR.’ The issues that Bob Shaye has with the cast pre-date this lawsuit by many years.”

A source close to Jackson called Shaye’s remarks “a strategy to try and create favor (for New Line) by saying how much money Peter made. The issue isn’t what Peter made, it’s why Bob and Mike (Lynne, co-chairman of New Line) don’t want to talk about what they made. What is it that they don’t want us to see?”

Shaye and Lynne were exec producers on the “LOTR” films.

As with earlier exchanges in this feud, Shaye’s remarks were vented via the Internet, where Jackson fans avidly lurk. (Jackson’s statement was released to Daily Variety.) Indeed, all parties seem intent on generating buzz, and perhaps action, by addressing the issue publicly.

Last October, Rick Sands, chief operating officer of MGM, which owns the distribution rights to the “Hobbit,” posted a letter on Theonering.net in response to a petition signed by 50,000 fans demanding that Jackson be allowed to direct “Hobbit.”

Sands wrote: “MGM would be thrilled to collaborate with the Academy-Award winning director on this MGM/New Line Cinema production.”

New Line would not comment Wednesday about Jackson’s latest statement.

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